Fretting hand doesn't keep up with picking hand


Are there any things I can do to get my hands to communicate at faster speeds?
Mahalo, Ahfoonery


My musical education started with taking piano lessons and I’ve never had any issues with my hands “not communicating” with each other. I’ve never heard a piano player complain of having problems with synchronization between his two hands and I didn’t even know it was an issue for some guitar players until relatively recently. I’d estimate I had been playing guitar for 26 or 27 years when I first heard of this being a problem for some guitarists. So does starting with piano prevent this problem? I don’t know for sure; I can only say synchronizing my two hands when playing guitar hasn’t been a problem for me. Taking up piano or other keyboard instrument might help you; I’m sure it couldn’t hurt! Shawn Lane said his piano playing improved his guitar playing, even when he took extended breaks from playing guitar and focused entirely on piano.


Slow down and then work up to the exact point you lose synchronization and practice near that speed.


Mostly it’s about speed. I tend to accent the last note of a chunk when I play, and it’s a hard habit to break


When I haven’t been playing for a long while (months or more) I will have this problem when I come back to playing.

Just start slow and work up the speed. But also mix in top speed playing to see your progress.

When I have problems I notice its the left hand thats lagging. An experiment anyone can try to show this is to play an “easy” lick at top speed, and then play a lick with the same picking motions, except with a longer reach or a different fingering. I find that when the LH is stretching or less familiar with a movement, that is when I have synchronization issues. This is fixed by practicing that motion/stretch.

IOW, being synchronized is not an on/off thing. How much you have practiced, and how difficult the LH motion is, can affect synchronization. Some things could be perfectly synchronized, and other things might require some work to get up to speed. There is nothing wrong with you.


If you can’t “hear” a rhythm then you can’t perform it. Work on rhythmic rudiments while counting and tapping your foot. Check out Forward Motion by Hal Galpert. Learning Konnakol patterns helped me a lot.


I’ve found trills between your different fretting hand fingers, in different combinations, can help with fretting hand speed and control. Definitely build into this though, starting with small doses and building up over time.


This is worth your time whoever reads this whether you are the actually the writer of the question or someone searching the forum on hand synchronization.

I have had some success with this(for the moment this applies to one string playing). I recently(within the last week) started to work on non-tremolo picking speed. Tremolo picking is the same motions used for trilling on keyboard(I know because I have translated this successfully- between guitar and piano). But doing this and approaching the same speed between the left hand and right hand at once seemed impossible - however left hand “tremolo fretting” without picking at all was possible for me. The coordination will come at so called “tremolo picking” speed as I know the way now.

As I had attempted “downward” pick slanting technique just on open strings without success a number of times in the past years I suddenly had an epiphany this time because I could see that with the extension capable on the piano - the arms being held essentially straight- the movement and possibility of relaxation and speed (especially for in place key manipulations)could be acheived.
I saw the only way to do this on the guitar was to play Duff Mckagan style(standing with a long strap)- the guitar or bass has to hang low enough on the picking side so that there is no tension in the arm pit from bending the elbow. This is because most people do not have the ability to transfer the (energy?) from the main source through the arms to the hands(with the arms bent in) to achieve a consistent no-tiring effortless flow(since that is obviously the key). One needs to establish the energy channel flow FIRST. After that is fully felt then one can bend the arm(raise the guitar up) with the understanding physically that the flow does exist in a very subtle(at first) form(with the arm bent) and needs to be amplified over time- but not much time. Once I eliminated the blockage I could direct the pick on the strings with consistent attack , first with the full arm, then the forearm(the twisting motion we all know about now) and finally at the wrist(not side to side but the waving goodbye motion). The results were DRAMATIC, within a few days my speed with the dwps technique on single open strings was better than anytime in my guitar playing and noticeable to others. The proof of this new power came with palm muting, not just on the E and A strings but on every sting including the high E!
I started out with about 94 bpm and finished around for now 128 bpm(all with different pieces of music representing this arc of speed), the sense of speed and continuity was crystal clear to me, I felt it. – End of preface –

Now to “right left hand synchronization”.
I tried this new found power with both hands just an open string first finger(before or after open string) at about 94 bpm, an even trill . Nothing, total failure and in the past I would have said one or the other hands was too slow, but this time it was different I new the picking hand was on top of it, I had achieved much higher speeds with open string dwps alternate picking and the same with fretting hand hammer-ons and pulloffs , so what was the problem? I started to see over a few minutes that when I played an open string the tension was noticeably looser, MUCH looser and when I fretted an string especially in the higher register I could feel that tension again very clearly feel it. So I tried it down at the second fret because I figured that the tension would be close to an open string there, and basically the same inconsistency still existed with it.

Once I saw this the way became clear, the tension became almost the same as an open string when the string division was close to the middle of the string basically divided in half at 9th, 8th or 7th fret which meant that that was where the least change between fretted and un-fretted was(this is true on BOTH SIDES of the string fretted). So I tried this and it worked for the 94 bpm song(probably took an hour to get it on all strings with all four fingers to/from an open string on every fret), the feeling of dancing as I played was there so I know others would dance to it and the feeling of muscle development was there too(it felt like I had been doing pushups or weigh training- because I had been).

Now what does this say about a pure synchronization between the hands? That it doesn’t exist, it is a pure myth. The hands INTERACT with one another thus effecting each other and it is this interaction that makes the music not a separate but equal relationship. The effect on fully fretted phrases involving or not involving the open string is much more complicated(at first) so that the picking potential of the (L/R) hand and the noting potential of the L/R) fretting hand can come to fruition as a unity with this new found understanding about tension displacement. Now let’s see if the actualization of 128 bpm takes more than a few days from now.



Start simple and see if there’s a particular deficit with which way you can roll your fingers the fastest.

A few weeks back, I was pushing one string triplets up the neck, and I noticed going backward was substantially faster than going forward on the neck. Then I thought I would try something. I put my fretting hand flat on a desk with fingertips down and rolled my fingers from pinky to index and back again. Sure enough, my hand naturally, and quickly, rolls from pinky to index, but not so from index to pinky. This is why my forward single string triplets are slower.

I’ve begun to actually practice rolling my fingers in this direction on a desk to see if I can get rid of this imbalance finger rolling speed. It seems to be working.


A response to AGTG:

The conscious awareness of the ring finger as a choice in the start of the triplet on any instrument is going to cause a faster movement as the middle and index fingers are naturally “stronger”( I say this because under the right circumstances the pinky is incredibly strong in a fretting capacity), when the ring finger is the last in the series it has entirely different implications(test it yourself). I have found that in fretting an ascending triplet, the direction I put the fingers on the string makes a huge difference(that is to say instead rolling the fingers on with last finger(ring in this case feeling that it will fall off the neck towards the higher strings instead push the string being fretted in the direction of the lower strings(except with the lowest string were the falling off effect has the least consequence)with the the last two fingers(middle and ring)in the sequence. This pushing motion against the string in question acts a bow string being pulled back and released(Zen and the art of archery anyone?) allowing you to push the string at the right moment again(eternal return of the same), developing the flexibility, strength and stamina in a way that finger rolling on a table probably just can’t do(although it can be a good way to see potentials in the abstract). This is very useful for all triplet variations(with all finger combinations ascending and descending) and of course the double triplet(that is to say)six note phrasing (al a the 312321 of YM, that has been cracked on this website) and all its myriad of variations. Try it and see. I have yet to test it with dwps alternate picking(with the understandings about string tension now understood and to some extent acquired) but soon I will or perhaps you will try it.



90% of the time so-called “synchronization problems” are actually rhythm problems. Think about how information gets from one side of the brain to the other- through a connecting cable called the corpus collosum. In order for your body to sync up, both sides have to refer to a common rhythm.


In reponse to saintelsewhere:

Ok so the “connection point” is a point of common leverage. This is because when you strike the string it moves the guitar in the direction of the strike and back again do this twice(reverse strike/upstroke) and it is more obvious owning to the way most players hold the instrument, the guitar is going to comeback real fast because of gravity. Now this can be managed and we can call that a rhythm on an open string. As soon as the other hand is put into play on the same string we have to be able time the moment when we can have both coincide- this is the commonality. As I have said early the fretting hand can accomplish by itself this same act even without picking obviously, but it to will cause the instrument to move according to the placing and releasing of the different fingers(most easily shown with an open string involved). But there is the rub, because of this the two so called “separate” activities need a common denominator(I have seen this it’s not just theory), and what may we ask is the point of balance?
We have a good way to do this at least on the plane of a steady alternate picking, the question to ask is what happens if anything when you disturb this rhythmic pulse say at about 120 bpm(that is about as fast as most normal people want to dance - you can play most pop/jazz tunes with a singer if you can keep that together - so this a good tempo(fast enough to mean something in other words), with a fretted note, just a trill like B at the 7th fret to open E. We got the pulse no problem, we can fret it no problem in time(pick a tune like say Peg by Sdan), but as soon as the desire to be heard comes then all of a sudden all balls are dropped, the rhythm(as we understand that word) is gone, anybody(musician or non-musician) can hear it. Rhythm in this sense is not the problem balance is, how can we turn a conflict into a dance?

I found an answer for myself that works so far up to 120. It involves the recognition that the very act of fretting creates an imbalance that must be appreciated within the picking movement itself. When a note is fretted the string tension changes(check it out for yourself), thereby making it necessary to adjust, just as the fretting hand must adjust to the up and down picking motion and it’s attendant consequences.
The only way I have been able to do this(at first), is to game it by turning the fretboard into a piano keyboard by sticking my thumb up on top of the fretboard gaining tremendous leverage for putting down a finger to accomplish the “trill”(the strap has to be pretty loose to allow for the flow of the movement). What this does is steady the instrument to a common point of leverage, where both points of contact can occur simultaneously. This brings the hands into unity and pretty soon the thumb goes back to its usually place/places, until another higher tempo cause the same reassessment to occur again. It’s good to work on rhythm but it’s not enough.



Sometimes I wonder: Does the left hand track the right, or should both track the metronome, almost in the sense of concurrent chunking?


In respose to kgk:

I found that once you find a point of common leverage that the hands essentially become one(you don’t really feel a difference between the two in terms of time- I am speaking for now of a simple gesture say 1 finger to open string with alternate picking down/up. The downbeat is shared by both the fret placing hand and the downstroke with the pick and the upstroke to the open string is on the upbeat(mind you this is done at anything between 100-120 bpm - but this is fast enough that the balance must be very precise), this gives the sense of the 1 &(one and…etc), like tapping one foot after another, but very precise. Under these circumstance any lack of balance on one side or the other can be diagnosed pretty quickly(ex: “I am losing my picking balance because my ring finger is bouncing against the volume knob, thus preventing the fretting from being felt/heard cleanly, so pay attention because mind/body can’t discern the beginning and ending of a cycle” or on the other side “I’m not hitting the string firmly enough for mind/body to discern the beginning and ending of a cycle, thus interfering with tension of the string upsetting the clean picking balance, find a way to get more leverage for the action(say by putting the thumb almost on top of the neck on the high string side so I can emphasize the fretting)”. So in this case once the feeling of the downbeat as a fretting of a note and the picking(upstroke in this case) of the open string(where note was fretted) on the upbeat is felt as a complete movement in itself, then can you pay full attention to the time, whether a metronome, a recording(I used Gaslighting Abbie by SDan), or perhaps a drummer/drum machine.

So it would appear the outside pulse is the seperate source one is “tracking” with.
This nice thing about this is once you have it together you can start doing other possibilities(within the structure - such non open string movement like say 2141 or 2131 etc…, pretty quickly). This is what I found so far.

The key is to turn “two” into One through shared leverage(could involve raising a guitar strap or lowering it, or pointing the guitar to the heavens or down to the earth), it’s your call.



There are many more things to say here, as my understanding about so called “synchronization” and “tracking”…etc, has grown over the last day. It involves old suggestions given new meaning through the deep understanding of “shared leverage” and how to accomplish it without constant contortions(this includes coming to terms with over the neck thumb playing - why we resort to it, trying to slow down an imbalanced lick(why it’s a failed strategy most of time), and how the forms demonstrated for years(in terms of the fretting hand) are correct in form but lack the “embodied” knowledge necessary to have any meaning with in the context of playing something well at any reasonable tempo(say 90 -120 bpm -I can’t speak of the higher possibilities YET). I hope someone might be interested as this seems be a good place to document my discoveries about technical balance as they happen.



I know this is long but it is worth reading.

I have a new understanding based on my play about fretting and picking balance. This is based on a “simple” phrase(a cycle of three notes over 4/4 time with an open string), the phrase starts in this case with the open string say low E G A G(open 1st finger 3rd finger 1st finger and repeat), obviously this can be done with many fingerings but this one is important for now because of the distance between the digits and the solution I found. All this occurs at about 110 bpm (Gaslighting Abbie tempo). Trying to do this with true alternate picking was a challenge, in fact it was next to impossible. Either the picking or the fingering stumbled. I had been able to do 2 note trills at this speed in either direction although dwps was questionalble and I seemed to be doing non slanted picking but it was pretty good. There is more I can say about fretting and hand positions but I suppose I’ll put in a new subject heading for brevity.

As I said earlier in another comment on this topic I was able to pick open strings at much faster tempos, but once notes are fretted(even one note), the tension of the string changes, especially with downward pick slanting. I decided if I isolated the thee different notes by giving more time to each(double time), that would make it possible to get the tension that each different fretting possibility entailed. E d/u G d/u A d/u G d/u and repeat. I couldn’t even do that, but within a few minutes I could do(open string d/u 1st finger d/u and repeat), so I tried to isolate 1st finger d/u to 3rd finger d/u. This was very difficult and I did not get it, so I tried open d/u 1st d/u and second d/u(up a 1/2 step)and this I could do at that tempo and it made me realize what the issue was.

The distance between placing the 1st finger and skipping a fret caused the finger that was put down to “wobble” considerable because a string when pressed will vibrate back and forth and that effects your picking because the tension changes and unless the movement is under control the tension becomes uneven and the pick slips, so because of this 1 3, 1 4, and 2 4 are harder to control with the fingers on any frets on any string. So the solution was: open string du 1st finger du 2nd finger du 3rd finger d/u and 4th finger du and back down which looks like O 1 2 3 4 3 2 1 repeat, that’s 4/4. All these are 1/2 steps except the open string which can be any distance you want from 1. I was able to do this almost instantly and the control came from the lack of fret distance between the movements, so the 1st finger d/u and 3rd finger d/u came under my fingers and picking because I understood what was causing the issue in the first place.

After doing this I was able to get the Open 1 3 1 repeat on every string at this tempo because I finally understood what to focus on instead on being all over the place. This may not be very fast to some but most players who want to be burning only have singer songwriter chops(Boz Scaggs is a pretty decent lead player btw), I was one of them but that is now changing. I hope this can help somebody. Comment if you want it to be clearer.