Throughout this method the student will frequently encounter the term optimal hand position. A definition of this term is first presented in the text on p. 2, but some further explanation of the issues surrounding optimal hand position may prove beneficial. Our basic premise in studying the guitar is to use the least effort to achieve the desired result. One of the most immediate and practical applications of this principle is in regards to positioning of the body—especially the hands. The hands function with the least effort when they are allowed to work most naturally.
The most natural motion for the hands is the grasping motion; the fingers and thumb move together from all joints to close the hand around an object. Therefore, the most efficient way to play the guitar is to use (as closely as practical) this motion. This is particularly true in the right hand, which can sound the strings with nearly this exact movement. When used in this way, the muscles controlling the hand work in their position of greatest strength, control, and ease.
While it is fairly easy to talk about the natural motion of the hands, it is slightly more difficult to apply the idea of “natural” to the rest of the body. The solution is to examine a little more closely why the hand works best the way it does. When the hand closes to grasp an object, all of the muscles function together to move in the same direction, and the joints are in their mid-range of movement. We will describe this kind of advantageous functioning as leverage; using the body in the way that allows for the greatest strength, control, and ease.
When we approach any aspect of playing the guitar, we should try to achieve maximum leverage. In positioning the instrument, this means placing the guitar so that the left hand can reach the first fret while still comfortably close to the body. In seating it means aligning the back so that the muscles are not twisted or supporting a slouched position.
The benefits of maximum leverage are evident, but some common problems students encounter can also be easily understood through the concept of leverage. Working without leverage is the most common root of pain (which can lead to injury). It is also a frequent cause of unyielding technical difficulties: when the fingers operate with reduced leverage, they require much more training to perform a given task, and often will never achieve the level of control available with better positioning.
In everyday activities, our bodies naturally position our joints and muscles for optimal leverage, but playing the guitar requires a much more highly refined skill of movement than our usual activities. Thus it’s important for the student to learn to evaluate their movements, both visually and through feeling, to ensure optimal leverage. Until students gain experience with the guitar, they should rely on careful study of the DVD and their teacher to guide them. Eventually however, as students develop a clear sense of the feeling of playing the guitar, they should use feelings of strength, control, and ease as their basis for positioning.