Guitar Tip: Lead fingers and Pivot fingers

Playing chords on the guitar is not too bad. Even the difficult ones can be played without much trouble…as long as you’re not playing it in the middle of a song.

With a little effort it’s easy to put your fingers in the right place and make the chord sound decent.

The trouble is switching to the chord from another chord – in time. In other words, going from chord to chord at the speed of the song is not as easy as it seems.

Here’s something to think about that might help. When switching from chord to chord there are a couple of things you can watch for. Learning how to play guitar is largely about teaching your own fingers to move how and where you want them.

Here’s the secret: they have natural tendencies.

Pivot Fingers

Pay attention to where your fingers are. A prime example of a pivot finger is when going from the D chord to the G chord. Most people play the G Chord like this (numbers represent fingers, starting with pointer finger #1):

g-chord

When you look at the D chord, the ring finger (#3) is in the same position as it is in the G chord:

d-chord

The 3 finger (ring finger) becomes the pivot finger. Like a dancer rotates her body on a single foot, a guitar player can (more or less) rotate his hand on a single finger.

So, when going from the D-chord to the G-chord, you can keep your 3 finger in place. Don’t lift it.

Many beginning players let their whole hand off the neck to switch chords, but it’s not necessary. Leaving the 3 finger in place allows the hand to quickly and easily pivot around to play the G-chord without looking.

Playing chords without looking is actually an important goal for a player. One of the methods to get there is to utilize pivot fingers when you find them.

Here’s a video about it:

Lead Fingers

Before trying to play chords without looking, feel free to look. In fact, be very observant. Using the same chords as above, when going from the D-chord to the G-chord, something else natural happens: there’s a leader.

Yes, watch closely. One of your fingers will usually get there first. My lead finger going from D to G is my middle finger (#2). It gets there first every time.

Why is this important?

Here’s a principle everyone needs to know: A leader has followers.

Interestingly, the same applies to your fingers. Sounds strange, but if you’ve spent even a small amount of time teaching your fingers where they should go for a particular chord, you start to see this happen. Your non-lead fingers will naturally fall into their place.

g-chord

For instance, if my lead finger is my 2 finger to the G-chord, and I utilize my pivot finger (#3), my other two will go right to their positions.

Fingers 1 and 4 know right where to go.

And this is just an example. This even works for bar chords, and other irregular chords. In fact, this principle is so important, you may not be able to switch effectively without it.

The reason is of the alternative: flyaway fingers. The closer your fingers can stay to the strings the better.

Utilizing Pivot Fingers and Lead Fingers will allow you to play more and more efficiently. Watch your fingers – try not to let them pull out and move more than necessary. In no time, you will be able to go from chord to chord at the speed of the song, and do it with fluidity.

Lead Fingers Video:

Keep at it!

Piano Fingers Tip

Holding your fingers properly as you play piano is very important. It’s as important with any instrument, for that matter.

I’d just like to point out a few things that affect finger position for piano.

Posture

First, posture is a big deal. It’s very hard to play properly if there’s any slouching going on. It’s not a good habit. The reason is that it pulls the wrists down. The arms get “heavy” as you slouch and the wrists find themselves resting on the keybed (the little piece of wood that sticks out past the keys). In turn, this pulls the fingers down so that the fingers are nearly flat on the keys. Try and sit straight with shoulders down.

Height

Ultimately, this refers to how high the elbows are. If a child is too low, she has to reach up to the keys. This is basically the same resulting problem as slouching, but the child cannot do anything about it. Her posture may be perfect. The solution is to give her something to sit on.

A related issue for children is that they have nothing to rest their feet on usually. They typically just swing above the floor. When she has something to rest her feet on, her lower back is actually supported better, which results in more confident playing. She will play more confidently when she is not (subliminally) distracted by trying to hold herself up differently. Comfy is good.

Stress

This is actually probably the biggest one (as I’ve mentioned before). When you’re stressed, muscles are tense, and everything travels north. Shoulders go up, breath goes to the chest, and fingers go up. Take some breaths and relax. If you’re too stressed, get up and walk around a bit. It is hard work to train your fingers, and can be frustrating. Keep tabs on your turmoil.

Finger position is important. Give them every opportunity to succeed by watching your posture, height and stress level. Then give them time. Keep working at it!

Piano Finger Flyaways

“Flyways” are simply the name of the fingers that tend to raise up higher than the others. That’s what call them anyway:

child-finger-playing-piano

One reason this happens is because the fingers are not strong enough to push down by themselves, and they feel like they need some help. Most commonly, the ring finger is the weakest, and when pressed, it seems like it needs some help, and the other fingers raise up to give it a little extra help to push down.

Sometimes, like in the picture above, motor skills and dexterity are still developing. The other fingers go up because the child is learning how to use his individual fingers. Other times, for any age, the tendency is to want to see the note “happening.” In other words, like an artist wanting to see where he puts his paint brush, the early piano player feels as if he needs to physically see the note being played.

Another related issue is anxiety. Yes, our bodies tense up and tend to pull everything towards our head. It seems crazy, but think about what happens physiologically when you get tense. Have you noticed your shoulders go up to your ears? Even your breathing tends to be towards your head – in your chest – very short and shallow breaths.

The fingers can go up from nervousness as well.

Practice relaxing at home while you play. Tense up your fingers, arms, shoulders and head/face as tight as you can for three seconds and let it loose. Take a breath (or seven) and try almost visualizing the pressure draining out of your head.

That’s a physiological exercise (among many) you can try, but here’s another thing which is easier to say than do:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” –Proverbs 3:5-6

Very appropriate, I would say.

The fingers will come down in time. Just like learning anything, the repetition will strengthen the fingers, give students a chance to know the music enough to play with out trying to “see” it being played, and end up relaxing them because they are discovering they can do it!