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Jazz Guitar Technique
Andrew Green
Paperback: 112 pages with CD
Publisher: Microphonic Press
ISBN: 0-9700576-1-X

Having effective left hand technique means being able to finger a wide variety of musical ideas when improvising, at a variety of tempos. On guitar, unlike many other instruments, the fingering patterns involved in playing scales are different than those involved in playing arpeggios. This means that you have to practice both.

Scales generally involve playing more than one note on each string. Arpeggios usually necessitate playing one note per string with two notes on one of the strings involved, as in the following example:

One of the first questions to arise is: How do you finger the two notes at the fifth fret? Funny you should ask that. I have a definite opinion about that very question. When playing consecutive notes at the same fret, generally use the longer finger (middle) to play the note on the lower string, as in the following:

1 = Index • 2 = Middle • 3 = Ring • 4 = Little

When you have three or more notes at the same fret, use logic to determine what is the most useful finger to play the last note in the arpeggio and work backwards from there:

Since the arpeggio ends up at the eighth fret using the Little finger, it makes sense to play the E at the fifth fret with the Index finger, the C with the Middle finger and therefore the low G with the Index.

To practice using the Middle finger to play the lower note, play this simple exercise, which I feel is the most important single thing to practice to improve left and right hand technique:

What about using a barre to play the notes?
Using a barre (the same finger laid across the fretboard) has two problems associated with it:
1) It can result in inconsistent time when you plant one finger with enough pressure to play two notes cleanly in the middle of an eigth note line.
2) You run the risk of injury (other than barre chords — a different subject). In effect what you are doing is bending your finger the wrong way, then applying pressure. Repeat a thousand times a day for 20 years and you could develop tendon problems. Since everyone has different physiology, it is not a given that this will happen — the question you have to ask yourself is “Do I feel lucky?”