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Ok, this question will probably be opinion based, but I try my best to write it, so it can be answered.

My problem: When playing guitar (I am right handed) I lack some speed and coordination in my left hand to do maybe trills (right word? I mean something like this |--5h7p5h7p5h7--|) or vibrato properly. I just can't get my hand to do what I want.

My theory: I compared the ability of both hands to perform certain tasks, like tapping a rhythm and get faster while doing it or moving it in certain ways with a certain speed, and as expected, my left hand wasn't as good at it as the right hand.

The question is not about doing tremolo or trills properly, in theory, I already know that, it's just my left hand, which is not trained enough.

The question is, is it common to do certain exercises for the left hand to increase control or maybe even perform tasks with your left hand you would probably do with your right hand (e.g. learn writing with your left hand)? Are there some well known exercises or (to drill down the opinion based part) any literature describing something like this or is it just a matter of doing excercises for the particular technique to gain better control with the left hand?

Usually, I would ask for your opinion or experience with such exercises, but I know that's not wanted on SE. Decide if this question is too opinion based.

  • My theory: it's more to do with the fingers than the hand itself.Individual fingers are what do the tricky bits with guitar playing. Find excercises that get fingers moving separately. Bet you typed the question with two fingers! Try typing just with left hand fingers, for a start. – Tim Apr 18 '16 at 14:48
  • Yes, good objection. When I speak of my left hand I actually mean my fingers, but also the whole hand at the example of vibrato. – Matthias Nicklisch Apr 18 '16 at 15:08
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I was having the same problem as a beginner and wondered the exact same thing. I even tried switching to playing guitar the other way around (fretting with my dominant right hand). That's when I discovered something interesting.

You see by the time I became frustrated with my seemingly clumsy left hand because of the things it could not seem to do as well as the right (such as vibrato), I had learned to play most of the common open and barre chords and developed a modicum of right hand strumming technique that allowed me to accomplish the basic strumming patterns. So when I picked up a friend's left handed guitar and tried to play it, all of a sudden my right hand was more clumsy than the left. And I couldn't strum with the left hand with any semblance of rhythm or timing or accuracy. It did not take long to conclude that it would probably take longer to train my fingers and hands to play left hand guitar than it did right hand guitar (probably not actually longer but at that moment my right hand seemed clumsier than the left).

In other words, there was obviously a task specific learning that took place during my practice and playing sessions that eventually enabled my left hand to instantly contort into completely unnatural and awkward shapes to play a C chord followed by a G chord followed by a D chord followed by a B minor Barre chord. My right hand could not even form any of these chords - much less seamlessly transition between any of them.

I have also learned that now I can do things with my left hand on guitar that I never thought I would be able to do. And when you are finally able to effortlessly execute a hammer on or vibrato or fast trill - you will wonder why it was ever difficult in the beginning - and will have a hard time understanding why everyone can't do it. But if you try it with your opposite hand - you will be reminded of how difficult it used to be.

And guess what? Once you master a fretting hand technique with your left hand and suddenly find it automatic and easy to do - and then you try it with your right hand and find it impossible to do with any semblance of fluency, you will still find most things easier to do with your right hand. But the task specific learning where you trained your left hand to execute a particular technique or movement smoothly and flawlessly - allows your left hand to be totally coordinated while your right hand seems clumsier than your left when attempting to do that particular thing. But yet in other areas - your right hand is still dominant.

Bottom line: It just takes patience, dedication, desire, and continual deliberate and intentional practice (ideally after learning the correct technique from a good teacher). If you want to master a particular technique or skill, spend a given amount of time each time you pick up your guitar on deliberate practice on that technique or skill. You can work on several different techniques each practice session. Just devote a period of time to each technique (say ten minutes). Maybe keep a guitar handy at work and pick it up when there is a lull and practice the specific technique you are trying to develop the coordination for. In other words do it several times each day for short periods so you don't get too frustrated with your seeming lack of coordination. Eventually it starts to come together and work. And you will forget that you weren't born with a natural ability to pull it off flawlessly.

Have fun learning new things on guitar. It's a lifelong process that never ends. Enjoy the journey.

  • Thanks for the, as usual, detailed answer. I think you are right. I thought, when I train to have a better control in my left hand, as with some excercises or writing with my left hand, would improve my ability to learn the techniques, but I think the movements needed for the guitar are too special to have them trained that way. I would probably only train these new movements but I would have no improvement on the guitar. Do you agree? – Matthias Nicklisch Apr 18 '16 at 16:45
  • Makes you (or me) wonder whether if you'd started left handed, it would have turned out even better! Many, many times I've said that right-handed folk should actually be able to play better in a left-handed way. There's a couple of my answers which reflect on this. Borrowing a leftie at a gig was always going to be a problem, though... – Tim Apr 18 '16 at 17:17
  • @MatthiasNicklisch Yes I totally agree. Specific movements tend to be hand dependent for some reason. Try writing left handed and you will see what I mean. But I know left handed folks who write right handed because their elementary school teacher made them write with their right hand. They can't write with their left hand nearly as well - despite the fact they do almost everything else left handed. – Rockin Cowboy Apr 18 '16 at 19:11
  • @Tim - I know right? I have wondered the same thing. Like who decided that right handed people should use their left hand to fret. Maybe the guitar was invented by a lefty and future emulators of the original prototype (or whatever instrument the guitar evolved from) never questioned the logic. Today it seems that in any guitar store they have 1 left hand guitar for every 100 right hand guitar and the lefty guitar is only available in two models vs. 50 different models for righties. Which is why lefties beginning guitar should play a "right hand" guitar. – Rockin Cowboy Apr 18 '16 at 19:15
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There are two main approaches to this: Muscle memory (technique) and biomechanics. They are synergistic.

Muscle memory in your left hand is surely poorer then your dominant hand, due to the obvious reasons. To improve this would be simply to simply play more and do technique related excercises like picking drills and scales etc.

Biomechanically, your muscle in your left hand are weaker due to misuse compared to your dominant hand. I think this is a largely ignored aspect of guitar playing.

To fret, do trill, and to vibrato accurately with control requires you to have strong and stable finger and wrist extensors. This is why players always have problems with so called poor "technique" (fretting too hard, poor finger dexterity when chording and issues with accuracy). The poor technique is a result of maladaptive compensatory finger movements and activation patterns.

I recommend doing finger extensor exercises

How often do you actually perform the movement of finger extension in daily life? Its likely those muscles are 'dead' - weak and poorly activated.

On the other hand avoid grip exercises like squeezing tennis balls or finger trainers, because in most individuals we perform a gripping action many times over the course of day (picking things up, turning a door knob). Its not likely these muscles are weak.

Treat guitar playing like you would any other physical activity or sport. The average professional football player does not maintain a high level of performance simply by doing field and play drills. They hit the gym equally hard.

Source: Purchasing a dedicated finger extensor training device significantly improved my playing. My fretting and chording speed and accuracy is greatly improved. Fatigue and poor finger isolation is also no longer an issue. I am an experienced player, but I'm pretty sure this would greatly help new players even more.

  • 'Muscle memory in your left hand is surely poorer then your dominant hand, due to the obvious reasons.' - What obvious reasons? – Johannes May 14 '16 at 16:39
  • I assume the OP isn't ambidextrous, so his left hand isn't as accustomed to small, dexterous micro-movements like his right hand (e.g. writing). – kendrickkamar May 15 '16 at 14:03
  • Yes, I understand, but why would this affect muscle memory? – Johannes May 15 '16 at 14:06
  • Never mind, we probably mean different things by 'muscle memory'. – Johannes May 15 '16 at 14:11
  • Ah, I don't actually mean the actual capacity of potential muscle memory. I just mean the existing spastic and unconditioned state of the less utilized left hand. I'm basing this on the wikipedia definition. – kendrickkamar May 15 '16 at 19:13

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