Fretting Hand Synchronization - anchored index finger?

Hi guys. I had a question about developing picking speed; specifically about how to make it easy for my fretting hand (FH) to keep up with my picking hand (PH). If we take a simple example, for instance the classic Yngwie 6 note pattern moving up and down on a single string, it seems to me that there are two subtly different approaches to what your index finger should be doing: either it’s locked in place as sort of a baseline, or it’s relaxed and only re-fretted every time it needs to play a note.

Stuart Bull from LickLibrary seems to insist that there should ideally be a distinct FH movement with every PH movement to make it easier for the two to coordinate:

On the other hand, Paul Gilbert seems to take the anchored index finger approach and yet has no problem reaching blazing fast speeds:

I suspect that it really doesn’t matter, that you’re just going to get good at either method depending on how much you practice it, but what do you guys think? Is there a real benefit of one over the other? Do you prefer one over the other? Do you not think about it at all? Thanks.


For some reasons the links I posted didn’t show up, so here there again:
Stuart Bull -
Paul Gilbert (@1:50) -

1 Like

I don’t see how moving a finger can be faster than not moving it. In fact, there’s a four-finger single string pattern Rusty Cooley plays which in some respects has the least finger movement per unit of six notes that I think you can achieve, because when you place a finger, you don’t have to re-lift it until a few notes later. This definitely cuts down on the effective finger speed needed to play it, in real terms. I don’t think I have tablature handy but I’ll see if I can dig it up.

If instead you’re asking about synchronization it’s possible there is some benefit to always moving. However, I would defer to the numbers. Look up everyone who does this that you can think of. Do they lift or not lift? If the majority don’t, then I would suggest there might be a reason.

Edit: I’d also add to this that the reason pentatonic and other 2nps phrases are speed-limited is also finger reuse. How fast can you lift the same two fingers, especially while switching strings? Probably a lot less fast than you can play the Yngwie six-note pattern, for most people. Lots of barre fingerings in fast pentatonics for that reason.

1 Like

Troy - do you use a bar for your fast penatonics? I thought you didn’t…

1 Like

Fair point. Yea I recognize with my own playing that at moderate speeds I tend to lift and re-fret, but once I start speeding up my finger naturally gets planted. It makes sense that would happen, and as far as I can tell I don’t think my synchronization suffers any losses from that. Thanks for the advice Troy!

That’s true, but to me it’s a scenario where gaining a little more speed for a specific lick is counterproductive from a wider perspective.

IMHO lifting the 1st finger (or at least releasing pressure) is a best practice for the fretting hand. It provides more flexibility/less tension for changing position (either for string changing or sliding on the same string), a better balance between all fretting fingers, enables more reach (esp 1st to 2nd finger), and trains the picking/fretting hand sync for that 1st finger. A player like Holdsworth (one of the best, if not THE best left hand in the recent history of guitar playing) would lift his first finger all the time and is necessary for achieving the complex fingerings he would come up with.

It’s easier to anchor the finger when you need it than doing the opposite, so as a general rule I believe not anchoring is a better practice.

1 Like

For sure, I’m not suggesting that this is something that will fit every situation. Bust just as an observation, the question was asked, can this be done and will it hurt speed? I think the answer is not only will it not hurt speed, but at the fastest tempos, for certain phrases, it appears to help. Violin trills also work this way and they can do that crazy fast, as 32nd and 64th ornaments in baroque music for example.

Considering the wide variety of fretting situations you can find yourself in, I think a blanket rule is likely to not be super realistic. It rarely is in guitar playing. It’s probably more like, certain approaches fit certain scenarios and that’s when you use them.


I am on the extreme side of this. I bar my index finger almost all the time.

I don’t do this because of speed or anything… I just like to let the notes ‘ring’. I am not a big, pick & mute player.

1 Like

I would say, there are 3 different states that the fretting hand (FH) fingers can be in.

  1. toucing the string and pressing down the string to the fret
  2. touching the string without applying force to it (either above the fret that is intended to fret or just as a connection to the string for support/coordination/location)
  3. not touching the string, moving to another position/flooting in the air

Personally, I’m a big fan of touching the string as in 2) since it give me reference to where I am on the string without using any force.

The question is, in your example with the yngwie pattern on a single string, does it feel nicer (is that a word?) to move/slide a barred index finger and what about the stretch you will have to maintain for holding down the index while fretting the other notes?

Holding down index the whole time seems like a lot of wasted energy to me (in this example). Touching the string lightly but not pushing it to the fret unless needed is another thing entirely.

How does Yngwie do it? I remember the clip from the volcano seminar, can it be found on youtube and slowed down to see if he lifts the index?

Away from my spellchecker so sorry for the grammer !!! :wink:


@Troy Is your Index pressing down the string the whole time (to the fret), sliding to the next position or do you release it after each use?

1 Like

Hmm. Since the fingers may interact, exerting force to hold down a note may affect the motion of the other fingers, so I’m not sure that what you’ve said holds up in all cases. Furthermore, from an ergonomics aspect, keeping the fingers dancing may have an overall benefit. This relates in my mind to discussions of whether it matters that a pick stays close to a string or achieves some “air” while in motion.

I’d also throw it out there that placing a finger and a death grip are two very different activities. I just tend to see students executing the latter. :slight_smile:

1 Like

I think different situations require approaches. Keeping fingers placed behind the fretting finger as is often taught has its uses, as does @Troy’s example of when violinists trill. On the other hand, I go back to the Holdsworthian approach that @blueberrypie touches upon (no puns intended). My two cents. Peace, D

I agree. But on the general idea of how to develop FH/PH sync, practicing the anchored 1st finger method is counterproductive IMO. It’s more the opposite, that is striving to keep fingers active. And by that I mean especially releasing pressure when fretting is unnecessary i.e. situation #2 described by @Danish.

Your hand will know when keeping the pressure is the most efficient method (e.g; for trills and everything that is back and forth between 2 positions at a certain speed), so you’ll adapt more naturally to different situations, without really thinking about it.

1 Like

I assure you that the finger interaction can be overcome. I almost never use my index finger, and I never feel stressed or awkward, and I haven’t lost any speed or flexibility as a result. I actually have better control of fretting arpeggios now. I do have quite large hands, very similar to P. Gilbert’s… so maybe that made it easier for me. I’m not sure.

But there are of course disadvantages. Obviously you can’t really do super-legato, or hammer-ons from nowhere… etc.


If the same fret is being fretted across two strings then yes. Like if you try to do fours on pentatonics. Totally index finger barre.

If you’re doing something where it’s all separate frets, like the EJ patterns, then I tend not to if the speed is in my comfort zone.

For 2nps phrases specifically, picking eventually outruns fretting speed for me because of finger reuse. So I have experimented with “fretting economy” fingerings to cut down on repeats at really fast speeds. Like using an index finger barre for two strings of a three-string sixes pattern, and using separate fingers for the higher notes. Then you relocate the barre to the next group of two strings to play the G string. Then you repeat. This way no finger is ever moved more than once every couple of notes. This felt like it was going to work but I didn’t care enough to put in the memorization on it!

I took a look at this. It’s complicated!

On the Yngwie six-note pattern, it looks like the index lifts when the pinky plays, but not when the other two fingers play. Like if I’m fretting index-ring, there is no index movement. If I’m fretting index-ring-pinky, the index lifts when I get to pinky, but not before. The pinky occurs twice, and at both times the index lifts, and not in between. So yes it lifts during sliding, but that’s because on the Yngwie pattern, the pinky is always the first note of the sequence.

That was what I saw when I looked at it yesterday. I just looked at it again now, and there’s less lifting overall. I think I’m now more aware of this and I’m not sure if I’m getting an accurate read on what I do when I’m not thinking about it.

So yes, if I think about it, it appears that I can shut it off a little. And I’m not even really trying to shut it off.

This is also a good question. Is there finger ‘interaction’, like are the pinky and index linked, or is it just the way I memorized this phrase? I tested the Yngwie pattern with no pinky, just using a 123 fingering. And there is less lifting, maybe some slight pulsing of the index, but I can’t really tell. But that’s today, and there is less lifting overall today, for whatever reason.

So the answer is I don’t actually know. I’ll check it again in a day or something when I’m not thinking about it and see what it looks like.

But now I want to know what other players are actually doing. Not what they think they’re doing, but what they actually do when they look at it.


I totally find myself doing the death grip at times - particularly when I’m studying a hard passage! I know it’s very bad but it’s very hard to stop myself from doing it :sweat:

On the other hand, I really can’t think of many situations in lead playing were I’d want to completely lift my index: what’s gonna stop the high strings from ringing? In this spirit, option 2 from @Danish seems the best comproimise:


Lots of other muting points to explore, in both hands! Playing bop and/or Holdsworthian styles, index finger’s going to be in motion by virtue of the complexities of changing harmony.

Haha, yeah, there’s that point where one looks at one’s finger and realizes it’s beet red with touches of blue, and one thinks, perhaps I’ve been neglecting the other components of playing? Lol. I’m most prone to injury when learning new techniques.

Free the index finger! :wink:


Yeah, me too! Time to interview those scientists again. :slight_smile:

The limits of my accumulated factoids: The thumb joint evolved last and is easily injured. Some fingers are more interconnected than others. The finger “lift” is something that I’ve heard reknowned classical guitarists and pianists talk about. Different tendons/musculature control the lifting versus the pressing, with one happening in the hand, and the other more directly relevant to what’s going on in the arm.

…I’d love to know the truth around all of the above. Cheers, D

Just to add to this, there are certain ‘barred’ notes that require way more exertion/tension than others. For me, it’s the third string above the tip of the index finger.

I’ve had to train myself to only use that ‘death grip’ when I’m hitting that particular note.

But all the other strings can be barred without issue & without much of any stress.

But it took me a bit of time to learn this to the point where it was relaxing and comfortable. I had to play around with a lot of positions.

As far as classical guitar… most of them use a very high wrist position… making barring a bit more awkward… at least for me.

But I use a ‘Rick Graham’ position… which really works well for me. My knuckles are as low as possible, while still maintaining curved fingers. It’s really made legato/etc much easier, and makes barring easier. Also, it works really well for ‘Economy Pull-offs’. That’s where you pull off in the direction of the string change. So you’d pull-up on a descending phrase.