This is one of those subjects that you’re either highly knowledgeable in, or have no idea about. I would have put myself in the latter category until recently and although my own picking technique was good I noticed this problem occurring in the technique of others quite frequently. So I decided it was worthy of a blog post, especially after my blog about the importance of “neglected hand”.
What is Anchoring?
Essentially, “anchoring” is the act of placing some part of your picking hand on the guitar with the intention of “holding” your hand in place. This is sometimes done with the fingers (notably the “c” finger, or “pinky”), but is also commonly done with the wrist or palm.
The idea is simple enough, and there is logic behind it. Sometimes it’s helpful to have certain reference points on the guitar to guide your hand to the right strings; sometimes, under heavy picking, you just need to steady yourself against the guitar, and sometimes you just need somewhere to rest your arm.
Why is it Bad?
Although, at first, anchoring your picking hand in this way seems like a great idea (especially before you’ve built up the right muscles), it’s actually very bad for your technique. You see, the idea behind anchoring your hand is to steady it, to keep it in position- and that’s exactly what it does, so no problems there. The flaw in this strategy is that having your hand held still like this is not what you want for strumming or picking.
Restricting the movement of your hand in this way is not only detrimental to picking agility, but it also creates tension in your wrist. If you’ve been keeping up with my blog posts you’ll know how much I hate tension, especially when it involves your wrist!
I could, at this point, talk about how you’ll never achieve great speed and accuracy if you anchor. However, I would be wrong. There are plenty of famous guitarists who anchor, or who at least used to. Why do they all eventually stop? Well, not only does freeing your hand up increase it’s mobility, it also reduces injury!
Have a look at these guitarists, paying special attention to their picking hands:
In the above video, look at his little finger. He may not be doing it constantly, but you’ll see that ever now and then he’s anchoring (especially when he’s picking runs and scales). Now, Steve Morse is an awesome guitarist, and his picking hand accuracy is superb, but he anchors (and from what I’ve heard, he has admitted to this). He’s also aware that it’s bad, and has tried to quit anchoring.
Next, we have a guitarist that clearly anchors, but is also great. This time the problem comes from his approach to technique. He always says to start at a high speed and then slow it down, the complete opposite of what is right. If you start fast, you only start with tension and then bring that tension down into slow speeds.
Yes, great playing, but look at how tense his picking hand and arm are!
So you really can be a great player when anchoring, without even being aware of it. However, what I’m getting at is: you shouldn’t. Anchoring is not wrong, it’s just incredibly bad for you. I want you to take an honest look at your own playing. Do you anchor? If any part of your strumming arm or hand are in contact and “gripping” the guitar, then the answer is yes.
There is a basic test that you should do to discover if you are anchoring. Lift your hand away from the guitar and try and pick like normal, but without touching the body of the guitar. If you can do this just as easily as when touching the guitar, you are not anchoring and are safe. If you start to have problems without the guitar body as support, then you may need to re-evaluate your technique.
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