Technique

Technique is basically the body of specialized procedures and methods that are used to create a desired effect in any specific field of study. The concept of technique when applied to the study of a musical instrument is what enables musicians to articulate what they wish to play and or compose on their instrument with efficiency and clarity.Many students I have taught who play other instruments such as the piano say, “Wow, the guitar is really hard!” Whether the guitar is intially harder to play than the piano or any other instrument is not what’s important. Musical instruments need not be in a perceived competition. What is important is that beginner guitar students have the best understanding of the various techniques required to for them to reach an adequate level of competency while enjoying to play their instruments in what ever style of music they choose.

Fretboard

With that said, the guitar is really not that hard. Although In the early stages of learning how to play the guitar or any stringed instruments there may be a more precise control through the use of greater finger strength than with other instruments. Because of the need for greater coordination and therefore greater initial technique the guitar may be initially more complex from a physical and visual stand point than say the piano. To play a single fretted note, two fingers are immediately required to work in a coordinated effort. Beginner piano students can rely on the simple uniform layout, size and response of the piano keys. Also when initially learning to play the piano the student can easily press down on any key with one hand and produce a very good sound immediately. A beginner piano student can practice much less than a beginner guitar student and get away with it because at least the notes themselves will sound good. Most guitar students have to battle through discomfort and pain and sometimes still not be able to produce a consistently good sound for many months. I mention this not to imply that piano is easy or downplay it’s challenges, of course there are obstacles to overcome when learning to play the piano as there are with all instruments but I want beginner guitar students who previously played the piano or other instruments to understand the basic inherent challenges of learning to play the guitar.

During the first six months, while learning to play the guitar, it is crucial for students to develop the majority of good basic guitar techniques. If a student can master basic guitar techniques they wont have to go back and relearn the proper way to finger a note or chord or to pick or strum a specific rhythm correctly when they encounter difficulty trying to play a song where greater technique is required. If the student learns proper guitar technique they will be rewarded with greater physical control which will produce hours of more comfortable and enjoyable guitar playing.

When initially learning to play the guitar, students may hear buzzing sounds and muffled notes that don’t always ring clearly. They may experience slight pain or discomfort in the tips of their fingers, the hand and wrist, or even their back and shoulders. This is normal. It takes time to build up the necessary physical strength and agility in previously unused muscles to produce a pleasant consistent tone. Like an athlete a guitar player must learn to train not strain. Students will have to endure moderate levels of soreness and discomfort but if they experience extreme pain, they should stop immediately and rest their muscles for a few minutes and then stretch. If pain persists, students should stop altogether and consult a doctor. I have never seen a beginner student physically injured from guitar playing but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

To produce a clear pleasant tone with proper pitch the student must press the tips (balls) of their fingers down on a the guitar string directly in front of the fret without bending the string which changes it’s length (changing the strings pitch or note). Also, students must press down with the correct leverage (applied pressure). Basic general guitar technique requires that each student place their thumb on the back of the guitar neck in such a way that will support each note or chord with strength and control. Although the actual placement of the thumb slightly differs for every guitar player, the basic proper positioning of the thumb is usually behind the second finger lower than the half way point in the middle part of the width of the neck. Proper thumb placement also depends upon whether the student is playing a single note or chord (a group of notes played together) and at what position on the neck they’re playing. The smallest adjustment in each student’s thumb and finger placement will greatly affect the overall sound of the notes being played. Placing the thumb behind the second finger with proper leverage is a good place to form a foundation of initial technique that will be fine tuned as the students playing experience grows.

I don’t believe there is “one” proper technique, but as I have discussed there are definitely basic rules of posture: how to sit, stand, and generally position your left and right hand on the guitar that I have found to work best for most students. Remember that obtaining good technique is an on going process like practicing slowly in a disciplined and focused manner that will develop over time if consistently attended too.

These skills come more easily to some students and not so easily for others. If a student learns where and how to place there thumb, fingers and hold a guitar pick more quickly than others it’s mostly because they’re just naturally more coordinated. Being smart doesn’t hurt but intelligence has less to do with initial grasping of guitar technique than born ability. That means that the necessary skills to play the guitar effectively can be achieved by almost anyone who puts in the time and effort. Remember there is no right or wrong speed for development. Improvement quick or slow is always progress. Through consistent practice with proper posture, hand position, and the correct use of leverage most all discomfort will eventually disappear.

Most guitar students choose to use a guitar pick rather than play with their fingers alone. The reason for using a guitar pick is that most beginner guitarists find it to be easier to play with a pick and a pick offers the widest variety of techniques which accommodate the most popular playing styles. When using a pick choose a medium to heavy pick of the standard teardrop design. Firmly hold the widest part of the pick between the index finger and the thumb so it projects out only 1/4 “ or 1/8 ” over the string.

When applying any guitar techniques certain variables should be taken into account like: hand size, finger size, string size, string tension, action of the strings on the guitar (height of the strings above the fretboard), physical style of the guitar (nylon string classical, steel string acoustic, solid body electric guitar or electric bass guitar) and of course the manufacturer who produces the guitar and strings that are used. If a beginner student learns on an acoustic nylon string classical, acoustic steel string, an electric guitar or an electric bass guitar the basic guitar playing techniques will share many of the same principals of leverage and hand placement but not all of them. Also specific styles of music call for even more specific techniques like playing classical or flamenco finger style guitar for example where no pick is used.

So, with all that said, each guitar student only needs to gain as much proper guitar technique as they require to perform the music they wish to play and no more. We could all spend a life time acquiring techniques and never play what we really want too with passion and emotion. That would be horrible! The goal is for each guitar student to find the level of technique that will allow them to play the music they enjoy with the proper spirit it deserves.

I hope that any guitar students who read this appreciate that proper guitar technique at all levels of guitar playing is a requirement, not something that can be overlooked. If a student puts in the time and discipline they will surely be rewarded with the joy of being able to play smooth sounding notes, brilliant chords and seamless rhythm parts.

It is always in the best interest of students to expand his or her sweet tooth by listening to the ear candy which so many great guitar players provide. When students listen to the sounds and riffs of great guitarists they should try to figure out what techniques they employ. This will get students closer to finding what level of specific techniques they need to obtain and ultimately create their unique style of guitar playing. Enjoy!

”The music has generated all the techniques I use. When I sit down to play something…it is not because I want to master a technique. It is because I want to hear what an idea sounds like.” -Pat Martino