Holding your guitar neck properly starts with your hand…but not on your guitar (yet). Let’s find out what really makes your hand work first.
Look closely at the photograph. Notice the position of the fingers against the thumb. Do the same in your hand. With the thumb straight, bring the first and second fingers to the pad of your thumb just above your knuckle joint. Press the three together and feel the strength and balance. Press into your thumb enough to feel the top of the bone. This is the “sweet spot” of your thumb. Relax your hand and look at that sweet spot so you have an accurate mental picture of it. It’s actually toward the side of the thumb. (Look at the “top-of-thumb” photo. You can see the sweet spot is to the side.)
Place the first and second fingers on your thumb again, but slightly raise or lower them. Press and notice that the balance and tension across the hand has changed. Move the first and second fingers higher or lower again and press together one more time. Do you notice that the more you move the fingertips away from the sweet spot, the more tension there is in your hand?
This is because the sweet spot is the exact balance point for all your fingertips to press against the thumb. The hand is strongest and most relaxed when the fingers and thumb press together there. Now add your third finger to press against your thumb. All three fingers press directly into the thumb and maintain an easy curved shape.
Press each finger one by one into the thumb so you can feel the strength differences of the first, second and third fingers. Each fingertip contacts the thumb at a slightly different spot and angle. The second finger is the strongest, and is the balance of the hand. This is important because you need to work with balance as you play to relax your fingers, hand, wrist and arm.
Grab your guitar and look at the back of the neck. Does it have a stripe running from the guitar body to the headstock (like the guitar in the photo)?
(That stripe, an inlay in the wood, is called a “skunk stripe.” Funny name, but serious job for our purposes.)
If your guitar has a skunk stripe, imagine the sweet spot of your thumb always running right along that center stripe as you play. This will keep your thumb in the best position to balance your hand, fingers and arm. (If your guitar does not have the skunk stripe, imagine on your guitar neck where it would be. Visualize the stripe on the neck until you’ve got the feel of it.)
The two main ways to hold the guitar are one leg crossed over the other (like the black and white photo), or one leg propped up on a foot stool.
In both pictures, the guitar neck is up toward the shoulder and the body slopes down. Keeping the neck high makes it much easier to play because your wrist stays straight. When your wrist is straight, it’s more comfortable for your hand.
Now it’s time to put the guitar in your hands! Place the sweet spot of your thumb on the back of the neck on the skunk stripe and your first and second fingers on the front of the neck, called the fretboard. Keep your fingers on the fretboard directly opposite the skunk stripe. Your fingertips will probably be on the third or fourth string, depending on the width of your guitar neck and the size of your hand. Curve your fingers and press your fingertips directly at the sweet spot of the thumb through the neck. By maintaining the feel of “fingers aim at thumb,” you keep the hand balanced and the fingers applying pressure in a firm and relaxed touch.
Press your fingers, hold to a count of three and release your finger pressure. You want to press the strings enough to make firm contact with the fretboard, but not so hard that you clamp your hand or feel clenching in your wrist or forearm. Press and relax to a count of three ten times in a row so that your whole hand, wrist and arm get used to the feel of your fingertips and thumb on the neck. This will make your hand and arm learn strength and relaxation right the first time.
Now let’s look at the space between the lower edge of your guitar neck and your palm. To keep your hand relaxed, you always want to maintain that space. Do not let your palm collapse onto the guitar neck. If you feel the neck contact your palm, let your palm drop and curve your fingers more to return your hand to the correct position.
This may seem like a lot to take into both your hand and brain at once, so working through this whole post two or three times will benefit you and your playing. The three most important things to remember for your technique are:
- The sweet spot of your thumb is on the center of the back of the neck.
- Curve your fingers and press your fingertips directly onto the string, aiming at your thumb.
- Maintain a space between the bottom of the guitar neck and your palm.
If these three things are learned by “feel” into your hand, you will experience relaxed playing and a happy hand!