The Art of Playing
Enough anatomy; let's talk about technique as it directly relates to guitar playing. You shouldn't try to develop your right and left hands separately, especially if you want to play fast. Your hands need to work together, not apart. They are discussed separately here because each hand does a different job.
The Picking Hand
Your picking hand has the noble job of starting the note—of giving it life, so to speak. Essentially, the pick moves in a back and forth motion through the string. The most efficient way to pick is to alternate strokes up and down. When you want to play fast, alternate-picking is a must, but rhythm playing is sometimes more comfortable with all down strokes. It's safe to say that lead playing is almost exclusively alternate-picked. Traditionally, guitar players use small plastic picks, or plectrums, to strike the string for a clear sound. Billy Gibbons, from ZZ Top, uses a U.S. quarter to pick, and some players play entirely with only their fingers.
Finger style is beyond the scope of our discussions. There are so many different ways to hold the pick and so many different motions used to move it back and forth that you could go crazy trying to figure out the best way to do it. Choose a way and stick with it. Unless you need to fix an improper hand position, changing your picking position can stunt your development. Whatever you chose, develop it to its fullest. There have been great players who held the pick in the strangest ways, yet it works for them. Who are we to argue?
You should never practice your picking hand separately from your fretting hand. The art of playing is to synchronize the two hands to play together. Overdeveloping one aspect of your playing can hurt your overall growth.
The Fretting Hand
To press a string down with the least amount of force, your finger has to be very close to the fret. The farther it is from the fret, the harder it is to play that note. As you get closer to the fret, the amount of force necessary goes down. Once you get used to playing next to the fret, it isn't very hard to do it all the time. On the higher frets, it's hard not to play close to the fret because they're so close together. The tip of the finger, not the flat part, should hit the string. Your finger should form a smooth curve and should not collapse. FIGURE 11-1 shows what your hand
FIGURE 11-1 Proper hand position should look like when you're fretting. Notice how each finger is on its tip and is curved. This is what it should look like; no strain or force is necessary to achieve this.
The great martial arts personality Bruce Lee demonstrated a startling technique called the two-inch punch. Lee could place his fist two inches away from some poor volunteer's chest and with no windup, blast the victim across the room. He was able to focus all his energy into a small movement. You can do the same thing with your fingers; they don't require an extensive windup to work. The amount of space your fingers travel when striking a note directly affects your speed. If your fingers have to travel from far away to reach a note you'll have a hard time playing fast. Keep your fingers close to the fingerboard when they're not in use. The closer they are, the faster they can strike the note. How do you get your fingers closer? Simply relax them when you aren't using them.