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The left hand part 2

The remaining topics to be covered from last months blog are as follows

* Vertical movement, shifting * Finger extensions * The function of the thumb * Movement of the arm and elbow * Slurs * The Barr * Anticipating with the eyes

Vertical movement, shifting Shifting is a common thread throughout many instruments and usually presents some of the most challenging problems to be sorted. Carlevaros Cuaderno 3 deals purely with shifting and is probably the best reference for it. One of the main problems with shifting on the guitar is the problem of legato. As soon as you shift any finger from one position to another, it will cause a stop in sound that if not treated with care will result in a sort of melodic hiccup. In order to gauge this problem Carlevaro puts a simple, but extremely effective little exercise at the start

This can and should be repeated on all strings. You should also use other finger combinations 1&2 and 1&4 at least. What this exercise does is that it trains your fingers and ear to connect a basic shift. The way that fingers are replaced, or substituted, can really challenge your sense of legato whilst shifting. This use of substitution is carried on throughout Carlevaros entire book, including shifting with the barr. Finger extensions Generally when you place your left hand in a basic position, the fingers will be positioned one finger per fret, covering a span of four frets. However, the fingers

can extend beyond this realm, where pairs of fingers can cover 3 or even 4 frets. The finger combinations 2 3 and 3 2 are usually the most difficult by nature. Combinations 3 4 and 4 3 likewise can be difficult. In terms of improving the reach and extension of these finger combinations I think a lot of it is to do with an intelligent use of controlled relaxation. Difficult extensions will require an efficient use of the hand as a whole. This includes both the thumb and its surrounding muscles, the side of the hand where the pinkie finger is located, the surroundings of the fingers and the wrist area where the fingers join together

In terms of exercises, again there is a great section in the Carlevaro Cuaderno book 4. Long durations of chord playing, particular some of the more complex chords like major and minor 7ths, dominant 7ths and augmented usually involve some fairly nifty uses of finger extensions. The function of the thumb The thumb of the left hand, while basically not required for actual playing at all, still serves as an important function for the hand as a whole. This can be

proven through a simple experiment stretch your thumb away from your hand as much as possible and try to move your fingers. You should find that quite difficult. Next, move your thumb towards your pinkie and tense it at its base as much as possible. You should feel your fingers lock up. So, always take some time to be aware of the way youre using your thumb when playing. One useful easy thing to do is to play without your thumb every now and then. You can even wiggle and jiggle it around a little bit while playing to make sure its free to move. The other important function of the thumb is its role as a guide for the hand. When shifting its important to ensure that the thumb follows the hand and is not left behind or doesnt race ahead. When the thumb and hand work as one during shifts it creates a fluency of movement that results in a much more efficient shifting action. The thumb can also guide the hand when moving laterally across the fingerboard. When playing at the 6th string, the thumb will probably be sticking out a little over the fretboard. When playing on the 1st string the thumb can be in the middle or closer to the other side (furthest away from you). Movement of the arm and elbow The movement of the arm and elbow is similar to the role of the thumb in that they act as a guide for the hand. Particular chord changes and hand positions will require a fairly large movement of the arm and position of the elbow. This can be a great solution when you find yourself in a spot where the left hand just doesnt seem able to easily get from one shape to another. Have a look at your elbow and arm and see if by moving or positioning them in certain ways, the fingers will be able to reach their desired goals with much greater ease. When shifting make sure the arm and hand are working together in a similar way to the thumb. Slurs Slurs are a great exercise for finger independence and strength. They require a fairly demanding use of the muscles in the hand compared with the normal stopping of frets. There are two basic types of slurs, pull (or hammer) ons and pull offs. Pull ons are generally much easier and seem to work naturally for the design and use of the hand. Pull offs are generally more difficult and often require some special attention. A quick but often reliable solution is to think of plucking the string with the left hand finger in a similar way to the right hand. This creates a sideways, rather than upward motion of the finger and the string, resulting in a clearer slur. This action will usually result in the finger resting onto the adjacent string, which is perfectly fine. It can be difficult though when that adjacent string is needed! Likewise to finger extensions, there will probably be certain finger combinations that will be more difficult than others. Make sure to identify which ones they are and then address the problem by applying intelligent use of relaxation

and perhaps referring to a hand anatomy diagram to pinpoint certain areas of the hand to work with. Slurs can create effective musical results. However, if not treated carefully they may hamper rhythmic and melodic clarity. One easy way to help treat this is to play the required slur passages without the slurs and with the best rhythmic and melodic clarity you can. Alternate this with the slur passage as written and see how it goes. Really try to use your ear to hear the slurred note clearly and melodically. Make sure to use the tips of your fingers, trying to avoid using the flats of your fingers. The Barr The Barr can be one of the most difficult aspects of left hand playing to develop, particularly during early stages of learning the guitar. Again I think its really about intelligent use of relaxation and pinpointing certain muscles and areas in the hand to work more effectively. One thing Ive noticed is that I have fairly thick calluses in the groves of my index finger, making a flatter surface out of the entire finger and thus making it quite easy to barr. If you dont have these calluses it might be more difficult. I suggest practicing the barr frequently, but never for extended periods of time. Try practicing the barr without the thumb, play some scale passages and slurs with the barr and practice all types of barrs, including full bar, half bar, and all others in-between. I also like to practice barring with the other fingers too.

Anticipating with the eyes The eyes can work similar to the way we would aim to fire an arrow at a target. We cannot fire at a target, then aim and then expect it to hit. We must first aim at the target and then fire. This principle should help with shifts and difficult passages. Looking and thinking ahead will be crucial in moments where the left hand is demanded a great deal.