What is Anchoring, and Why is it Bad?

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!

Guitar Strumming

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:


Click here if you can’t see the video (warning, this tune will get stuck in your head!)

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.


Click here if you can’t see the video

Yes, great playing, but look at how tense his picking hand and arm are!

Shred Music

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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13 Responses to What is Anchoring, and Why is it Bad?

  1. Mahroos says:

    When doing stuff like speed picking and sweep picking, I rest my thumb of the picking hand on the lower strings that aren’t being played to mute them.Is that considered as anchoring,is it bad and should I try to avoid doing it?

    • Rob says:

      If you’re able to play without putting your thumb on the strings then it’s likely you’re not anchoring.

      The thing about anchoring is: you become dependant on putting pressure against the guitar to be able to play. So I would suggest that you try playing without using your thumb to mute (yes, I know it wont sound as good, but it’s just a test), and if you start to miss strings and lose accuracy then you’re anchoring.

      If you don’t have a problem playing like then then you’re not anchoring and can go back to your normal playing technique, otherwise you’ll have to adjust your way of playing.

      Muting is a different subject entirely. It’s usually done with the side of the palm of the picking hand, but if you’re technique doesn’t anchor then your way could be fine too.

  2. Chris says:

    I don’t know man. I find anchoring to be quite liberating. Why would you pick with the wrist? You can make more precise cuts with the motion of the fingers alone and anchoring keeps them balanced. Surely putting your wrist into picking leads to great big diving pickstrokes and hence sloppyness. I always see players with their picking hands curled up, and it just seems too uncomfortable.

    • Rob says:

      Many people anchor to give them “more control”, but the downside of anchoring is that it creates unnecassary tension.

      You can, in fact, get just as much control by picking from the wrist- but that doesn’t mean your hand needs to be curled up. The whole problem with anchoring is you are holding yourself on to the guitar body, which is limiting your movement.

      I’ve always found the “fingers alone” method an awkward way of picking, but I’ve heard it work for some people…

  3. Chris says:

    Hrm, so you’re saying the picking hand literally has to be hovering above the guitar? The only contact being the pick and the string?
    Basically I’m attempting to pry anchoring from my technique, and I find that if my pinky isn’t extended and anchored below the strings and is instead curled up, it still rests on the strings somewhat if I’m picking the sixth/ fifth/ fourth string. I’m actually getting used to it quite quickly but I suppose I was just wondering if that contact between my hand and the strings is alright? Or would you consider that to be a sort of adaptive habitual anchoring?

    Haha sorry if that’s a all a little bit convoluted.

    • Rob says:

      I never said the picking hand had to be hovering, it just shouldn’t be “holding on” to the guitar. You are allowed to touch (for muting etc..) as long as there is no pressure.

      I hope that makes sense of things- contact is OK, as long as you are not “anchoring” your hand to a specific point on the guitar.

  4. Ben says:

    hey, thanks for the advice, I’ve been playing for a while now and still struggle to get the speeds I want, and am now wondering if it’s because I’m anchoring, I only just touch the body of the guitar with my pinky, but seem to be able to play fine without doing it, but I also use my forearm to grip the top of the guitar? is that also anchoring?? thanks for the help, if this is wrong technique I want to fix it asap.

    • Rob says:

      No problem, I’m glad to help :)

      If you can play fine without touching the guitar with your pinky, and when your pinky is touching the guitar it’s only just touching, then it’s probably not anchoring. So that part’s good.

      When you say your “forearm”, do you mean down by your wrist it’s touching just above the strings? If you anchor your wrist to one spot when you play then this is anchoring. Lift your arm up so that your wrist is straight and free to move from your elbow. The strumming/picking motion should come mainly from your wrist, but you should be able to move your arm at the elbow too.

      If you mean you are touching the guitar nearer your elbow then it’s likely you’re fine- just remember that if your arm/hand has to be held against the guitar at any point for it to work then you’re anchoring. “Gripping” the guitar is bad, “touching” the guitar is ok.

      Hope that makes things clearer? If not then I’m happy to answer any further questions, and I’ll try the best I can to help :)

      Rob.

  5. Ben says:

    It was just near the elbow area I thought I might be anchoring yea, thanks :), I think I may anchor slightly on my pinky but obviously not much as I can play pritty much the same (I think maybe even faster) when I focus on not touching the body at all with it, so I’ll just have to work on that a bit.

    Thanks for the fast reply, good teacher xD

  6. Pingback: Guitar Lessons: Picking Technique FAQ | Chainsaw Guitar Tuition

  7. Hidden Valley obsession says:

    Then there are those of us whose picking hand is so strong and quick that the fretting hand cant keep up. I actually learned to play guitar left handed picking with the weaker hand, the left hand, to combat this problem. When I play right handed the fretting hand is the slow one, not the picking one. So what I have done is started doing drumming drills to get the hands better synchronized as well as finger picking with all four fingers of the right hand when playing right handed. The central problem remains that I can play faster than I can think, I can play almost asleep, but then while I am playing fast, because it is too easy, my timing is not correct. So a metronome, extreme concentration and lots of practice is required.

  8. Ricky says:

    I just realized I’m anchoring with the side of my arm. Don’t know why I didn’t see it before. My arm actually swells up from it sometimes.

    • Rob says:

      Hey Ricky,

      Hmm that’s interesting. Do you mean that you’re rubbing your arm against the body of the guitar when you play? Usually people use the underside of the wrist.

      Maybe you could try using more of a wrist motion when strumming/picking? That might minimise the friction and stop you relying on your anchoring position as much.

      Rob.