Most guitarists, and even just guitar fans, tend to think that the guitar is a visual instrument. So much of how we play as guitarists is seemingly focused on the left hand flying around the fingerboard. We tend to lionize guitarists who we see as having fast left hands, those you can play with mind-blowing speed up and down the neck, those who’s fingers seem to have minds of their own. While this is a habit I can even find myself falling into when I go to concerts watching my favorite players, it’s really important to consider the right hand in your playing.
None of those finger shredding moments would be possible without an accurate picking attack, a loose and relaxed wrist, or in some cases a poised fingerstyle. So, reconsider your love for your right hand and embrace the power it has over your playing. Getting a deeper understanding of what your right hand can do for your playing can really take you to some exciting places creatively.
For those not in the know about my guitar philosophy, I believe physically playing guitar has a three-point system that all work in conjunction to get notes, and more importantly music, across to your audience. Your left and right hands translate what is happening in your mind out of the instrument. When you first start playing the instrument there certainly is a bit of a lag time between what your mind wants to do, and where your fingers are at as a player with each hand. As you grow your finger strength, dexterity, and overall speed you are able to come closer to the speed your mind works when you hear music in your head. The best players seemingly have no lag time between the inspiration they hear in their minds and the capability they possess with their fingers. For example, when I hear Jimi Hendrix or Carlos Santana it always sounds like their guitar sound is always inextricably linked to how they are feeling in that moment. That’s where I strive to be as a player, and where I’m always to trying to improve to get there.
I would argue that the weakest of the three points for most players is their right hand. For a very long time my right hand was my weaker of the three points. So, I thought I’d give some simple tips that really can improve your right-hand technique, and as a result, your overall tone as a guitarist.
Get Loose: One of the biggest things that can affect how your play the guitar is whether you have a tense wrist or a relaxed one. Remember that playing should be a RELAXED activity. Tension doesn’t produce great playing. It can make you feel on edge and actually tire you out over time. It isn’t a good practice for building up endurance to play for long periods of time. It can also develop some nasty things like carpel tunnel, or tendonitis in the process which can make playing much more difficult over time. This is true for whether you play with a pick, or if you use fingerstyle. If you’re using a pick, try holding the pick with the least amount of pressure possible while still holding on to the pick. You should be able to shake your wrist in any direction with ease at any time. Try to maintain this feeling whenever you play and it will make a huge difference in how you sound! You will also be able to play for much longer easier!
Get Accurate With Your Picking Attack: How do you play the guitar? Is it more focused on strumming patterns? Do you play more lead lines and scales? What styles of music do you find yourself playing the most? All this will affect the way you pick the strings. If you’re strumming think about how many times you just beat the entire guitar along to the song. Were you really that accurate with your strumming? Did you really adhere to the groove of the song? Great rhythm players hit exactly the strings they mean to even while keeping the strum pattern they are using going. Practice hitting only what is needed and notice how much more clarity you will get in the groove. Don’t just hit the strings like an acoustic guitar. An electric guitar for example doesn’t have the same overtones and wrong strings will jump out at you! For example, with funk tunes try strumming the 16th note groove the entire time and fret notes only when you want them to play. It’s a great way to get a syncopated groove going. Or if you’re playing something acoustic and soulful, notice the bass root of each chord and hit that before you hit the rest of the chord. This will help train you as to what notes actually need to be struck with your right hand.
Are you into playing arpeggios? Get comfortable with picking patterns, and broken picking exercises. Pick only the strings you need to pick, and vary your attack with alternate picking. Try to look at the strings as a natural movement. I like to pick through patterns and make the switches between up and down picks to make an ease of movement with my fingers. Depending on the picking skips between strings, you might want to up pick more than down. Experiment with what feels comfortable to you, and to what seems to minimize how much work you’re having to do picking. I like to pick through as many strings going down and then naturally when I am going to bring my right hand back up for another strum I up pick other notes.
For lead lines and scales, try alternating picking in ways you might not normally play. If I’m going to insert things like trills, or repeated infinity style guitar licks I do up picking more often. It’s a great way to build up your speed with your soloing!
Think About How You Hold Your Pick: Holding you pick can actually make a big difference. Holding it with just the thumb and index finger can help with speed exercises. Adding your middle finger to the pick can help make it feel a bit stiffer and give you a bit more power for rhythm playing. I also like to use this approach when I want to hit a string really hard going into a big bend! Even how much your right hand takes up on a pick can make a big difference. Only allowing a little bit of the plastic pick out from between your fingers will actually thin your guitar sound by taking some bass out of the attack. Vice versa, giving more pick to use on the strings with less pick attack actually gives you more power and a fatter tone by giving more of the natural response of the strings to come through.
Using Your Fingers: Lastly, if you want to add some warmth to your tone consider playing with your fingers. Picks can sometimes have a plastic like tone where every note can sound the same. Using your fingers can add more dynamics to the overall sound of your guitar because you can actually feel how hard your striking the string. You can also cover more ground on the guitar because your fingers are directly over the pickups. You can even get into some interesting muting abilities that you can’t do with a pick. It’s definitely worth checking out.
KEEP ON PLAYING-AM