Recently I bought a guitar (but I am learning it totally through internet, due to lockdown condition). If I hold the guitar in suggested posture (or like everybody do), I cannot almost see the fretboard and strings.

Now, to play a note, if I press the fretboard in one hand, and try to play the string in another hand, what happening, almost inevitably I am plucking a wrong string (not the string whom I have targeted in the fretboard).

Now, how to ensure I am pressing+plucking the same string? Are there techniques for that?

What I have tried:

  1. Counting by finger the wires one after another every time before pressing and plucking --- Very slow process.

  2. Saw the web and Stackexchange music site but didn't find this specific problem.

PS. Currently I am keeping the guitar horizontally on lap, so that I can see the entire fretboard clearly; but I am willing to learn the standard way (like everybody do) but I am completely stuck. (Ironically seems like only solution could be if I install a large mirror in front of me, but currently this is not possible, and not ever heard anybody do that.)

  • Please feel fre to rephrase the question language with simpler English and proper technical terms.
    – user33689
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 12:16
  • 1
    "Currently I am keeping the guitar horizontally on lap" -> I think this is literally the worst thing you can do. Drop the habit immediately!
    – moonwave99
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 13:40
  • 2
    @moonwave99 - worked o.k. for Jeff Healey, to mention just one!
    – Tim
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 14:33

10 Answers 10


As I read through, it reminded me of one reason I have a mirror (8'x4') on the wall in my studio.

Let's be honest, there are 6 strings, and the outside ones (the two Es) are easy to find. Leaving 4. With your plucking hand, presumably holding a pick, and resting just behind the bridge, you pluck a correct string. Let's say it's the G string, and you've plucked downwards. Your pick then goes in the direction of the B string. If it's another G string note, then pluck upwards - the pick is already in position. If it's the B string, your pick is also in position to do a down stroke. If your hand is 'floating', this won't be easy. And I suspect that's what's happening.

With fretting hand, again, don't move it away from the fingerboard. You'll rarely be skipping strings yet, so it's either the same string or an adjacent one for the next note. Feel for it. Get your fingertip to the edge of the fret, up to the fretwire. That means you don't need to press too hard. Use one finger per fret - that's how the guitar was designed - and you won't have to think too hard about fingering frets.

By all means use a mirror, and hold the guitar like most players do - unless you want to emulate Jeff Healey.

The other time-honoured way would be to forget about a pick, and use fingers and thumb. Of those, you probably have five - nearly enough for each string to have its own dedicated digit!


Practice without looking at the fretboard or strings too much. I don't mean to never look, but make it a habit to often practice without looking, or looking very little. This will develop your ability to play without looking. It might seem impossible at first, but for me, it was actually easier to play once I stopped looking all the time. Here are some bonuses about playing without looking:

  • If you are learning from tab or other sheet music, it is a huge help to be able to just look at the page. Having to constantly switch your gaze between the fretboard and the page will slow you down a lot and make learning harder.

  • Now you can practice while watching TV. This is fun! It's really good for scales and other repetitive exercises.

  • When you start playing for others, you will be able to look at your audience. Seeing someone tap a foot or smile at your music is wonderful! Being able to engage your audience will make them enjoy your music more. Everyone wins.

If Doc Watson could do it, so can you. Give it a try!


If you are picking with a plectrum, you often need to keep your right hand resting (very gently) on the strings you're not playing, so you can mute them. With this in mind, you'll almost always be touching at least one of the strings anyway, which gives you a good reference point.

If you're fingerpicking, then you will typically have each finger 'assigned' to a string - frequently either plucking it or muting it - which tends to allow you to stay very conscious of where the strings are.

Keeping a reference point is sometimes called 'anchoring', and there's something of a debate as to whether it's something that aids precision, or something that slows you down - see Guitar picking technique: anchoring the picking hand and For fingerstyle guitar, is anchoring your pinky on the guitar bad?. Personally I think it's a bit of a meaningless debate - whenever you mute, you create a temporary 'anchor', so you're almost always 'soft anchoring' by default.

(Though it's not very relevant to 6-string guitar playing, it may be food for thought to know that some basses have a thumb rest for use as a fixed anchor point to facilitate fingerstyle playing.)

If you're strumming, it's often not absolutely critical to hit exactly the right strings, although with practice, that will come too.


Now, how to ensure I am pressing+plucking the same string? Are there techniques for that?

There are. They are also the two most important things an improving musician can do.

  1. Listen carefully
  2. Practice a lot

Your ears are the most useful tuner you have an they are inbuilt. Listen carefully and you will hear whether you pluck the right string or the wrong string.

Use that feedback to guide your practice. Good right-left hand co-ordination is a motor skill which is built up via lots of good practice.

  • 2
    Seems OP already uses ears, and knows he's playing the wrong string. How about some advice on what 'good practice' is?
    – Tim
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 12:55
  • 1
    If I was going to write an answer here it would read: "Practice, practice, practice." Happy you already included the word. (+1)
    – Willeke
    Commented May 17, 2020 at 13:36

Don't over-think this. No need for a 'system'. With a little more experience you'll get your bearings regarding which string is which.


The best answer is "2000 hours of practice".

I play fingerstyle, and I almost always fret a complete chord with the left hand. Then it's not critical which string(s) you pick anyway -- claim it's an arpeggio !

Nevertheless, when I play a well-known piece, I am aware that my hands appear to be instructing each other without any involvement from my brain at all.

One of my practice techniques is to consciously not use one of my picking fingers, to train the other three to do more. (I do a fair amount of DIY, so I frequently have a broken fingernail or a plaster strip on a finger anyway.)

Another method is to just damp all six strings at the fifth fret with a loose barre, and practice the right hand for rhythm and clarity alone.


The word that springs to mind is familiarity. The more familiar you can get with your instrument, the more likely you will automatically know where each hand is working when you are playing it. Also keep in mind that scale studies up and down the strings, both chromatic and major and minor scales, and scale studies in position across the fretboard can help to achieve that familiarity. Practicing melodic patterns can further increase that familiarity. All of these kinds of exercises also have the advantage of helping you develop the skills needed for improvisation. The whole process usually takes time to take hold and your patience with yourself will help you realize the skills you are attempting to develop. It is important to start very slowly, making certain where the fretting finger is and where the picking hand is before picking the note. When you are sure you have it, pick it and move to the next note, then repeat the process. It doesn't seem to make much sense, but this is actually considered the fastest way to learn this kind of thing. This process trains your muscles and your brain to coordinate and work together.


My strategies- that works for me:


On fret hand Gently rub fingers and palm on the fret board to get a tactile idea of how distant the strings are, in comparison to how distant they look. Do this while looking and not looking at fret board.


Choose a string. On fret hand, gently rub that string throughout its length. it will give an idea of location of all part of that string. Do this while looking and not looking at fret board. Repeat ex-2 for all strings.


Do not look at fretboard. Choose a string. On pick hand hit that string. On fret hand detect which string is vibrating. Do it for all frets along the fret board. its like a game


Same as excercise 3, but instead of "detecting" with fret hand, guess in one or few chance (minimal attempts) which string is vibrating and press it (with fret hand). Do for all frets along fret board.


Press a particular string on particular fret on fretboard. On pick hand try to strike (in one or minimal attempt) the pressed strand. If you remove finger from that pressed fret and strike again, it will sound different (open string). If it sounds same while pressed and non pressed then the pick hand is striking some other (wrong) string.


On fret hand, press a string, remove finger and again press the same spot (while striking the pick). re-pressing to a wrong spot will be indicated by wrong sound. re-pressing correct spot means same sound repeated.


Same as ex-6 but instead of same fret point, put finger on different spots/ different frets on same string. pressing Wrong string will cause out-of-series sound.


Choose 2 strings. On fretboard hand, press fingers on them alternatively and play them (with other hand using pick)


Excercise 1 through 7 but for 2 strings.


Press fret hand along different strings on same fret. On pick hand play the pressed strings synchronously.


I think playing songs with a lot of arpeggiated chords can help. If you can't read sheet music yet you can read tabs instead, or just apreggiating chords in songs you like. I like Asturias, it has a lot of finger picking on different strings.


You need to develop ‘muscle memory’. Muscle memory is an essential and inevitable part of learning an instrument. It’s something you have already developed in many other aspects in your life ( think of all the task you're already able to perform without looking). There are exercises which, with regular practice, will help you develop muscle memory. Exercises are different from just playing a song, in that the focus on overcoming a specific obstacle. There are many examples of these available online. As a beginner you would benefit from having a good teacher. Online lessons are a thing, although they aren’t perfect, they work and would save you a lot of time and frustration. A good example of this would be an exercise often called’the spider’ or ‘spider walk’. Just search ‘spider walk guitar beginner’.

  • 2
    This answer would be much stronger if it went beyond generalizations. Perhaps you could point to an exercise or two and explain how to use them to develop muscle memory.
    – Aaron
    Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 23:34

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