When you grab your guitar and you start to shred your favorite riff, you are probably so in the zone that you’re not totally aware of what your hands are doing. You’re so focused on playing the notes cleanly and in the right rhythm that you don’t realize that you are probably making the biggest mistake that all guitar players make with their picking hand.
The #1 mistake that beginner-intermediate players make is anchoring a finger of their picking hand on the guitar below the strings. If that’s you, don’t worry! I started playing that exact same way and it didn’t hold me back from learning my favorite riffs or songs. However, several years ago I did a speed test with my right hand to visually see the difference in speed based on technique.
Speed Test: Anchoring Pinky vs Free-Handing
When I set my metronome to a comfortable speed for me, I started doing some of my favorite finger exercises and I rolled through them at the same tempo using both techniques. No problems there! I could play at my normal starting tempo easily with both. So I started raising the tempo gradually going up ~10 BPM here or there and repeating the same exercises. I pushed as high as I could with both and I found that when I didn’t anchor a finger on my picking hand, I could go faster and stay cleaner than if I was anchoring my pinky down. It took me years and years to try this test but I’m very glad I did because I could visually see that I could play faster and cleaner without anchoring my pinky finger down.
Using the Results
Once I discovered the difference in this technique I went back to play some licks and I noticed that #1) it was much harder since my muscle memory was telling me to anchor a finger and #2) I played so much more technically. Everything was squeaky clean and quick but I felt like I lost a little bit of grit that I like in my playing. I’m a very bluesy player so I prefer it when it’s a bit dirty and not too clean. However, when I was teaching students to play faster and cleaner, it definitely made a HUGE difference.
What Does This Mean for Your Playing?
You might be asking how this affects you and your playing. The correct answer here is that all players are different and you might be getting along just fine even if you do anchor a finger. However, depending on your style, you might want to play cleaner and faster so that you can play that lick up to tempo or clean up that riff that doesn’t quite sound like the recording. I’ll be the first one to admit that I mostly play with my pinky anchored and I’ve seen some big names out there do the same thing. It’s not like it’s the end of the world but I can guarantee you that you will see different results if you don’t anchor at all.
If you can’t get the speed you want yet, don’t anchor that finger! Can’t play as clean as you want? Don’t anchor that finger! If you want to push the boundaries of your finger exercises, don’t anchor that finger! If you want to play some gritty blues that sound gnarly and get your engine going… play it dirty!
Bad Habits – #1 Progress Killer
When we are learning guitar in general, it’s always a good thing to take a look at our hands, our posture, our technique, anything that is vital to our guitar playing and make sure that we look at these things with perspective. When we look at things with perspective, we can see if there’s something we can change to make our playing better. At the end of the day, I think you should play the way that makes the sounds you like but for beginner – intermediate players, you might not quite have developed that ear yet. Everything comes with time and I can’t wait until you’re making huge progress and are becoming the guitar player you want to be.
Overcoming Bad Habits
If you’re serious about taking a look at your habits and making the necessary adjustments, I’ve got some advice for you. All of the best players play with many of the exact same fundamentals and techniques. Why? Because that’s what allows them to play at the top of their game every time. What can you do to get on the same level? Look into my “Fundamentals of Guitar” eBooks to learn the behind-the-scenes look into the fundamentals that make great guitar players great.
If you’re interested in other techniques that most players make mistakes on, check out these other great lessons:
- Fretting Clean Chords
- Making Clean Chord Transitions
- Figuring Out Strumming Patterns
- Learning the Patterns of the Fretboard
I’ve also got a free 5-day course that will cover all of these things and more so be sure to check it out by clicking the link below!