Left Hand Guitar Tips for Better Stretch and Reach
For the large majority of guitarists, stretch between left hand fingers can be challenging. Most guitarists, for example, struggle with the stretch between the second and third fingers. This is very common.
Likewise, playing guitar chords and scales, it can be hard to get the fingers to the perfect spot just behind the fret.
So what can we do to develop better stretch and flexibility? What stands in our way? And how should we go about building healthy, strong and reliable hands?
First, Use Good Form to Play Guitar
Nothing will lead to comfortable stretches more than good form. But what is good form on guitar?
Good left-hand form for guitar playing meets the following criteria:
The guitar neck is elevated. The tuning keys are ideally around eye-level. We hold the guitar so it’s stable and we remain upright and balanced.
The left thumb stays behind the fingers, usually opposing the middle finger & ring finger. It does not go out beyond the index finger.
We avoid extreme angles in the left wrist. The “heel” of the hand does not touch the guitar. The wrist, like the fingers, stays in its midrange of movement.
When we play with good from, we hold the hand in the position most likely to meet the demands of the music. We have more options of movement, because the hand starts from a “neutral” position.
Next, Strengthen Your Left Hand with Exercises
Guitar dexterity exercises help us play music more comfortably. When we build strength and flexibility, everything we play is easier.
We can add left-hand exercises into our daily practice. This will help develop guitar finger strength.
Slurs (hammer-ons and pull-offs)
To improve the the left hand guitar players can use slurs. Slurs are perhaps the most effective left-hand guitar exercises. Also called hammer-ons and pull-offs, these are great exercise that address all four fingers of the fretting hand.
Slur practice leads to more accuracy and precision, as well as strength and dexterity. And as a bonus, we also find them in music. So they are more than just an exercise.
If you only do one guitar exercise, let it be slurs (or extended slurs).
Away from the guitar, we can use rasgueado technique on our legs, or the arm of a chair. Rasgueados are usually thought of as a Spanish flamenco right-hand strumming technique. And indeed, that is what they are.
But the left hand can use them as a powerful exercise. They balance the musculature of the hand, and add speed and control to the left hand. And they are extremely portable.
Classical guitar scales are also great exercise for the left hand. Scales get us playing across the whole guitar neck, and are helpful at any stage in our guitar journey. The options above focus on the left hand, while scales present challenges to both hands. Still, scales are a tried-and-true path to a better-working left hand.
The Power of Gentle Stretching Off the Guitar
Another activity that can lead to better stretch between fingers are, well, stretches. We can use gentle finger stretching exercises as a way to limber the hand and increase range of movement.
These are best done away from the guitar. This can be at a time other than our practice, or added to our warm up exercises. This way, we conserve our practice time, and can fully focus on the stretching.
Avoid Injury by Over-Stretching Your Hands
It is very easy to over-stretch the fingers. So the number-one goal of stretching should be to avoid injuries and pain.
If we aim to gently push (and gently pull) the fingers, we can reap the benefits of stretching while avoiding the risk of injury.
To this end, stretching is best done with warm hands. We can clap or rub our hands to increase blood flow before stretching. Or put them in hot water.
And as we stretch our fingers, we can avoid going “as far as we can.” Instead, we can stop when we feel a gentle stretch. If we feel pain or too much pressure, we know we’ve gone too far.
We can increase flexibility by alternating between fingers and using various finger stretching exercises and warm up exercises. This allows us to improve as guitarists and also stay healthy and safe.
Fretboard Stretch Tip: Anchor and Pull
Here’s a quick left hand guitar lesson for the difficult stretch in guitar music. This could help, for example, to stretch between the second and third left-hand fingers.
Holding the lower note with solid pressure, we can push forward with the other finger(s). This can add a little distance between fingers. We hold the lower note and pull the hand against it.
We can also use the hand and arm position to nudge the hand down in space (toward the body of the guitar). As long as the braced finger holds the fret down, the hand will position the fingers over a higher note.
This can add an extra bit of stretch in pieces of music.
Ongoing Practice: Focus on Overall Hand Health and Music
The best strategy for better stretch and flexibility on guitar is to focus on general hand health and music.
For hand health, we can use the options above. We can perpetually improve our form, positioning and movements.
The more we practice for left-hand control, the better stretch we’ll enjoy.
Music is the point – put attention there.
And in the quest for more reach and stretch, it’s also important to remember the music. We do all this work to make music. The reason we want more control of our hands is so we can play more beautifully.
Left hand guitar exercises, finger stretching exercises, and constant attention to form are all beneficial. We should certainly include these in our daily practice.
But we also need to spend time making music. If we postpone this higher goal, we’ll enjoy practice less.
We can work towards creating the most satisfying practices and daily musical experiences. And to do this, we can split time between technique work (for the hands) and playing real music (for the head and heart.)
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.
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