Left Hand Guitar Technique: 5 Core Principles

Left Hand Guitar Technique: 5 Core Principles

Left Hand Guitar Technique: 5 Core Principles

No matter what level you are at in your guitar playing, it is always really helpful to go back to the core fundamentals of playing when you want to advance. Huge improvements in speed, ease of playing, and musical expression can be gained simply by making some tweaks to fundamental techniques.

Left hand guitar position and technique is something I’m always coming back to in my own playing. The concepts I’m going to share with you today are crucial for being able to progress in your playing and play the more difficult repertoire on the instrument.

Improving your left hand technique is straightforward to do with the correct know-how, but the payoffs are enormous. A good left hand technique can not only protect your hand from injury, but will also make you a much faster and accurate guitarist.

Don’t have time to read this post now? Get your Handy PDF Download: Click this link to get a print freindly version of all the exercises in this post for your practice.

What this episode covers:

  • How to keep the left hand relaxed and free as you play
  • The correct left hand position on the guitar neck
  • Correct thumb placement
  • The versatile nature of left hand placement

There is a lot of incorrect information out there on this topic that I’ve seen in various books on technique so I want to take this opportunity to clear this up so that you have a good idea of what you need to do to improve this aspect of your guitar playing.

Ok let’s get into it! Here are the 5 core principles you need to keep in mind:

Principle #1: Keep your Hand Very Relaxed

I know this sounds obvious but it is so often overlooked. People wonder why they keep bombing out at the most difficult part of a piece of music they are working on. Probably the anticipation of this difficult section is actually making them tense their hands up right before it comes up – setting themselves up for a big fail on stage.

Relaxing your hands will enable your music to flow easily, will improve your coordination and will help to easily increase your speed on the guitar.

Principle #2: Correct Thumb Placement

You don’t know how many times I’ve seen the instruction in classical guitar books to ‘put the thumb in the middle of the neck’.

This is bad advice.

Sure, there are times where you will need to put the thumb square on the back of the neck , eg bar chords or playing lower strings combinations, however generally the standard position of the left hand thumb should look like this, resting on the mid-side of the guitar that is closest to the lower strings:

left hand guitar technique -thumb placement

The thumb position is also flexible – it never stays in one position for long. Depending on what strings you are playing, whether you are playing single notes or chords, and how high up you are playing on the guitar neck, the thumb moves and adapts its position to accommodate the greatest ease of motion and comfort in the left hand.

Principle #3: Appropriate Left Hand Finger Pressure

Pressing too hard or too lightly on the strings can also cause a lot of technique problems. If you press too lightly you will buzz the strings and sound a bit like an AM radio that hasn’t quite been tuned in properly. If you press too hard you will cause a lot of tension in your hand and body, which could injure your hand, make your playing sound tense and rigid, and will impair your speed.

A good remedy for finger pressure problems is (ironically) the ‘buzzing’ exercise that is covered in the lesson video above. This exercise teaches your hand ‘Goldilocks’ style – not too much pressure, not too little, but just enough.

Principle #4 Fingers Close to the Frets & Flexibility of Left Hand Angle

Keeping the fingers as close as possible to the frets is generally a good principle to keep in mind, especially if you are a beginner. However be aware that this isn’t always the case, and is a very general instruction – there are situations which are exceptions to this rule.

Depending on what the fingers are doing at whatever point in time, the left hand needs to slightly shift the angle to accommodate the left hand fingers to get close enough to the frets.

However, there will be times when your 3rd and 4th fingers simply can’t be placed directly behind the frets. That is ok though- usually if they are slightly back from the frets the guitar won’t buzz if the guitar action is set properly. People with smaller hands will need to compensate the left hand angle much more frequently to facilitate good find finger placement.

The correct angle and placement of the left hand is highly related to the final and most important point to consider in regard to left hand technique, which is…

Principle #5: Does Your Hand Actually Feel Good?

The ‘feel’ in your hands is so important when it comes to left hand technique (and right hand technique as well for that matter). This is some of the best advice I’ve ever received on guitar playing (big shout-out to Tim Kain of Guitar Trek fame for this one!) and I find myself often coming back to this idea as I practice.

Here’s how to do this one. During your practice session, ask yourself the following question:

‘Regardless of whether or not my technique or fingering is ‘textbook correct’, does it actually feel good? Does it feel good in my hands? What about my body, how does that feel?’

Whether or not a particular fingering pattern or solution makes logical sense, if it simply doesn’t feel good in the hands after you play with it for a while, reject it and find an alternative fingering, arrangement, or tweak in your hand position/finger placement.

This simple tip has been my most effective strategy for getting music to flow and expressing myself easily on the instrument. This principle will guide you to develop the more subtle aspects of a relaxed, coordinated and agile left hand. Becoming more aware and in tune with what your body is telling you about your technique is the single most important feedback you can get in order to improve your technique.

Left Hand Coordination Exercises

Now that we have the position and manner in which the way the hand moves, let’s now look at some basic coordination exercises. I’ve prepared a downloadable pdf of some of the best coordination development exercises I’ve come across, as well as a bonus video that will walk you through them. Enjoy!


In Closing…

When I was writing this post it almost feels like it is stating the obvious when it comes to a solid basis for left hand technique, however it is so common for guitarists to have severe roadblocks in their playing due to a slightly wrong approach or hand position, so it is always useful to review your left hand guitar technique and position from time to time and notice if you are keeping the above points in mind. I hope that this has provided some insights to opening the door to effortless mastery of the guitar.

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think about this post, it would be great to hear from you. 

How to Play the Travis Fingerpicking Pattern

How to Play the Travis Fingerpicking Pattern

How to Play the Travis Fingerpicking Pattern

In this episode, I cover how to play the Travis fingerpicking pattern in detail.

This is one of the most common guitar fingerstyle patterns to learn, and features in many classic songs such as Dust In The Wind by Kansas.

Funny enough the guitar part for this song was written originally as a guitar fingerpicking exercise – so makes for not just an awesome song but also a good technique builder too.

What this episode covers:

  • How to build up the Travis picking pattern step by step
  • How to adapt the picking pattern to different chords and to change smoothly from chord to chord

Learning this pattern will enable you to play many acoustic fingerstyle songs so I very much hope you enjoy learning this one and that you find this video useful.

Standard Travis fingerpicking pattern:

standard travis pattern

Whilst easy to play once your hands have worked out what to do, this pattern is not very intuitive to learn. Click here to get the pdf of the step by step exercises to develop this pattern as outlined in the video.

Handy resources

Dust In The Wind by Kansas is a great study of this technique. It’s always important to apply an exercise to an actual song that you make music out of and this one is a great song for any fingerstyle guitarist’s repertoire.

It really helps to have an accurate chart for a more complex song like this, so here is a link to musicnotes.com where you can buy the sheet music inexpensively. I have tried free TABS and so on for this song but this sheet music is well worth the investment as it is much more accurate.


Thanks for reading and watching! Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment and if you have any more tips you can offer for learning this song or the techniques covered.

If you have any ideas for future posts for this website please get in touch via greg@fretdojo.com

Guitar Technique Builder: Spider Exercise

Guitar Technique Builder: Spider Exercise

Guitar Technique Builder: Spider Exercise

In this episode, I show you how to the infamous spider exercise on guitar, one of the best left hand technique builders I’ve come across. It’s one of those exercises that is very efficient to practice as it works on a lot of aspects of left hand technique simultaneously.

It’s not an easy technique to master (anything worth going for in life usually isn’t easy!) but it is well worth the investment. Trust me :) I spent 2 weeks at one point exclusively focussing on this technique and my coordination and agility of my left hand increased drastically as a direct result.

Below is the exercise notated in music and TAB, check out the video for all the details on how to do this one properly.

Thanks for reading and I hope this exercise helps your playing as much as it did mine. Let me know how you go with this one by leaving a comment below – I read all the comments. Also, if you would like to see something, in particular, explained in a future episode, feel free to get in touch (greg@fretdojo.com). 

Hammer-ons and Pull-offs: a complete guide

Hammer-ons and Pull-offs: a complete guide

Hammer-ons and Pull-offs: a complete guide

I’m very excited to put these videos out where I share my knowledge of guitar techniques and styles. This episode covers how to do the hammer-on and pull-off techniques on guitar effortlessly, and includes some exercises to give you a way forward in improving this technique. They might seem a bit tricky but it these are pretty straightforward techniques to learn if you have a good understanding of the principles.

So what are Hammer-ons and Pull-offs?

These techniques are common to pretty much every style of guitar playing, and they are really important to learn as they help lines sound much smoother (known as legato in music speak). What they essentially are is playing the guitar with your fretting hand instead of your picking hand, and collectively are known as ‘slur’ techniques. Slurs are essential to improve your speed on the instrument when you are doing things like fast scale runs and so on, as they make it much easier to play lines quicker. Doing slurring exercises can also help to drastically improve coordination of the left hand.

What this episode covers:

  • What slurs are and why use them
  • Demonstration of the techniques, with advice on some of the pitfalls to watch out for
  • The essential exercises you need to develop this technique

I hope you enjoy this video and that it helps to remove the roadblocks to getting better at these techniques. Hammer-ons and pull-offs are really important to learn for whatever style of guitar playing you are doing and in the end as long as you know the basic principles and practice them properly they are quite an easy technique to develop.

Get your free copy of ‘Essential Hammer-on and Pull-off Exercises for Guitar’!

To help you quickly master these techniques I’ve put a pdf of what I consider to be the most important slurring exercises on guitar. There’s often books with pages and pages of these sorts of exercises included, however you only need to boil it down to a few of these these to develop your hands. Enjoy!

Click here to get your free copy of Essential Hammer-on and Pull-off Exercises for Guitar


How Hammer-ons and Pull-offs are notated

Hammer-on and Pull-offs are notated in music like this: Diagram 1a Note that the curved line joining the two notes is identical to the one used to tie two note values together. You can tell though if it is a slur as the two notes are different instead of the same in the case of a tie. If the note goes from lower to higher then it is a hammer on, vice versa it’s a pull off. In notated tab, they look like this: Diagram 1b And in what I call ‘internet tab’ (like what you would download from a site like ultimateguitar.com), they look like this: Diagram 1c

Further Resources:

  • I highly recommend you check out the fabulous Jamie Andreas from Guitar Principles and her article Pull Offs On Guitar: The Ultimate Guide. Jamie has put together an excellent in-depth resource delving into pull offs specifically and how to navigate some of the tricker issues with that guitar technique.


Thanks very much for reading and I hope you found this article useful. I would really appreciate your feedback, so do let me know what you think about this video by leaving a comment below. Also, if you would like to see something in particular explained in a future episode, I would love to hear from you! You can get in touch touch with me via this contact form. Peace!


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