tonebase Tips: Bill Kanengiser on Left Hand Efficiency

Tips and tricks from the Grammy Award winner on mastering your left hand tension!

Last month, we had the pleasure of filming a second lesson with Bill Kanengiser at Guitar Salon International. For this new lesson, Bill choose the topic of Left Hand Efficiency and brought along his trusty monochord to help demonstrate.

Now, one month later, it has become our most viewed video for the month of June! Whether you have yet to watch the full lesson or would just like a quick summary, here are FIVE key takeaways that you can implement into your playing today.

1. The “Thunk, Buzz, Note” Exercise

Bill begins the lesson by discussing finger pressure and sharing a particularly helpful exercise for determining if you are creating excess tension by pressing too hard on the string. While this exercise seems simple, it is quite effective and something worth doing every morning when you first pick up the guitar.

First you put your finger on the string without putting any pressure on the note. This creates what Bill calls a “thunk.”

Then you apply a small amount of pressure until the string just barely touches the fret. This creates a “buzz.”

Finally, you apply slightly more pressure until you can create a clean “note.” To see if you applied too much pressure, try releasing just a tiny bit. If you get a “buzz,” than it was the perfect amount of pressure. If after releasing pressure, you still get a “note,” then you were pressing too much.

Once you understand the concept with one finger, try it with every finger at different positions on the fretboard.

Do this every day and your fingers will know exactly how hard to press down all the time!

Watch the exercise in action! Here is Part 1 of Bill’s lesson on Left Hand Efficiency

2. Buzzzz… 🐝

Continuing his thoughts on finger pressure, Bill describes the exact mechanics behind a “buzz,” the sound that happens in the above exercise between a “note” and a “thunk.”

Bill and his trusty monochord illustrate the “buzz.”

Essentially, when you pluck, a shock wave is sent down the string from your plucking hand to your fretting hand.

If your fretting hand does not have the string firmly pressed against the fret, the string will actually hop up and slap against the fret, creating what we perceive to be a “buzz.” Bill demonstrates this action in slow-mo with his trusty monochord, a device which was first introduced in his tonebase lesson on Vibrato.

3. Left Hand Pizzicato

One of the aspects that makes the guitar so difficult at the beginning is learning exactly where to place your finger to create a clean note.

Ok, maybe it’s not THAT easy…

On the piano, no matter where you press a key, you will get the same note with relatively the same effort. However, on the guitar, where you press down within the large space of the fret is very important.

The optimal spot of course is right behind the fret. This spot allows you to use minimal force to secure the string to the fret. The further back your finger moves, the more pressure the left hand must apply.

But what happens when you press on the fret itself?

As Bill demonstrates in his lesson, this leads to a fun technique known as left hand pizzicato. While this is a good exercise and a useful extended technique, it is certainly not a sound we want to be creating on a regular basis!

4. Piano on a Trampoline

In the second half of the lesson, Bill discusses how other parts of the body can help increase left hand efficiency, starting with the right arm.

You see, anytime the left hand applies pressure to the fingerboard, the laws of physics dictate that the guitar is going to move — a concept Bill compares to a piano being played on a trampoline. Many players solve this by providing equal and opposite pressure with the left hand thumb.

However, Bill demonstrates how this see-saw effect should actually be counter-balanced by a slight amount of pressure in the right arm. In this sense, the very act of playing means you are constantly hugging your guitar!

5. Helping Hands

In the final part of the lesson, Bill demonstrates how each hand can actually help the other out by relieving the amount of pressure needed to play.

For example, by pressing the string down first with the plucking hand — a movement commonly referred to as planting — the fretting hand has less of a distance to move the string onto the fret.

The same goes for when the fretting hand is pressing the string down — the plucking hand has less distance to move the string when displacing it to play. While this is super subtle and in reality the string is only being moved a few millimeters by each hand, it still is a helpful analogy for synchronization and helps relax both hands a noticeable amount.

We hope you enjoyed these tips and tricks from one of the most popular lessons on tonebase: Bill Kanengiser on Left Hand Efficiency. To watch more lessons with Grammy Award winners like Prof. Kanengiser, Scott Tennant, Sharon Isbin and others, head over to now!

Peace, love & A-M-I scales,
the tonebase team

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