I thought I would explain a bit more about how to develop the right hand position (or should that be the right left hand position?!) for huge stretches and chords. After saying that you need to keep your fingers close to the fretboard so that they are “on the scene” faster, and getting many emails and questions, I think I really need to explain how to get to this stage rather than explaining the final result.
Developing Your Hand Muscles
The “Mr. Spock” sign from Star Trek is a great way to make sure you’re using the right muscles, but what does that mean?
Yes, I’m afraid it seems I may have been a bit confusing there. I’ve also received tonnes of questions about the “Spock sign” idea from fellow guitarists, so if you’re confused, you’re not alone! The idea behind it is that you want to use the muscles in between your fingers to reach the frets, the very same muscles that stretch your fingers apart from each other (hence the “Mr. Spock” idea).
Live Long and Shred
If you don’t quite have the finger independence (yet) to perform the “Spock” sign -and I appreciate that not everyone has- then you might want to try stretching your whole hand at once (with all fingers moving apart from one another). This is why performing those “crazy hand stretches” comes in useful- when you are away from the guitar you can give your hand muscles a workout by stretching your hand out and then back. Even better, when you have a guitar in front of you, try playing some wide interval stretches or three-note-per-string scales.
These are both excellent ways to improve your dexterity, however, I’ve found a new exercise that can be done away from the guitar (I would abbreviate “Away From Guitar” to “AFG”, like “AFK” is “Away From Keyboard”, but a small typo would render it “FAG”- so I wont!). What is this exercise? Finger tapping. No, we’re not talking Eddie Van Halen or Randy Rhoads, I’m talking about the thing you do when your bored or waiting.
Place your fingers on a table-top or other flat surface and tap each of your fingertips against the table individually. You might start with fingers in the order 1 2 3 4, then you might move on to other patterns (such as 1 3 2 4 etc,). If you can do it to a metronome, even better! The trick to doing this is that the motion doesn’t come from bending your fingers (try doing it with flat fingers, it should still be possible). You can even do this exercise on the side of your leg while standing up (waiting in a queue, for instance)and the motion is almost exactly the same as the one you will use fretting notes on your guitar.
So now try combining the hand stretch with the table-tap, and this is how you should be doing those crazy huge hand stretches. Next, when you are pretty confident at that, pick up your guitar and the real fun begins…
Remember, the motion comes from the fingers, not the arm! That’s not to say your arm is totally still, because it is connected. In order for this next section to make sense, you might want to familiarize yourself with the concept of “Economy of Effort” and make sure your posture is correct, as these are the techniques we will be building on in this article.
So what have we gone over so far? The “Mr. Spock” sign works the muscles that stretch your fingers out, but the same effect is achieved by stretching your whole hand out; tapping a table with different combinations of fingers helps to work on the correct technique for guitar, but you have to remember that the main action is from your fingers- not your arm, and using the two exercises together is the same motion as playing wide interval stretches on guitar. If you’re happy with that so far (and if you’re not, there’s a comment section below), then you can pick up your guitar.
Sending More Power
The amount of Star Trek jokes I could make in this article is beyond funny, to the point where it’s not funny anymore- so I’m trying not to, for the sake of all our sanity! Pick up your guitar and place your fretting hand on the fretboard as if you were going to play. Your fingers should be roughly parallel to the frets and your thumb somewhere at the back of the neck. We’re going to play this exercise, but before we do that, imagine the fretboard is a table-top.
No, I haven’t lost my mind. Imagine the fretboard is a table-top (only vertical instead of horizontal) and tap your fingers as if you were table-tapping. Remember, the motion comes from the fingers (I’ve said that so many times now that it must be important!). It’s also very important that you don’t try and “send more power” to your fingers by using your arm muscles. This isn’t going to give you more power, it’s just going to move the wrong muscles. Try not to think of it as “sending more power” to your fingers. Your muscles already have the power themselves to send to the fingers and you are just telling them to use it. If you try and “send more power” to the fingers, what will happen is muscles around the ones you want will start tensing up too- and you’re using the wrong muscles again (compromising your technique).
In conclusion, crazy hand stretches allow you to focus on building up the right muscles (because without them, some stretches are just impossible), but there are other ways of doing so. I hope this clears a few things up from my previous explanations, and if it doesn’t please leave your question in a comment below.
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