Angled vs. Straight Left Hand Position
The photos above show two common positions for the left hand: the first is with the knuckles parallel to the neck (straight), the second is angled.
Common wisdom is that the hand must always be in the parallel position. I disagree.
Once again, we’re back to easy. Sometimes an angled hand positions makes things easier. A few examples:
- Chords in which two fingers are stacked at the same fret. Try playing the common A minor chord with an straight vs. angled position.
Using an angled position on this chord puts the second finger closer to its fret letting us exert less pressure on the string to get a clear sound.
- Playing around ninth position or above gets pretty crowded with a strictly straight position. Using an angled position can make this a bit easier.
- Beginners should use the fourth finger approach. This puts the hand in an angled position. In fact, most first position playing is quite a bit easier in the angled position.
More Than One Chord at a Time
There’s a sort of sliding scale of left hand positions. Sometimes a very angled position (like the one at the top of this post) works well, sometimes a more straight approach is better.
The biggest thing is to notice which is easier and where you natural use angled vs. straight position. Carefully considering and planning small scale events like how angled the left hand should be for a given chord or passage allows you to practice moving into and out of that position. In short, noticing your left hand position gives you a short cut to practice–it allows you to specifically practice the subtle changes in left hand position rather than leaving them to chance or your unconscious.
Abel Carlevaro’s School of Guitar (possibly out of print?) and Masterclass books have been a revelation to me regarding left hand usage. I’ve always believed that my left hand was supposed to be in the parallel position shown in your first photo. Carlevaro writes about pivoting the hand to that make chord transitions more natural. This often has the hand in a more angled position.
Since working with the Carlevaro books, I’ve allowed my left hand to move more freely. I make smaller movements with my fingers, letting the hand assist in placing the fingers in the proper position instead of holding that perfectly parallel position and making the fingers do all the work. It has made playing much easier.