Why no focus on the fretting hand?

Interesting post @guitarenthusiast,

Isn’t this like trying to find a needle in a stack of needles? (and the needle factory is on fire)

How on earth would one go about compiling that in a nice package?

How you would quantify this? It is hard to make a judgement on whether the left hand is ‘good’ enough - unless there is a total failure to produce a note. Also, does ‘work’ mean work on, or to understand more. I agree that it takes a lot of work and dedication to get a world-class fretting hand, but is it more just 'work that’s needed? Probably more than not in my estimation.

This is quite interesting, could you point me to the material?

I don’t think anyone is suggesting that the right hand is the be all and end all…
I agree that it is 50% (seeing as we usually use 2 hands), but I cant help but think the weighting of difficulty and misguidance that has plagued players for decades is firmly in the realms of the picking hand.

Good post though, definitely food for thought. I’m happy to have my mind changed…just not happened yet! :wink:

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Cool, I like this idea, could help us get a better sense of variation. Maybe pick a couple representative positions for comparison… not sure what these would be yet so feel free to share any!

I’d suggest starting a new topic for this — easier to find / add to if it’s not below ~100 other posts.

If you, or anyone here, would like to start that, go for it! You can start a reply here then click the arrow icon in the upper left and switch to “reply as linked topic” and it’ll create a separate discussion but automatically linked to this one.

(Same goes for any other specific LH/fretting technique question you’d like to discuss more so it doesn’t get buried in a megatopic here :smiley:)

2 posts were split to a new topic: More on right hand / left hand balance

For me it is a big issue. I can do a lot of these runs, eg descending Yngwie style 15-12-14-15-14-12 etc with fingers 1-2-3 of the left hand, but really struggle with fingers 1-3-4. Is that not an issue? I have much greater difficult ascending than descending in terms of left hand dexterity and feeling of comfort. Ascending patterns using 1-2-3 fingering feel awkward but I just can’t seem to get my hands to do 1-3-4. Is this where Troy’s thousands of hours (if not ten thousand hours) comes in? I haven’t dedicated that kind of time to it. It also seems to me to be more difficult than I remember say 15-20 years ago.

Certainly could be! I’m just saying, I haven’t really seen it, and it doesn’t seem to be common. At least not on the forum in the clips that players post. This includes players who have played for decades with very little in the way of picking technique to show for it. Perhaps it is more common than I think and we just don’t hear about it.

When you say “struggle”, what actually happens when you try to fret these lines?

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Would anybody be interested in me writing a post analogous to my thread about my “picking modes,” but about the left hand postures and fretting strategies I utilize? That thread is here, for reference.

I can discuss the topic is significant depth, at least to the degree of analysis I provide here in the Holdsworth legato thread. See these posts:

It might take some time to put together, but I’d be happy to do it if it would be of interest.


Effin yeah and thanks :slight_smile:


I agree that there’s a certain ‘optimization’ of left hand position, finger placement, wrist angle, thumb pressure, arm rotation - that must all be synced and coordinated to have a fluid left hand technique.

Knowing how to properly create a clear sustained tone on each finger, in any position on any string, is the foundation of left hand control. You want to control (and observe) the fingertip pressure and thumb counterpressure in any position - this builds confidence in creating the neuro-connectivity of rhythmic motion. Repetition of the optimal movement creates a neuro-muscular pathway that can be accessed quickly without heavy conscious or physical effort – if you program it correctly. Re-programming habits is harder work (but not impossible).

Vibrato exercises are very helpful. I like to warm up with at least 10 minutes of vibrato and melody playing - before doing any speed work. This forces you to focus on the quality of sound, your attack (right hand), sustain (left hand), and rest/muting (left + right hand); while it opens you more to feeling and emotion, thoughts and ideas, than mechanical speed exercise.

Then I play Scales in different keys and modes, shifting positions across the neck, and arpeggios in different keys and rhythmic ideas – often combining Scales + Arpeggios. This could be a short exercise or a long creative-technical workout. It should not be fast in the beginning – programming the correct sounds and movements is Key. 1st develop Coordination, 2nd gain Rhythmic flow, 3rd build Speed. Don’t rush to skip to Speed without first having the Coordination and Rhythmic flow.

Elements like neurological reflex training (muscle memory), and balancing relaxation and tension to sustain movement, are extremely important. Without these, the mechanics of left hand grip and counter-pressure are mostly useless. You have to have musical ideas for the body to move to – then you trust the body to do the work without getting in the way.

I’m not sure if there is a ‘universal’ process of training that would result in this optimized movement for every person, but it’s available to every body in their own way.


It’s been a while since I visited this forum… Anyway here’re my two cents.
Sometimes I try to play major scale 3 notes per string to see how fast could I get. However since I don’t practice regularly my speed is low (somewhere around 130-150 bpm).
But. Recently I’ve tried to play minor scale instead. I didn’t practice it before (I mean in terms of building speed). But I managed to get 160 bpm after first couple of runs…
Human body is such a mysterious thing. Seems like left hand and right hand are connected in a quite complex manner rather than just ‘left hand pressing frets, right hand picking strings’


This is absolute correct, the counter balance or more correctly balance achieved by paying attention to the subtle differences in pressure the thumb exhibits relative to the fingers fretted(as well as what is and what isn’t picked, hammered or pulled/pushed on), allows for a deeper connected expression and the untrained listener will notice this quality of attention to what is expressed, even if it’s just an “exercise”.

I believe there is a chance to bring some observable(able to be felt universally), practicable understandings to this.

The difference between 1 2 3/1 2 4 fingers, and 1 3 4, is dramatic. This can be seen universally as the ring finger operates differently than the rest(as I assume most know by now).

Also the important point about ascending lines on one string(or more) verses descending lines(as ascending is more difficult, no matter which fingers you use), can bring out more universality in technical issues and how to clear them up.

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My pinky wants to flex into my palm. I find it hard to extend my pinky to allow it to go over onto the fret. I have spent some time trying to analyse it. If find if I hold my pinky elevated above the fretboard and more elevated than my ring finger that helps. Also, just a general feeling of poor coordination. Say I played 1-3-4-3, then I can’t elevate my pinky away from the fretboard and it drags across the strings higher than those I am playing. I have spent days and weeks playing isolated chromatic and other legato type exercises with no perceptible benefit. I am really grateful you are considering it seriously as an issue! At times I feel like giving up entirely. I’ve made definite right hand progress there is no doubt, but my left hand is now way behind…!


Hi Troy, these are my left hand struggles:

Before I had come across CTC, I had sort of a Jimi Hendrix left hand grip (in his case the right hand), where I was holding the whole neck like a soda can and with my thumb protruding above the neck. This grips enables bending and the “standard blues licks” where a lot of bending and pulloffs take place.

However, this grip also puts your left hand fingers at a 45 degree angle and they are also touching the underside of the neck.

As I started working on the CTC material and improved my right hand technique, I noticed that my left hand became the bottle neck for certain speed passages.

I noticed that if I would get my thumb lower on the neck and kind of sideways instead of straight up (EJ also talks about thumb position in one of his videos), it helped my left hand fingers to be more relaxed. It also helps when you are not gripping the neck but have some space on the underside.

But there are still a lot of unknowns for me in regards to the left hand, especially what happens behind the neck and how the pressure is exerted by the left thumb.

For example, you could press with your thumb towards the neck, or let your thumb tip hang from the top of the neck. You could have your thumb straight up or completely perpendicular to the neck and everything in between.

I would like to see footage of how the hand behaves when someone is playing at very high speeds, 140-180 bpm to see how the thumb and the hand is moving behind the neck and also have the player explain how the thumb/hand pressure is exerted.

It doesn’t have to be a 8 hour seminar, but what you did with the pick explanation videos was excellent.

I think the left hand is also very important in many aspects, because that is where the synchronization and phrasing and fingering are decided.

Thank you in advance.


If you put your thumb under the neck(or over it) but you let the rest of your fingers float freely with the index cradling the neck, you will see that you can rotate the hand(using wrist, forearm and shoulder) in BOTH directions. Now what this means is that you have Two directions for moving towards a fret sequence with any finger just like vibrato.

This is especially helpful with any combination using 3 (the ring finger) as the middle or last note of a sequence in (for the moment anyway) even beat playing. The issue that come up with the ring finger (whether it’s the second beat or the pick beat ex: 1 3(2nd) 4 3(pickup), but it can also be on 1 3, or as a triplet 1 3 4 repeat and 234 - either ascending or descending), is that the obvious motion is to pull the ring finger away from you(relatively speaking), which leaves the pinky way out of position and making the return to ring finger very ill timed.

Now if you instead move the ring finger not away but towards the string(some call it flicking the string/pushing it) moving into your body, the movement is shortened and you either hold it on the fret(on the inside of the string slightly- like inside string picking), waiting for the 4th finger(pinky) to come down and do the same thing as the ring finger(shortening the distance of travel), also taking advantage of the limitations of the bodies natural tension. The pink releases in the same direction and then the ring finger releases in the same way(ready for it’s next placement for repeating if that is desired), also don’t try it too slowly(as with alt picking).

I think a lot of players never use 1 3 4 or 234 in play and will only use 1 2 4(closed or open/Maj3 stance), and 123 because of this issue.

This can also be done with 12 4 and 123, but since the middle finger(2) is involved the pulling away motion is not so severe as with 1 34.

I realize sometimes it not possible to do this in play but as means for development it seems essential(best to start out legato with it/ with an upstroke, but that’s another post).

This does not specifically address the fret hand positioning or the fret hand note selection but this concept has been really helpful to both me and my students. In Troy Stetina’s Speed Mechanics book he talks about transition time between notes with the fret hand. The idea is that it needs to be quick and crisp regardless of tempo.

Many times when practicing slowly with the fret hand people will make slow and lazy transitions between the notes–this is detrimental to building hand sync and clean playing in the fret hand. Don’t play “lazy slow”–make the note transitions quick.

So you can practice “slowly” (slower tempo) while still making sure that the transitions between the notes in the left hand are quick–effectively the same as if playing fast. Playing 8th notes at 75 bpm can (and should) have the same amount of transition time between notes as 16ths at 170 bpm.

When I practice at a slower tempo with quick transitions it helps lock in the hand synchronization when I bump the speed up–especially if it’s a fingering or sequence of notes that gives me trouble. Troy S explains it very well–I’ve included the page from his book.

This concept has helped me a bunch. Fret hand positioning is important–but I think remembering what you are trying to accomplish with the fret hand is just as important. Get in a position where you can make quick fret hand note transitions while maintaining a tension-free feel at a slower tempo.

@Troy and @Brendan I don’t want to create a copyright issue so if it’s a problem please take down the page copy. Thanks, all!


I’ve found the same pattern with the right hand. Slower picking as a series of impulses rather than a sine wave. It’s easier to speed it up, and it sounds better to me.

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Following an excellent office hour with @Troy it became apparent my picking technique needed some tweaks but what was really slowing me down was the lack of left hand speed. Subsequently, one of the things I noticed is I unconsciously lift my left fingers ridiculously high above the frets when I am playing. It’s as if I think they are going to get tangled in the strings. That is especially true for the pinky finger. Obviously, that gap necessarily slows me down. I watched one of Troy’s many clips and could see that his fingers lift no more than a half an inch above the frets.

Of course, the simple answer is ‘don’t do that’ but it could be that the thumb positioning on the neck improves or hinders the fingers positioning above the frets. Hence, there may be some merit to the left hand technique inquiry.

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Hi Hagen! Sorry it took so long to zero in on the fretting issue. A good “head-to-toe” assessment should uncover anything significantly prohibitive in the first five minutes, and not after I’ve blathered on about unrelated topics in picking for twenty minutes. That’s my fault!

Honestly, I don’t know how much finger “action height” has to do with this. My own fingers go way higher than a half inch all the time. You really can’t see this from a wide shot in our instructional stuff, where the guitar body is facing the camera, but it’s definitely true. It looks ugly sometimes but to be honest I can’t really identify any way that it affects my actual playing. If I need to go faster, the fingers still try to fly away, but they just don’t get as far in the smaller amount of time. If this issue is somehow limiting my speed or making things more difficult, it’s sort of academic because I can’t tell.

How much time have you spent over the years trying to synchronize long fretted and picking sequences of any kind, and trying to go fast while doing that? If you didn’t go through an “Yngwie six-note pattern” phase at some point, this could simply be an issue of never having done that kind of work. Again, a question I feel like we should have covered in our talk as a kind of history taking. And I think we should also rule out other potential issues like injury, arthritis, and so on, just to make sure.

But in general, I think the way forward is doing more of what we discussed, i.e. experimenting with as many types of coordinated left hand ideas as possible to find ones that work and sound best immediately. This can (and should) include legato, and strumming / rhythm patterns too. Anything that involves two-handed coordination offers an opportunity to get better at something. You essentially put together a basket of things that sound the best right now and are fun to play and as musical as possible. And then you jam those with an emphasis on evenness and speed.

As you do this, you’re keeping an eye out for any moment that feels fast, fluid, and where the left hand notes are evenly spaced in time. Any time you have an “a ha” moment like that, make a mental note of what phrase that is, what it sounds like, and what it feels like. You can come back to these phrases again to see if you can recreate the smoothness. Shoot to increase the frequency of these little moments over time, while adding more stuff to the basket to gradually expand the circle of “good sounding” stuff. In terms of the way forward and being as practical as we can, that’s how I’d tackle this.

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Hello Troy,

First no apologies please. I felt your offer to hold office hours was incredibly generous out of the gate and I know my preoccupation with picking had to be addressed before I could move on to what turned out to be more important technique issues.

I can’t say that I have devoted much time to left to right hand synchronization or Yngwie six-note patterns. Our discussion basically flipped my understanding of my way forward on it’s head. I thought my picking technique was the source of my problems. You helped me see my picking motion was pretty good. In fact, I am gaining more control over my picking motion - keeping it relaxed, even and smooth at varying speeds. I don’t practice without a video feed of my right hand anymore and I pay close attention to wrist angle and motion.

With my new confidence in my picking skill, I can shift my focus to the techniques you discuss in Building Speed with 6-note Patterns. I am practicing those “chunks” with a renewed vigor now because I can see why they matter. While my dexterity and speed still pales in comparison with your clips, I know to compare myself with myself- yesterday and I can see progress there.

I do find thumb positioning makes a difference in my comfort playing some chunks so I’ll continue to toy with that some. I appreciate your comments on “action height”. I don’t want to veer off on another trail now that you’ve helped me find a proven path to improvement.

Thanks again for your time. Your attentiveness to your members extends well beyond what I expected and I appreciate the exceptional value that brings.

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“Flying pinky” is a sin of almost every guitarist. Even professionals who seemingly don’t do it when being recorded in a studio often have flying pinky on their live shows.
I do it too but for a different reason )

No problem - it’s very helpful for us to understand what folks are actually doing, and how they’re actually using our stuff. Otherwise, never hearing back, it’s kind of like shouting into the darkness.

Actually, don’t do this. What happens is that you learn to require visual feedback to the point where you can’t do it without looking. Instead, the only sources of feedback you should use for any of these techniques are tactile sensation and sound, because those are the only two kinds of feedback you can guarantee that you’ll always have available.

So in other words, play without looking, and only look occasionally as a test to see if what you’re doing is correct. If it’s not, try to correct and do it again. It’s more work, but this forces you to learn what “correctness” feels like. You can use video for these checks, or mirrors / live video. But again, the live video and mirrors are tempting to look at all the time and that quickly becomes something you can’t stop doing.

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