Are Your Fingers Independent?

Weekly Newsletter #2

 August 19, 2021

Welcome back to the Max Rich Music Weekly Newsletter. 

How many times have you tried to play something only to have it end in frustration and you walking away from the guitar thinking, "I'll never get that"? 

Well if you're like me, that's probably happened about 1,000 times. I want you to know that in my decades of both playing and teaching guitar professionally, this is a common thought and one that can either make you or break you. I'm here to help it make you into a better player. 

Most often when we encounter a seemingly impossible lick or chord change or something that seems out of our league on guitar, it is often due to lack of finger independence. You see, all throughout our lives we use our hands as one unit, not necessarily 5 individual units. Think about washing dishes, folding laundry, all the tasks you do throughout the day. Your hands grip and let go of items without much finger independence at all. 

It's no wonder that we have trouble when it comes to playing guitar! 

Without the necessary training, getting past the point where our fingers simply won’t cooperate is virtually impossible. However, there are a few simple exercises that we can do to improve our finger independence. Today I’ll be showing you two of these. 

The first of these is great for people who are having trouble making chord shapes in the air and landing all the fingers at once. This is a common ailment that many beginner/early intermediate players suffer from. And, if not remedied can lead to very large technique problems later on. 

Check out the Finger Independence Part 1 video

Keep in mind that when doing this exercise, your entire focus must be on the fingers that aren’t moving. The key to true independence is being able to move a finger without any other part of your hand moving, at all (or as little as possible). At first it will not work ideally and you will have movement where there shouldn’t be any. However, by going very slowly you can control the excess movement and minimize it, which will train your brain. 

The second of these Finger Independence exercises is a more advanced version and builds upon Part 1. This video focuses on opposing motion of two fingers at a time. When you get past the point of learning simple open chords and bar chords, the next most likely chord shapes will be much more complicated. Switching from chords like Dm7b5 to an E7#9 require the ability to move multiple fingers in opposite directions simultaneously. 

Once again, going slowly and focusing on the lack of movement of the static fingers is essential. Every time a finger that shouldn’t move does in fact move or twitch, that movement is sucking up energy and efficiency from the fingers that are moving. Continue down this inefficient path long enough and you’ll reach that point of saying “I’ll never get that”. And you’re right! Because that excess movement is what is preventing you from getting to your goal! 

Check out the Finger Independence Part 2 video

Remember that scene in Kill Bill where Uma Thurman’s character trains herself to move her paralyzed legs by staring at them and trying to move them? Yes I know it’s a movie, but that is essentially the very same thing you need to do! Your brain must re-learn how to use your hands as individual units instead of one large unit. 

All of this is designed to help facilitate a better and more efficient technique. If done correctly, for only 10 minutes per day, you’ll see massive results in your ability to minimize movement on the fretboard and navigate more easily and with much more relaxation. Whatever you do, don’t just go through the motions and mindlessly play these exercises. That can be catastrophic to your playing by instilling bad habits that are hard to undo. 

Take it slowly and focus on using your brain to move only what is necessary and nothing more. Think: Relaxation and efficiency. 

“Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” 

-Max Rich