I have just given the most basic spider exercise a go and realise I am not 100% clear what counts as a "doing it correctly". I'm playing A A# B C B A# A on string 1 by slowly holding down fingers 1 2 3 4 then releasing them in turn. After some success / for a change I will go to string 2 and play E F F# G F# F E

For the left hand when doing the exercise on the 1st string (high E) my pass criteria will be:

  • pressing down with fingertips
  • clear sounding notes,
  • not pressing harder than necessary,
  • straight wrist,
  • keeping other fingers pressed down and still,
  • relaxed arms, shoulders and back,
  • not stooping over the guitar.

Should I also be trying to ensure the B string is open and clean sounding throughout?

When I go up to the 2nd string (B), should I also be trying from the outset to make sure both the G string and the E string are open and able to sound cleanly too?

May be this aspect of the exercise is something I can address later or will come naturally?


I would contradict the primary premise of the first answer. There is no such thing as "better". You need to be able to execute both techniques, i.e. muting the other strings and letting them be open. So in reality I'd say you must practice both ways. The true answer to your question will depend on whether your are playing electric or classical acoustic guitar.

In the world of an electric shredder, with oodles of reverb, delay, and distortion/overdrive letting an open string be un-muted can lead to an aural catastrophe as they will not only ring with the fretted notes but that "ringing" can be amplified by the coupling between the strings and the pickup, made hotter by the effects set up. If you are shredding with no effects, or little effects, like a Jazz guitarist with a clean set up this issue may not be as severe.

On the classical guitar most authoritative resources will tell you that you must be able to execute the movements of your left hand without touching the other strings. This is because you will eventually come to arrangements of pieces that require you to hold a drone note one one string while fingering a neighboring string. And this can happen on the string above the one you are fretting. So it will be necessary to execute scale patterns on one string while letting the neighboring string ring, or even hold another note, or tremolo the note. Getting used to letting your fingers drape over the other strings to mute them is poor form in some circles.

But, this is why I point out that both are important. Depending on what you play will need to be able to do both. So the real question is which is easier? In my experience and "opinion" it is more difficult to execute these exercises with the finger NOT touching neighboring strings and for that reason I'd err on the side of trying your best as a beginner to execute the exercise in a manner that requires the greatest precision. Relaxing the fingers later to mute neighboring strings is much easier than acquiring precision later.

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  • Thank you, I get your points. I am using an old Yamaha Fg-410a (Dreadnought acoustic with a set of new Steel Strings). I used to strum along. I have always struggled for a clean sound. Thought I should start again from scratch to build a more rewarding result. Basic technique exercises seems a good way to fill in the gaps. Technique exercises have the benefit of being short while I rehabilitate my fingertips. I will get to doing both muted and unmuted open strings and other spiders. If I get some decent results I'll splash out on a nice electric too. – Emma Jun 1 at 16:58

A few points:

  • When playing on one string, it's actually better if the neighboring string(s) are not open, but rather muted with a light touch by the fretting hand. This prevents the neighboring strings from producing unwanted sounds, when brushed by either hand.

  • You need not keep pressure with multiple fretting fingers. While a note is being played, the other fingers should stay in contact with the string but in a relaxed way, just keep enough in touch so it's easy to go back to fretting the note again when the time comes.

  • Everything should be as relaxed as possible. Good posture yes, but not by force or tension. (When you wrote "straight wrist" I hope you're not straining yourself to achieve that)

The other points you listed are OK. To be clear:

  • Clear notes
  • Relaxed
  • Good posture

And don't forget:

  • Enjoy the process!
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  • Thank you. May I clarify my interpretation of your bullet point 1? I had wondered whether an objective of this exercise was to make sure my finger action when pressing down was perpendicular to the fretboard. I should have written that in my question; keeping the other strings clear was my clumsy way of describing that. That said, I'm happy with the concept of purposefully muting strings either side and all other points. I'll enjoy the process more now I know I'm learning & not wasting effort. – Emma May 24 at 13:26
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    @Emma - being perpendicular to the fretboard is not the goal. The goal is to play clean, fast, precise, reliable, and with ample margins of error (i.e. the result sounds good and correct even if you are not always 100% perfect in posture and motions). Being roughly perpendicular usually helps achieve that, but they're not the same thing. If you have a good teacher, follow their instructions, otherwise my advice would be to try to roughly be perpendicular but don't stress over that. Watch videos of good players, learn from their posture, and always aim at sounding good above all else. – MMazzon May 24 at 15:33
  • @Emma The pressure you apply to the string should be perpendicular (so as to avoid bending out of tune) to the fretboard, but the finger itself doesn't need to be, and if you have small hands it probably shouldn't. – Max May 25 at 11:35
  • @Emma, I think you are getting some bad advise. The goal of these exercises is to program your body to execute these movements as cleanly and with as much precision as possible. You should be on the finger tip and more or less perpendicular to the fret board. Of course the degree to which you follow this may depend on whether you are playing electric or acoustic. IMO these are completely different instruments requiring different techniques. – ggcg May 26 at 13:06

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