When learning guitar solos there are quite a few things that first come to mind i.e, technique, speed, picking style but rarely is hand placement talked about. When I talk about hand placement here I’m referring to the ‘fretting hand’ and not the picking hand, although you could write a whole book on that one.
If you just play by feel and go with what seems comfortable you may stumble across the best way to do things, but you may also fall into some bad habits, or positions that don’t help you to play what you want to play. Once you get into these positions and you naturally go there it can be difficult to retrain yourself…difficult, but not impossible. Here we’ll take a look at what some different positions are and how they can be used in your playing. I’ll also point out some of the pitfalls of using certain techniques and how they can be corrected.
I also want to point out that there are no right or wrong ways to position your hands on the guitar, just ways that work and ways that don’t…
Two main thoughts around hand positioning:
Classical or Solo Position & Rock or Bending Position – These have been called many different names but the name itself is irrelevant, so we’ll just use these to illustrate the idea. After looking at these positions from a ‘fingers on the board’ approach, we can also look at the thumb position and find a way to get the result we’re after.
This is often called this because it’s taught as the only effective position on the classical guitar, and with good reason. When you’re playing mostly separate notes, scales, or anything that involves a lot of finger changing and movement (such as guitar solos), it helps to have the fullest access from your fingers and that’s what this position provides.
Technique – This is achieved by placing the thumb facing vertically in the middle of the back of the neck, thereby giving you greater access for your fingers on the fretboard.
This is also an effective technique and one that feels more natural to play for a lot of people but it has its limitations, especially when learning how to play guitar solos. The advantage of this technique is getting a controlled grip and general control when doing any sort of bending or movement of the notes (you’ll notice a lot of blues players using the thumb over the approach to get the controlled tone and maximized feeling from the notes). The disadvantage is the reduced finger control over faster moving passages such as scale runs etc…
Technique – To do this simply place your thumb further up toward the top of the back of the neck, to the point of gripping the neck like a club and forcing your thumb down for a greater level of control.
To get an idea of the difference in the finger control, start in the first position with your thumb in the center of the neck and move it up to the top – note how your fingers move on the front and how much reach you have in either position! You’ll soon see the advantages of both and if you combine the two in your playing it will give you greater control regardless of what you want to play.
There is one last thing to consider and that is the thumb angle. Some people recommend pointing the thumb along the neck and facing the headstock, try it with both positions and see how comfortable it is to play with, but I have to also point out that the thumb straight up is the most common practice.