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Anchoring, Guide and Pivot Fingers - for Smooth Guitar Playing

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Changing chords can be quite a challenge for beginner guitarists. You have to look at the fretboard trying to size-up a chord you want to change you want to change to. The same sort of thing can happen with your right hand trying to pick the correct string.

Simple techniques - tips, really - could smoothen your playing. Ultimately you could play your guitar with your eyes closed. You can cut-down on your effort to line up your chord and focus more on the stuff that really matter - the rhythm and melody. It's all about utilising your muscle memory and your body's very own hard-wired no-effort-needed position sense.

The basic rule you have to follow is don't look at your hands too much. See which fret you have to play and try and hit it without seeing. Use your sense of position (your instinct about where the next frets are). To help you "automatically locate" the nest fret (for left hand) or string (for picking the string with your right hand), use your fingers as guides:

Anchoring finger / Right hand guide finger: When you are playing single notes at a time, like during playing leads or arpeggios or broken chords (not strumming), the little finger of your right hand (pinky) should rest on the guard plate. This gives your body a point of reference to figure out the positions of the strings you are picking. You may have to remove this finger when you are strumming chords, otherwise it would be difficult.

Alternately, if you are finger-picking, as in classical guitar styles, your anchoring finger / right hand guide finger, may be the thumb of your right hand resting on the 6th string intermittently.

Guide finger / Left hand guide finger: This is a finger of your left (fretting) hand that slides up and down - fret to fret - on a single string while staying in contact with the guitar neck as you change chords. This technique helps you to easily change to chords up or down the neck (at various positions). Some chord pairs may have multiple guide fingers to choose from. Pick one that is easy for you - preferably the one that is being played by your middle or ring finger. It us advisable to choose the one playing the root note.

Guide finger / Left hand guide finger

In the above example (changing between A major in 2nd position and C major in 5th position), the root notes are marked in red. A good guide finger would be the one playing on the 3rd string. (More examples at "Shapes of individual CAGED major chords : C Major"). Another example would be your ring/middle finger while changing between F major in 1st position and G major in 3rd position.

Pivot finger: This is a finger of your left (fretting) hand that stays fixed on a particular string and fret when you change between chords near the same neck position. This finger plays a note that is shared between the two chords. This technique helps you to easily change to chords of different shapes. There may be multiple possible pivot fingers, it is advisable to choose the one that is being played by your ring or middle finger, as these will give your more flexibility when actually changing.

Pivot finger

In the above example (changing between G major in open position and D major in open position) the shared fingers between the two chords are the ring and little finger. The ring finger, playing the D note is chosen to be the pivot finger (marked in green) for flexibility. Another example would be the index finger (easiest in this case) while changing between G major and E minor in open position.

You can pick up these skills rather quickly if you know about the basic movable chord shapes.

The basic point of choosing these fingers is that you pick one for yourself, stick to it, and then practice hanging chords with it. As is obvious, these fingers would change depending on the pair of chords you are changing between. This will stop you second guessing about which finger to use as guide / pivot every time you change chords.

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