Guitar Technique Tip of the Month

Your Personal Guitar Lesson

Douglas Niedt







Question from subscriber: “Should I try to be so precise with the left hand that I not touch adjacent strings ever? I mean, sometimes it does not matter because the adjacent string is not involved. But then again, I am still touching an adjacent string. What should I be trying to do in practice?”

The answer is both. Read on and watch the videos to understand why.

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PLAYING ON THE TIPS OF THE FINGERS

By Douglas Niedt

Copyright Douglas Niedt. All Rights Reserved. This article may be reprinted, but please be considerate and give credit to Douglas Niedt.



Question from subscriber: “Should I try to be so precise with the left hand that I not touch adjacent strings ever? I mean, sometimes it does not matter because the adjacent string is not involved. But then again, I am still touching an adjacent string. What should I be trying to do in practice?” The answer is both.

Learn to Place the Fingers Precisely. Do NOT touch the adjacent strings.

One should be able to place the fingers precisely so that they do not touch the adjacent strings. The problem is most acute when the adjacent string is open. It is important not only to place the finger on the absolute tip close to the fingernail, but also to be certain the finger is placed vertically onto the string. Such precision is necessary for passages such as these:

Example #1

Ex1 Leyenda


Video Ex#1. Watch me play this part from Leyenda.

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Be sure to watch the video on full screen. Click the symbol to the right of "HD" in the lower right-hand corner after the video begins playing. Hit escape "ESC" on your keyboard to return to normal viewing.

Example #2

Ex2 Leyenda


Video Ex#2. Watch me demonstrate.

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Be sure to watch the video on full screen. Click the symbol to the right of "HD" in the lower right-hand corner after the video begins playing. Hit escape "ESC" on your keyboard to return to normal viewing.

Example #3

Ex3 Carcassi Study 7


Video Ex#3. Watch me demonstrate the excerpt.

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Be sure to watch the video on full screen. Click the symbol to the right of "HD" in the lower right-hand corner after the video begins playing. Hit escape "ESC" on your keyboard to return to normal viewing.

Example #4

Ex4 Bach Allemande


Video Ex#4. Watch me demonstrate the Allemande.

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Be sure to watch the video on full screen. Click the symbol to the right of "HD" in the lower right-hand corner after the video begins playing. Hit escape "ESC" on your keyboard to return to normal viewing.

Example #5

Ex5 Villa-Lobos Prelude 1


Video Ex#5. Watch me demonstrate this passage from Villa-Lobos' Prelude No. 1.

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Be sure to watch the video on full screen. Click the symbol to the right of "HD" in the lower right-hand corner after the video begins playing. Hit escape "ESC" on your keyboard to return to normal viewing.

Learn to Intentionally Lean the Fingers Over to Damp the Adjacent Strings

On the other hand, we often want the fingers to intentionally damp adjacent ringing open strings for melodic or contrapuntal clarity (see String Damping Part III). In those instances we want to learn to lean the fingers over at will to intentionally damp the adjacent string.

Example #6

Ex6 Robert Johnson Alman


Video Ex#6. Watch me demonstrate this passage from the Alman.

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Be sure to watch the video on full screen. Click the symbol to the right of "HD" in the lower right-hand corner after the video begins playing. Hit escape "ESC" on your keyboard to return to normal viewing.

Example #7

Ex7 Bach Bouree


Video Ex#7. Watch me demonstrate the passage.

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Be sure to watch the video on full screen. Click the symbol to the right of "HD" in the lower right-hand corner after the video begins playing. Hit escape "ESC" on your keyboard to return to normal viewing.

Doug’s Incredibly Frustrating Exercise to Learn to Play on the Tips of the Fingers

For most of us, leaning the fingers over and touching (damping) the adjacent string is easy. But, placing the fingers on the very tips and not touching the adjacent string is much harder to do and in some instances can be downright difficult.

To improve your precision in your left-hand finger placement try the exercise below. Players with thin fingers won’t have too much trouble with it. But those with normal to pudgy fingers will quickly understand why I titled it, Doug’s Incredibly Frustrating Exercise to Learn to Play on the Tips of the Fingers.

Example #8

Ex8a Doug's Incredibly Frustrating Exercise

Ex8b Doug's Incredibly Frustrating Exercise


Tips

  1. Your left-hand fingernails must be filed short. Don’t file them too short. Just be sure they don’t get in the way.

  2. Some players’ fingers become swollen at certain times of the day. Mine are slightly swollen after waking in the morning. Practice the exercise after the swelling subsides.

  3. You will have better results if your left hand is in a parallel position with the neck. You will probably need to arch the hand/wrist a little more than normal, but don’t overdo it.

  4. DO NOT focus on listening to the open string to determine if you are cutting it off. Instead, focus on feeling whether or not the adjacent open string “tickles” the back of the left-hand fingertip.

  5. Play the exercise leaving each finger down as you ascend.

  6. Then practice the exercise and lift each finger as you ascend. Be sure you are connecting the notes. For example, don’t lift the 1st finger before you play the 2nd finger. Lift the 1st finger AS you place the 2nd finger. Lift the 2nd finger AS you place the 3rd finger, etc.


Video Ex#8. Watch me demonstrate this demonic exercise!

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Be sure to watch the video on full screen. Click the symbol to the right of "HD" in the lower right-hand corner after the video begins playing. Hit escape "ESC" on your keyboard to return to normal viewing.

Kick It Up to Extreme Frustration

Practicing the exercise in higher positions is even more difficult. This is because the strings are higher above the frets in the upper positions than in the lower positions. This will vary from guitar to guitar. This exercise will be especially difficult if your guitar has high action (the 6th string 6+ mm above the 12th fret).

Warning: Practicing this exercise might result in foul language and possibly throwing pencils, sheet music, and other objects across the room.

Example #9

Ex9a Doug's Incredibly Frustrating Exercise

Ex9b Doug's Incredibly Frustrating Exercise


Video Ex#9. Watch me demonstrate.

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Be sure to watch the video on full screen. Click the symbol to the right of "HD" in the lower right-hand corner after the video begins playing. Hit escape "ESC" on your keyboard to return to normal viewing.

Neutralize the Enemy

In an actual piece of music, rather than struggling with trying to place the fingers accurately to avoid touching the adjacent strings, look for other ways to finger the passage to eliminate the problem altogether:

Example #10

Ex10 Leyenda Refingered


Example #11

Ex11 Leyenda Refingered


Example #12

Ex12 Carcassi Refingered


Example #13

Ex13 Carcassi Refingered #2


Video Ex#10. Watch me demonstrate examples 10 through 13.

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Be sure to watch the video on full screen. Click the symbol to the right of "HD" in the lower right-hand corner after the video begins playing. Hit escape "ESC" on your keyboard to return to normal viewing.

Sometimes you can avoid touching adjacent strings by pushing the fretted string upwards (as in toward the ceiling) to give more clearance behind the finger. This will sharpen the pitch of the fretted note, but it is usually not very noticeable.

Example #14

Ex14 Villa Lobos Prelude 1


Video Ex#11. Watch me demonstrate.

If you don't see a video, refresh your browser.

Be sure to watch the video on full screen. Click the symbol to the right of "HD" in the lower right-hand corner after the video begins playing. Hit escape "ESC" on your keyboard to return to normal viewing.

Conclusion

  1. Most of the time, use a comfortable left-hand position and don’t worry about whether the fingers touch adjacent strings.

  2. Learn to lean the fingers over to intentionally damp adjacent strings.

  3. Learn to place the fingers precisely so they don’t touch adjacent strings.

  4. If you encounter a situation where it is too difficult to avoid touching the adjacent string, try to find a different fingering that neutralizes the problem. Or, use the finger to push the fretted string upward (as in toward the ceiling) to produce additional clearance behind the finger.

  5. If all else fails, go ahead and damp the adjacent string and pretend that is exactly what you intended to do!

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The PDF Version

The PDF of this article contains embedded videos. You can save the entire article plus the videos to your computer. However, the videos will not play well unless you save the PDF to your computer first. After downloading and saving the file, open the file you just saved and the videos will play smoothly. The file is 1.46 GB so it could take a few hours to download.

Download Playing on the Tips of the Fingers.pdf

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