Including the Other Hand

Level: Beginner

Velma The Fischwire

"Just learn to stop trying to make all the fancy chords and a whole lot of guitar all the way down the neck real fast." --John Lee Hooker

Last month we talked about playing open strings with a metronome to establish a good right hand sense of rhythm. Now let's take a moment and focus our attention on our left hand.

When doing this exercise it may be necessary to slow your metronome back down from where you progressed so far, but in time you'll be playing back up to speed. A few words of caution for this exercise:

1. Make sure you finger the notes right behind the fret.

2. Lift each finger up at the last possible moment, right before your next finger comes down. You should really only have one finger on the fret board at a time.

3. Remember to feel the rhythm before you start, and to concentrate on only one string at a time. Don't worry about quick progress. In time we'll discuss switching strings, but it's vital to have a good technique on one string before you start switching.

Ok, with that said here's the new exercise:

Count 1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a

Fingers\Frets ---1-1-1-1--2-2-2-2--3-3-3-3--4-4-4-4--

Count 1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a

Fingers\Frets ---4-4-4-4--3-3-3-3--2-2-2-2--1-1-1-1--

Where there is a 1 that means that your first finger should play a note at the first fret. A 2 means the second finger should play at the second fret and so on. After you have played this exercise on all six strings for a while, try moving to other areas on the fret board, keeping in mind one finger per fret. Remember to count out loud as you tap your foot to the rhythm. For example in Exercise 1 as you play the first fret say aloud "1 E & A." And continue for the rest. Remember to play only one string at a time for about 1 minute or so then take a break and try the exercise on the next string.

Also I should point out that though I've given you two exercises to play around with, they are seperate exercises that should not be practiced together at first. Only play the first exercise (the ascending one) for a few days untill you are comfortable with it, then and only then should you move on to the other one (the descending exercise).

Next month we'll do a variation of this exercise, but it's important to get this one down pat, before we discuss it.

A little tool that you may want to invest in, that has proved valuable to me, is the Stylus Pick. It can be bought at most music stores, or through mail order. I have the number if anyone is interested. It is a special pick that was designed solely for single-string picking and trains the hand not to dig into the strings. The pick should never drop more than 1/8" into the strings. This is important to understand, because it will help you to pick faster and develop a better technique.

Another pointer is how you hold your picking hand. Several methods have been developed, and though there is no one right way, the way I've found to be the best, and also most challenging, is not to rest your hand on the guitar. At first it will be difficult to find the strings, but eventually you'll get the hang of it, and your hand will be freer. And this is what it's really all about. Freedom to express your music without limitations in your hands.

Finally I want to talk about FRUSTRATION. If you are at all like me, you become easily frustrated when you see your guitar heroes making beautiful music, and you're stuck picking one string over and over. This can be really disheartening and feelings of doubt are sure to set in. You get this feeling of, "I'm never going to get good at this!" When this happens to me, I find it easier to deal with if I remember one thing:

Nobody has ever picked up the guitar and automatically made great music.

I mean everybody has had to sit in their room at some time or another and pick that single string. It takes developing discipline, and an amount of pride. Trust me when I say that, if you stick with these exercises, after a week or two of doing them every day religiously you will start to get a feeling of self-worth. Your frustration will vanish, because you'll have a feeling of, "I may not be able to do it now, but soon I will be able to do it just as good, if not better."

Another good thing to do when frustration sets in is to put down your guitar and try this simple exercise:

Lay down on the floor on your back. Put your hands on your stomach around the navel, and take a deep breath, directing the air to your stomach. Then press firmly on your stomach as you exhale. When you inhale again, slowly loosen the pressure from your hands till your stomach is full again. Do this at least 25 times, counting the breaths. Don't worry if other thoughts creep into your mind, just let them pass.

This exercise is not only good for relieving tension, but will also build up your abdomen for singing.

Well, that's all for this month. Once again please feel free to write me with questions or comments. I would love to hear how your progressing.



Velma The Fischwire plays guitar and lives in Osceola, Indiana.

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