7 Dreadful Right-Hand Mistakes on Classical Guitar

How important is the right hand on classical guitar? It only makes the sound!

Almost every note we play–the volume and the tone quality–is by the right hand.

So it pays to get the right hand as good as possible.

Here are seven common habits that are not ideal for the right hand. Avoid these, and you’ll play more smoothly, with greater control and better sound.

Mistake #1: Bracing the Little Finger

Bracing the little finger on the top of the guitar is a common habit in folk styles.

This feels secure for beginners, and so the habit can settle in deep.

But bracing the pinky restricts the movement of the fingers. It also adds loads of tension.

And perhaps worst of all, it requires the fingers to pull up on the strings instead of pushing through (see #4 below). This degrades the sound quality, creating a thin, tinny sound.

Mistake #2: Splayed Fingers

If we splay (spread apart) our right-hand fingers, we play with more tension.

This leads to a feeling of instability and lack of control.

It’s better to let the fingers assume a more natural proximity to each other.

Here’s an exercise: make a light fist, closing and releasing it a few times, then come to neutral. Notice how the fingers are lightly touching or very close together, completely relaxed.

This is a more advantageous playing position for classical or fingerstyle guitar.

Mistake #3: Extreme Wrist Angles

Extreme angles in any joint expose us to injury. When we bend or curve our wrists to near their limit, the muscles and tendons are under more pressure.

Many cases of carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis are due to repetitive stress caused by extreme wrist angles.

Instead, we can aim for the midrange of movement for any joint. We may temporarily move outside the midrange for a special effect, but 99% of the time, the midrange is ideal.

Mistake #4: Pulling Up Instead of Pushing Through

To make a beautiful sound quality on the guitar, we activate the string in a circular motion. This pushes air into the soundbox of the guitar and gives a rich, full tone.

When we pull up on a string (plucking it), the string activates in a back-and-forth movement. And this creates a nasally, thin sound.

As a go-to right-hand technique, we use the big knuckle to push through the string. This works well for the hand and sounds best.

Moving from the big knuckle gives us great power and speed. The residual tension from one note to the next is minimal. And this means we can play with ease and grace.

Mistake #5: Too Much Tip Joint

Related to #4 above, curling the tip joint when activating a string is a bad habit.

Many guitarists have this habit. That’s because it makes intuitive sense when we first begin playing. In other words, it “feels right.”

Moving from the big knuckle, at first, can feel less “natural.” So we form the tip-joint habit.

However, when we curl the tip joint, we activate the string in the back-and-forth movement described above.

And more, curling the tip joint takes extra energy and creates excess tension.

If the goal is to play smooth and fast, this habit works against us.

Mistake #6: Wrist Too Low

When the right wrist is too low, we pull up on the string and use too much tip joint.

If the wrist is very close to the top (soundboard) of the guitar, the fingers cannot push through the strings. There is no room for the follow-through movement needed.

And if we push (brace) on the top of the guitar with the wrist, we add loads of stress on the connective tissue in the hand and forearm.

Elevating the wrist slightly can correct for this. Allowing space under the wrist can relieve tension and give the needed room for follow-through.

Mistake #7: Wrist Too Far Back

Lastly, we can watch out for positioning our wrist too far back from the strings.

Ideally, the big knuckles of the right hand are over the strings played by those fingers. This puts the hand in a good position for leverage and follow-through.

Pulled back (up in space), the fingers flatten and the bad habits mentioned above emerge.

With the flatter fingers, we pull up on the strings, drop the wrist too low, and use too much tip joint.

The simple solution for this is to “choke up” with the fingers, allowing them to curve over the strings.

Changing old habits takes attention and practice. But a beneficial right-hand form, positioning, and movements can help make everything we play sound and feel better.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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