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The Guitar Principles  
The TRUTH about Learning Guitar
Improve Your Skills > Blues/Rock > Don't Lift Those Fingers On Scales!

Don't Lift Those Fingers On Scales!

Here is a very bad habit I see quite frequently,  I call it "seesawing" with the fingers. "Seesawing" means playing a note with one finger, then placing a finger for the next one (as in a scale), and automatically lifting the first one as the second goes down. Sometimes the lift is quite high off the strings. The effect is to greatly handicap the fingers, sometimes completely ruining the passa ge being played. The faster it goes, the worse it gets. It is most noticeable in scales, especially the basic rock or blues scale, the minor pentatonic. When the fingers are lifting high, they look like the pistons of an engine pumping up and down! 



This finger behavior is is bad for a number of reasons:


  1. It violates the "economy of motion principle". The further the fingers move away from the strings, the longer they take to get back to them when needed.
  2. The rising of the first finger actually creates an imbalance in the hand, as the balance in the hand is shifted to the 3rd finger alone, often creating subtle tension throughout the arm, adding to the difficulty described above.
  3. It looks terrible! Inelegant, to say the least! 

Like so many bad habits, it starts to take root right away, as soon as you get your hands on your first scale, which for many people is at their first lesson with a teacher who doesn't know better than to give scales to a new student!. All students should be trained, from the beginning, to keep the first finger down as the next finger plays on the same string. The amount of pressure will vary according to playing circumstances, but the finger does not lift from the string until it is about to move to the next string, and while the hand is balanced and supported as much as possible by the last finger playing on that string. When it does move to the next string, it "drags" over, it does not lift. (These details of finger movement are covered in the Foundation Exercises from The Principles.)

If you suffer from this bad habit, do not kid yourself about what it takes to overcome it. Only deep no tempo practice and work-ups with the Basic Practice Approach will erase the old muscle memory and replace it with the kind of controlled and skillful action we are talking about here. The awareness of finger pressure with the first finger must be maintained as the next finger goes down (which is usually the 3rd finger in a Pentatonic Scale. The first finger will reduce its pressure, but it must remain in contact with the string.

Here is a video clip of a student who had this problem, which demonstrated itself in the First Minor Pentatonic Form. You will see the "seesawing" I am describing in the first part of the clip, followed by some slow tempo practice where the correct action is reinforced, and the correct sensations are focused on mentally (it often requires much slower, deeper practice than this as well). Finally, you will see the improved result. There is still some work to do, but the first finger was made to stay down and close to a much greater degree with only a few minutes or CORRECT practice.


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