Changing the Name “Knuckle to “Basal”

Aaron Shearer

 Readers who are familiar with my Learning the Classic Guitar books might notice that I have changed identification of this joint from the term “knuckle” to “basal” and may wonder why; I am pleased to offer the following explanation:

Many years ago when, as a young teacher I began using the term knuckle in referring to this specific joint, I didn’t realize that, by definition, all three joints of a finger are knuckles. Over the years an alert student would now and then bring this misunderstanding to my attention. Their generally polite assertions finally prompted me to consult a dictionary where I learned that the students were right.

Obviously a correction was needed and it was this thought that prompted me to make what I’ll call a somewhat misguided foray into the world of anatomy in quest of a better approach to learning the guitar. I found the answer in an anatomy book: metacarpophalangeal joint!  From my perspective now, it’s a little hard to believe that I actually attempted to use this monstrosity in teaching some of my more intellectually mature students. (I only hope they have forgotten.) Of course it didn’t take long to discover that using such a perplexing term, although accurate, was of no benefit to me or the student and I soon returned to using “knuckle.”

When I began writing Learning the Classic Guitar, published in 1990, use of the term knuckle had become so habitual that I hardly gave it a second thought. However, as you will see in the present revision, guitar instruction has undergone considerable development during the past few years. Technical instruction has become more accurate and careful, resulting in easier, more secure and rapid progress. Among more progressive teachers, movement at the three finger joints has come under greater scrutiny (and become more controversial) than ever before. This has prompted a re-examination of the joint  names with a focus on the specific function of each: the tip joint supports the tip segment, the middle joint supports the middle segment and the basal joint supports the basal segment at the base of the finger. This conforms to the definition of the term basal appearing in Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. The basal joint relates to and is situated at the base of each finger and the thumb. Further, the name basal is not only accurate, it is also both clearly descriptive and easily pronounced. Perhaps “basal” will become as widely accepted and used as did the terms, “rest-stroke” and “free-stroke” within a few years after I introduced them in my Classic Guitar Technique series of books written over 45 years ago.