Left hand micro adjustments

Sometimes when I need to play two consecutive notes (on the same string) with one fret in between, I have to choose between stretching my fingers to play the higher note, or to lift all fingers and play the second note after shifting my whole hand. I prefer the shift because it allows me to maintain my hand shape (alignment of the knuckles), avoiding unnecessary micro adjustments in the smaller muscles. I also recommend not to stretch because if creates tension in the weakest finger - pinky as shown in the example below.

When using the stretching method, the stretch lasts only a split second, but what about the strain that is put on the weakest finger? After the stretch, the finger needs to contract back to its relaxed position. That's already two movements. Of course there are two movements with the whole hand as well in my suggested way, but I find that it doesn't require such micro adjustments in between fingers and works better for speed and accuracy as well as less strain for the little finger because there is no need for wrist angle adjustments and spacing between fingers. Basically, one motion instead of multiple.

It is beneficial to reduce the amount of micro adjustments to increase efficiency of movement resulting in more rhythmic evenness, better control and flow as well as overall reduction of tension. Also, using bigger muscles in this case is a good idea.

And one more very strong reason for moving the whole hand and reducing strain on the pinky: I have seen many people with ulnar nerve injuries. Having the pinky stretch significantly adds to the probability of getting an injury.

Video example of Etude No. 7 by H. Villa-Lobos:

Below are some comments from guitarist and composer Joseph Shields. I was glad to see that this topic resonated with people:

“Well, basically since I have smaller hands I'm always looking for ways to refine efficiency of movement and this is one way I’ve been exploring recently. As one who plays and understands the guitar better than most people I know I was very encouraged to see your video about this. What I’ve been paying attention to lately is analyzing any movement that takes my LH out of “normal/comfortable” position, determining why and whether it is necessary or not. Sometimes it is unavoidable, but I’m realizing that it is avoidable more often than I thought. I really like your solution in the VL7 example which still allows you to keep your hand in the same LH position without adjustment. Another way I’ve used to avoid this type of stretch is to play the opening two strings with 1 and 4 then shift on third string. Although both solutions require more actual movement it is actually much less physical effort because the movement is distributed throughout and shared by the larger muscles (which makes the movement barely perceptible) rather than concentrated into the smallest muscles. It is the difference between “visible movement” and “actual effort.” Lifting a 3 pound weight with my pinky is far less visible movement, but it is a lot more actual effort than lifting the same weight with my whole hand and arm. Either of these becomes trickier in chordal and polyphonic textures, but I’m still finding that it is more avoidable than I previously thought. Even the awareness of why a position/stretch is unavoidable is incredibly helpful in being as efficient as possible.

I agree that this should be taught as a fundamental during early development. This is where many students go astray when left unchecked and end up working a lot harder than necessary to their own detriment. Playing efficiently ‘feels weird’ in the early developmental stages, but should be encouraged until it is programmed in the student’s fingers and mind.”

-Joseph Shields

Yuri LiberzonComment