When I began playing guitar I had a very patient teacher, truly a saint if ever I met one, who said something that took a while to totally make sense to me. And now I pass it on to you, paraphrasing the Saint:
“The guitar is one of the simplest instruments to play simple music on, and one of the most difficult to play difficult music on.”
This may sound like a means-nothing common-sense statement at first, and that is likely why it took me so long to understand it. I probably let it slide away without much thought, but subconsciously there is a gem of a promise in that idea. From the earliest experiences you have with a guitar, you can sound good.
The key to early success is as simple as sounding good. Everyone who picks up a guitar has an idea about what, or rather who, they want to sound like. Likewise, there is nothing more frustrating than fighting buzzes and thuds and weak notes from the beginning. While the ideal tone is a very personal subject to each guitarist, the objective reality for the beginning guitarist is that there is such a thing as good baseline tone production. And the great news is that it isn’t hard to achieve, with some attention to the three P’s – Posture, Position, and Pressure.
- Good posture, either seated or standing, can have a big impact on tone. The fingers make the music, but the whole body has to work together to support the hands to make the fingers work. This includes things like keeping the head up, back straight, arms loose but supporting their own weight, feet shoulder-width apart… The list goes on, and many examples exist in print and online sources to reference. Bottom line – find a good posture that keeps you pain free, supported, and comfortable while practicing.
- The positioning of the left hand is where much of the magic happens in good baseline tone production. Fingers arched enough to avoid bumping other strings, only the fingertips touching the strings just behind the fret, supported by the thumb centered opposite the fingers. Careful attention to these details can result in a near fool-proof method for avoiding buzzing, weak notes, and stray sounds in your earliest practices and beyond.
- Finally, the right pressure from the left hand fingers can save you a lot of frustration. Depending on the strings you use and the type of guitar, neck shape, and a few other smaller factors, you may need more or less pressure to produce a good, clean tone when chording or playing individual pitches. Too little pressure results in weak notes or buzzing. Too much pressure can be bad too, creating out-of-tune notes by bending the pitch slightly.
Keep these simple tips in mind to eliminate frustrations and improve your baseline tone. Now that you know how simple it is to sound simply good, go GuitPickin’!