Why no focus on the fretting hand?

Thanks for pointing out this post, I hadn’t read the whole thread, yet.

So in essence then, you picked fingers that worked better for you… not a million miles away from this…

Did it take any special knowledge to make the adjustment? Or was its a lack of experimentation that held you back?

The post I wrote a minute ago speaks to what you brought up. No experts just explorers.

I see what you’re saying, and I think that’s why there is a middle ground here that rarely if ever gets brought up outside classical guitar circles.

Viewpoint 1: There is one right fingering for every passage irrespective of the player or their setup/hand size.

Viewpoint 2: Everything is subjective and you can use any finger for any passage.

I’m proposing a separate viewpoint: For each and every player depending on your finger anthropometry and guitar setup, there is usually a superior, best method for fingering a passage relative to your needs. In other words, objectivity within subjectivity.

To outsiders, this might seem like “Well then just experiment then!” because there are fewer fingers than there are potential movement combinations you can make with, say, the right hand.

Even if that’s true, I still think your average player probably has a lot more work to do with their left hand than they are willing to admit. The above posts in this huge thread that are dismissive of this are really ignorant and are holding people back. That’s why I had to make my brash point.

There wouldn’t be decades of left hand study within the guitar world if things were as simple as “Just experiment.” A lot of players are blind to the discomfort in their left hand and don’t realize that a simple screw up there can effect the motions of the right hand.

Sympathetic tension, or the tension of one hand causing tension in the other, is something Troy has personally heard John Taylor confirm during an interview. He’s one of the fastest in the world. Rick Graham mentions it. World class classical guitarists as well. It’s a bit naive to think that solving the right hand piece of the puzzle is everything. It’s a lot, but it’s still only 50%.

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Another short note: it would be cool if people started sharing pictures of their left hand positions. I read some interesting things above about thumb placement, stretches etc., but there’s only so much I can understand in words :slight_smile:


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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