The Right Hand – Training for success!

The Right Hand – Training for success!

One thing I’ve noticed being a guitar instructor is the wild fluctuations of the right hands of new students. From using a pick or thumb only, or a finger-style where the hand looks painfully contorted. Often these students are coming from a class room setting or self-taught back ground where poor technique tends to flourish. Most often when I question a student as to how they came to this, the answer is they never thought about it that much or their old teacher never showed them how to use a pick.

This type of thinking or teaching to me is flawed. The right hand is the most important hand for the guitarist. It is responsible for sound production, different tone productions, dynamics, and rhythm. This is not to say that left hand development is not important, but nothing gets played without the right hand. Here are a few tips to train the right hand and certain techniques to stay away from.

  1. Start with finger-style– Regardless of age, learning finger-style is the way to go for a beginner. Although difficult at first, students can feel each string with their fingertips which makes it easier for them to find strings and identify them without looking. Once the student starts getting some skill with the index and middle finger alterations, common rhythms are much easier and finding stings to play melodies is much more intuitive.
  2. Stay away from guitar picks- Using a guitar pick might be the most common way of playing guitar in pop culture, but it is taking the hard road. With a guitar pick most beginning students find it very difficult to find the correct strings or hold on to it correctly. I my experience I find students will spend more time looking for strings or getting pick out of sound holes. In addition, the sound students produce with a pick is never good to start with.
  3. The Thumb is not much better- Using the thumb is a little better to start however there are still problems with using it initially. The sound produced by the thumb is very quiet and at times causes the student to pull out on the strings causing a slap sound. You can’t effectively do an upstroke with the thumb causing students to always attack the string with a down stroke which is awkward and clumsy.
  4. Guitar picks are for the intermediate to advanced student- It is always my recommendation for students to start with finger style over guitar picks. There is so much more that is covered in the early stages when students are not searching around for strings or dropping guitar picks.


Once I see that a student is confident and stable with their right-hand skills I will slowly introduce them to the pick. If the student is first competent with their right hand, they will generally be able to use a pick without issue.        


Catoctin School of Music
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