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Tom Quayle Modern Guitar Part 19: Lazy First Finger Syndrome

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 58 **

Hi there, guys and welcome back to my column for this issue! I want to talk about something that plagued my playing for quite some time and that I still have to remind myself to work on every now and then but isn’t at all obvious until someone points it out.

As a legato player, I spend a great deal of time using my fretting hand’s first finger as an anchor from which my other fingers can execute hammer ons and pull offs to create the phrases that I play. Of all of my fingers, it is the one that moves the least as I move around the fretboard, but its importance is paramount in my pursuit of accurate and consistent technique. Of all of the fingers on my left hand, the first finger moves the least and, as such, receives a lot less training than the other fingers in terms of technical accuracy, and can often be neglected and overlooked in favour of the other fingers that seem to be doing much more work.

This can lead you to develop what I call ‘Lazy First Finger Syndrome’ where the accuracy and consistency of the first finger lags behind the other fingers that are utilised so much more frequently. If you are finding that your legato technique (or any other technique for that matter) is suffering from poor timing, consistency and accuracy, you could do far worse than working on your first finger, since laziness in this area can affect your playing far more than you might imagine.

From a personal perspective, I find that any time I work on my first finger, in particular, my overall level of accuracy and consistency improves dramatically, and I can move around the fretboard with much more skill and ease. This makes sense of course since if the first finger is moving between strings marginally out of time or fretting in an inconsistent manner, this will inevitably affect your other fingers and therefore the quality of your legato technique overall.

For this column, I want to present to you three exercises that you can use to work on your first finger and avoid this ‘Lazy First Finger Syndrome’ in your playing. As usual, all the exercises are tabbed out for you to learn. Start slowly with each of them and work on the accurate placement of your first finger and make sure you are relaxed as you move between the strings. Speed should be a by-product of this relaxation and accuracy, so don’t speed up until you feel that both of these things are in place.

Exercise one is based around the D Blues scale and requires you to play a pedal tone whilst your first finger dances around the other notes in the scale. I use hybrid picking to execute the higher notes and my pick to play the pedal tone, but you can use whichever right-hand technique feels comfortable to you.

Exercise two is based on an Am Pentatonic scale played across the A and G strings with the open strings proceeding two fretted notes each time. This gives you a bit more time to execute the string changes but you really have to pay attention to the time here as you are playing groups of 16th notes but there are three notes on each string.

The final exercise is a wide stretch idea that really gives your first finger and brain a workout and is definitely the hardest of the three presented here. If you can master this one you should have really given your first finger a challenge and will already be feeling more accurate overall in your technical approach.

There isn’t a single part of your technique that won’t benefit from these exercises and developing accuracy with your first finger. Hopefully, you find these useful and I recommend that you come up with plenty of your own ideas that will keep your first finger active and in check so that you don’t develop the dreaded ‘Lazy First Finger Syndrome’.

Good luck and I’ll see you all in the next issue!


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