Why You're Touching the Wrong Strings | Hub Guitar

Why You're Touching the Wrong Strings

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Touching the Wrong Strings Hi, I'm Grey and this is Hub Guitar. Let's talk about picking hand accuracy -- one of the very most frustrating problems that most guitar players struggle with for years. This is especially difficult when you're playing with the pick, but it happens when you pluck with your fingers as well. When holding a pick, your picking hand must be able to target a single string. Typically you will be focused so much on looking at tab, or reading a piece of music, and then also making the prerequisite scale and chord shapes with the fretting hand. This consumes so much of your attention and energy that you are able to spend precious little time making sure the picking hand can accurately pluck a string. So you'll be playing a passage, and you'll fret the correct note, but the wrong note comes out. This is extremely frustrating. I like to tell my students that this problem bothered me for about the first 7 years or so of playing the guitar. And it really makes you want to pull your hair out. If this is affecting you, now is the time to make improvements to your picking hand. So the first thing you need is some sort of musical excerpt or melody, whatever you want to call. Some musical part that's difficult for you, and where you will often run into this problem. I highly recommend using classical etudes for this as they really demand that you have accurate technique. But you could also do this with anything. Some students will use a classic rock part such as the intro to "Sweet Child of Mine", as that has some string skipping in it. String skipping really tends to be an area where you run into this problem. I'm going to use Carcassi's Opus 60 No 7. That's the prescription my guitar doctor wrote me back when I was in college to help treat this problem. Next, you'll need to memorize your musical example. You can't really build technique while staring at a piece of paper. Your technique comes from your hands. Once you memorize the example, you can focus on your hands and not looking at the music. But there's one more step. You'll want to memorize the example so well that you can play it with your eyes closed. We tend to put too much attention on our left hand. For this reason, it would be great to use a musical example that does not require any position shifting, because most players will look at the fretting hand when switching positions. So now you've got a great, short musical excerpt. You've memorized it so you don't need to look at the page. You also can do it with your eyes closed. Now I'm going to just play the first few measures of this excerpt over and over again, at different tempos, focusing on my picking hand. How often do you do that? How often do you play while looking only at your picking hand? I'll bet it's not often. I'm trying to relax, and make tiny little motions. Those strings are small. Big, orcish movements like you're swinging a battle axe are not what's called for here. You want to make little up and down zig zags. If this drives you crazy, that means you're on right track! It takes patience and repetition. I know for a fact that you'll master this motion if you practice it in the right way and for a long enough time. So switch back to closed eyes, but projecting your attention into getting the right strings. Now switch to watching your fretting hand. Be sure that it makes tiny motions. That's it. This problem will only last as long as you allow it to. When you decide to solve this problem once and for all, you will get much better at this. So practice difficult picking exercises, with string skipping, and focus on looking at your left hand.

One of the most frustrating parts of learning the guitar is hearing that sound of extra strings ringing. You meant to hit the “A” string but you accidentally hit the “D” string. It really is infuriating.

It’s important to recognize that this is a picking-hand problem. Your picking hand is not very accurate.

Here are a few tips for diagnosing and resolving the problem.

Possible Causes of Pick-Hand Inaccuracy

Beginners: are you playing the wrong guitar?

Hopefully this advice mostly applies to beginners, as switching from right-hand to left-hand guitar is not easy after you’ve already learned how to play.

But it’s worth asking if you’re playing the wrong guitar. If you’re left-handed, but playing the standard right-handed guitar, you may have this problem.

There’s a reason why the right-handed version of the guitar has the right-hand picking the strings, and the left-hand guitar has the left-hand picking them. That’s because as your technique develops, it becomes critically important for the picking hand to be accurate.

Are you mostly concentrating on your fretting hand?

If you’ve mostly been worried about playing the correct notes and patterns with your fretting hand, and you’ve mostly been looking at your fretting hand while you play, then it’s no wonder that your picking hand is starting to fall behind. Address this by spending some time working on picking etudes. Memorize the etudes, and watch your picking hand while you play them.

Are you playing from memory?

Reading music off of the page or tab is not going to help you improve your picking accuracy very quickly. If you want to make your pick-hand more accurate, you’ll need to concentrate just on doing that. That means memorizing challenging music with difficult picking patterns and many string skips. And practicing the music at a slow speed, ideally with a metronome, while watching your picking hand closely for errors. Focus on minimizing motion and maximizing efficiency.

Tips to Improve Picking Accuracy

If you’ve identified a problem, fix it

If your picking hand is inaccurate, this is the kind of problem that will get better on it’s own, but only after a very long time. And you will never have a really high-level of accuracy without working towards it intentionally. If this problem is bothering you, make it a top priority to address. That means spending time every day improving it.

You can almost never go wrong by investing time working on better technique.

Practice string skipping

String skipping puts a great deal if pressure on the picking hand to get its act together. You should patiently practice string skipping exercises until this problem improves.

Play classical etudes

Play classical etudes, even if you think they’re boring. Find one or two great etudes and get to work. Many of the players with the best right-hand technique credit this to practicing classical etudes.

Here are a few great etudes to build right-hand technique:

These etudes can help you build excellent technique by pressuring your right hand to make many accurate leaps and jumps across the strings.

To make the most of them, you’ll want to first memorize the etudes, which may mean spending less time on right-hand accuracy at first. Once memorized, you can play the etudes from memory while carefully monitoring your picking hand.

Be patient

The problem you are having affects many players, even those who have played for 10 years or more. It is very frustrating, and it is one of the problems that can make you feel like you’ll never really get a grip on the guitar. But it will improve. Your hands will get better, if you ask them to.

Think about your overall pick-hand technique

If you’ve spent 2 months or more focused on improving your pick-hand technique and you’re not seeing the improvements you expect, you may need to change your technique.

You may need a fundamental change in technique. This is a tough decision because it can set you back at first. It can actually rewind your playing to a previous skill level. It feels much like starting back at square one. But if you’re not seeing improvement in your technique, you may need to change it. It’s important to recognize when a technique has brought you to a dead end. Because you can stay at that dead end for one year or ten years. But if you’re not getting better, you need to try new techniques.

Here are a list of habits you may need to consider changing:

  • Hold the pick differently. The pick should not be perpendicular to the strings, but come down at an angle. This allows the smoothest attack and release of the string, both for downstrokes and upstrokes. (More about holding the pick...)
  • Don’t rest your right-hand on the fretboard. (With the exception of muted notes.) The habit of stabilizing your hand on the fretboard is controversial, and may be causing problems.
  • Relax your wrist. If you’re feeling tension and difficulty in the wrist, it may be time to rethink it. Consciously project your mind into the muscles of your wrist. Are they relaxed or tense?
  • Relax your grip. You avoid dropping the pick by holding it correctly, not by holding it firmly. The pick needs to flex to pass over the strings. It is a solid, impermeable object and cannot pass through the strings.
As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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