Fret-Hand Stretches Overview | Hub Guitar

Fret-Hand Stretches Overview

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One aspect of your technique that can quickly begin to limit what you can play on the guitar is how flexible your left hand is.

On the extreme end, if you're lacking flexibility, there are some chords that you simply won't be able to play.

But on the more subtle end of the spectrum, even if your flexibility is good enough to play just about everything, it might not be good enough to quickly and reliably play certain patterns. Usually when we're playing chords we don't have a lot of time to get into the stretch position.

So deliberately working on your flexibility is a really good idea if you want to keep pushing your technique to new levels.

We're going to do a classic stretching exercise that can be played either with the pick or with the fingers. The picking part doesn't matter. The focus of this exercise is on the fretting hand.

Once you've got the basic stretch down, you can try carefully stretching two frets at a time. This may be more stretch than you're looking for, so don't push yourself.

You get the idea. I think you'll find that with more stretch in your left hand comes more freedom to easily play the guitar the way you want to.


Stretching Out the Fret Hand

  1. Start with a Dmaj7 closed position chord with the root on Fret XII. Play the chord notes one-by-one.
  2. Walk back the 7th to a ♭7, maintaining the other three notes. Play the chord.
  3. Walk back the 5th to a ♭5, maintaining the other notes. Play the chord.
  4. Walk back the 3rd to a ♭3, maintaining the other notes, play the chord.
  5. Finally, walk the root down a half-step to arrive at D♭maj7 repeat to Cmaj7 and continue all the way down the neck.

Being able to stretch comfortably will make all aspects of playing the guitar feel easier.

Many great chords require a big stretch of the fretting-hand to reach all of the notes. Some melodies also will require big stretches as well. Guitar yoga takes a long time to develop, but we can speed up the process by deliberately exercising our picking-hand stretching.

Let’s start this exercise with a Dmaj7 chord starting on Fret XII. Use your pinky on the lowest note, then third finger, second finger and first finger. Play each note individually and make sure they’re ringing clearly.

Stretch Starting Position

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c sharp, d flat
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a natural
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f sharp, g flat
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d natural
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When you’re ready, walk the first finger down one fret. The seventh is flatted, and the result is a D7 chord. Play each note carefully and make sure they all ring clearly.

Stretch Part 1

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c natural
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a natural
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f sharp, g flat
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d natural
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After this stretch, you’re ready to follow with your second finger. Keeping the other three fingers carefully in place, walk down with your second finger. The seventh and fifth are now flatted, so this is a D7♭5.

Stretch Part 2

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c natural
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g sharp, a flat
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f sharp, g flat
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d natural
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Make sure to play the chord carefully and don’t let any notes buzz. When you’re ready, walk your third finger down to follow the other two. The next chord is a Dm7♭5.

Stretch Part 3

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c natural
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g sharp, a flat
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f natural
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d natural
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Finally, after playing all of these notes carefully, you can walk your pinky down, too. This resolves the stretch and the chord is back to the same structure it began as, but a half step lower: now you’re playing a D♭maj7 chord.

Stretch Part 4

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c natural
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g sharp, a flat
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f natural
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c sharp, d flat
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Now that you’ve completed one round of this stretch, you can continue moving each note downwards by half step in the same fashion, until finally you’ve arrived at the G♭maj7 chord on the fourth fret of the fourth string.

Notice that the stretch gets gradually more challenging as you move towards the headstock of the guitar—the frets are getting larger and larger.

Stretching Tip

Even if you can reach all of the notes you need, you may not always be able to reach them comfortably, or quickly enough. During hasty passages, this can result in placing the fingers down too forcefully as the fingers struggle to stretch to the notes. This can create a glassy sound as the strings strike the frets and fretboard, and is undesirable. So a well-conditioned hand can improve your playing and your tone.

Key Exercises

  • Repeat this stretch slowly and gently, every day for about a week. After that, you should be able to decide what kind of position you want to give it within your practice routine.

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