Cliffs of Dover! Fretting hand mechanics?

I have learned so much about right hand mechanics through Crack the Code. There was a post that mentioned that when it comes to the right hand its important to play fast any licks that demand it so as to correctly evaluate proper form as taught through Crack the Code. My question is regarding the left hand. I know how important it is to ensure that the left hand knows the patterns involved. But when it comes to economy of motion with the left hand, have you guys ever noticed that some people utilize less pinky and others incorporate more pinky. (as a simple example) For example I am learning Cliffs of Dover and I notice some don’t use the pink for the intro licks and others do. Some schools of thought regarding left hand mechanics suggest muting all strings and playing the left hand lick legato until it “memorizes” the pattern. What are your thoughts on Left hand mechanics and Economy of Motion? Are there methods that you have noticed that accelerate learning a lick faster with the left hand?


Hey @mvwestbroek! have amended the title to “Fretting hand” so it’s more concise and hopefully clear for both left and right handed players :slight_smile:

My favourite advice about the fretting hand is to be aware of the many possible options (pinky, no pinky, 1-2-4, 1-3-4, 1-2-3 etc.), and then to try them all when you are learning a new lick. If one feels better than the others for you then boom! I’d pick that one.

A while ago we also had a beautifully detailed analysis of Shawn Lane’s fretting by @Tom_Gilroy, which may also be seen as a distillation of the fundamental principles of super-fast fretting - you may enjoy the read :slight_smile:


@tommo Thank you for directing me to the post. I am still not understanding the principals set out in that post. Would you be able to simplify the ideas in there?

How do you separate fretting cycles or in other words know how many notes go together in a cycle expressed in a parenthesis? Ex: (124)

If I understood correctly, 124 means 3 notes played with fingers 1-2-4

Ok awesome thanks. But what about knowing how many notes to group in a parenthesis? What is the rule for that?

I don’t think 3-note-per-string scale mechanics are super relevant for Eric Johnson’s approach generally. He’s pretty much using combinations of 1-2-3 fingering on everything, with the occasional pinky thrown in for a stretch. ~I suppose Yngwie has a similar system actually :wink:

Obviously the left hand is important. I’d argue it’s more important than the right hand, since your overall speed, accuracy, and smoothness is determined by left hand movement. This is especially true on electric, many players can do amazing legato phrasing without even picking at all.

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Good read. But I have always had finger independence issues between fingers 2 and 3. 4 was just weak till trained it. Players like Andy James seem to rip through passages using 1-2-3. My 2 and 3 don’t even want to be separated too much (stretch I mean) let alone operate independently.

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Yeah maybe its subjective but I think there are some true mechanics. The article that Tommo referred to above was regarding an in depth look at perspectives that @Troy had on the Fretting hand. It was pretty difficult to understand because some of the technical terms but I eventually got it. Maybe you can read it and we can discuss it if you have the time. These are the main ideas in there:

  1. Identifying Fretting Cycle Length based on repeating digits
  2. Limiting the use of the 3rd and 4th finger fretting interactions
  3. Identifying instances of forward and backward fingering (1-2-3 and 1-2-4 vs 3-2-1 and 4-2-1)
  4. You can start on any digit finger
  5. Lifting a higher finger off to a lower finger which is already fretted
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Hey @mvwestbroek, as far as I can see you made a good summary of the EDC concept!

Only correction is that the article was written by @Tom_Gilroy. I linked it because you expressed an interest in the general principles of fretting-hand mechanical optimization.

Insofar as Eric Johnson goes, I agree with @LuckyMojo that the general principle is “mostly use 1-2-3 and the occasional 4 for larger reaches”.

I would agree.

However, one of the core ideas I was trying to express in the EDC thread is that just because we have fretting cycles of length three, there’s no requirement for all three notes to be played on the same string. The concept is applicable far beyond 3 note per string scale shapes.

Hey Tom. Thank you for the reply. I do have a question though. How do you determine how many notes are in a cycle and which notes fall into each cycle? In other words, how do you divide a lick into cycles?

The length of a cycle is just the number of notes played until the fingering pattern repeats.

For example, we have a lick with the fretting sequence (numbers indicating the finger used to fret a note)

1 2 4 2 1 2 4 2 1 2 4 2

We can see that the full lick is 12 notes long, however the underlying fingering pattern repeats after only 4 notes. We actually have

(1 2 4 2)(1 2 4 2)(1 2 4 2)

That is, 3 repetitions of the cycle (1 2 4 2), which has length 4. To compress this, we can write

(1 2 4 2)^3

to indicate 3 repetitions of (1 2 4 2).

Every lick will have some fretting sequence, though not every sequence can be broken down into cycles. The insight is that repeating patterns aid in memorizing the “chunks”. As such, when choosing how we fret a lick, we should be mindful of the underlying fretting sequence, and try to make fingering choices which give a sequence formed by smaller, repeating cycles.

The potential speed of that lick is limited by the efficiency of the fretting cycles, and the anatomical issue of finger dependencies. The EDCs are the maximally efficient cycles. The lift from a higher fret to a lower fret that is already fretted is also efficient.

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Ok I see. So basically when learning a lick or solo, try to lay out the fingerings in a way that there is repetition of cycles so as to to take advantage of “chunking.”

Yes, that’s a major part of it. The other major part is understanding what EDCs are and why they are more efficient than other fretting cycles.

I must have thought that fretting cycles were EDCs. Can you elaborate on what EDC are and how they differ from fretting cycles? I really appreciate how quickly you reply. When you say EDC are you referring to fretting cycles that follow some of these traits:

  • Limiting the use of the 3rd and 4th finger fretting interactions
  • Instances of forward and backward fingering (1-2-3 and 1-2-4 vs 3-2-1 and 4-2-1)
  • Lifting a higher finger off to a lower finger which is already fretted

An EDC (efficient digital cycle) is a fretting cycle which is maximally efficient.

There are exactly 4 EDCs. The forward cycles (1 2 3) and (1 2 4) and the backward cycles (3 2 1) and (4 2 1). These cycles are maximally efficient because they do not contain a (3 4) combination and because each finger has two notes duration to lift and fret a new note.

They are not significantly affected by a lack of finger independence and each finger has as much time as can be allowed to do what needs to be done. They are universal and appear in many different contexts.

The case of lifting off to a lower note is more situational, an I haven’t included it in the definition of an EDC. The reason for this is that in forward and back cycles, there is no requirement that any note be repeated. In the case of lifting off to a lower note that is already fretted, we must have already played the lower note and continued fretting it while we fret the higher note.


This would be a great first page in the EDC section of your upcoming book :slight_smile:


Preliminary layout is that fretting cycles and EDCs get introduced in the 9th chapter. First part is on the picking hand, to the extent of my knowledge. Second part is the fretting hand, beginning in the chapter 7.

Chapter 7 - Fretting Postures
Chapter 8 - Fretting Techniques
Chapter 9 - Fretting Cycles and EDCs

I think I’ve started something terrifying.

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When is the book coming out?