Stop Staggering Your Fingers

Weekly Newsletter #49

July 14, 2022

Do you ever have trouble landing all your fingers at the same time when making a chord? 

Many players of all levels suffer from this problem. It could be a beginner student trying to switch between a C and G chord, or an advanced player changing from an Eb7b9 to a Cmaj13. 

Regardless of your current level, if you aren’t landing every single chord perfectly, there is a reason…and that reason (probably) is that you are staggering your fingers when landing. 

What Is ‘Staggering Your Fingers’ And Why Is It Bad? 

This common ailment occurs when players have to land one finger at a time while making a chord shape. 

Obviously this has huge drawbacks for your playing and improvement. 

For starters, it really messes up your timing. If you have to land each chord using one finger at a time, instead of landing all your fingers simultaneously, then it will necessarily take you longer to make the chord. 

An extra second, or half-second may not seem like a big deal, but in the context of a song, where everything is tied to a specific beat, falling behind on every chord will mean that you will soon be many beats late and eventually you’ll just be completely out of time altogether. 

Besides having a detrimental impact on your timing, it will also wreak havoc on your confidence and musicality. 

Knowing that you have to take extra time to make a chord means that you are going into a chord change thinking that you might just blow it instead of being confident that you’re going to nail it every time. 

That hit to your confidence will likely manifest in weaker, quieter and less musical playing. 

Not only that, but if you’re taking extra time to make a chord, that means you’re either going to be late to playing that chord, or you have to leave the previous chord early in order to get to the new one in time. 

If you’re leaving the previous chord earlier than you should, that will likely make your playing sound choppy, and your chords will sound unfinished. 

In other words, there is nothing good that will come from staggering your fingers when playing chords. 

The good news is that you can fix it! 

Breaking Down The Problem 

This technical flaw is almost always due to the fact that when players lift off of a chord they allow their fingers to straighten or elongate unnecessarily. 

If you’re playing a chord correctly, your fingers will almost certainly be in a curved hook shape with your fingertips fretting the strings. 

Yes a bar chord is a bit different, but only for one finger, your other fingers will still need to be curved, and playing on their tips. 

Changing from this position to the next efficiently, and without staggering, requires that when you relax your fingers to remove them from the strings, that you do not allow them to straighten out. 

When you go from a hook shape to a semi-straight finger, what exactly is happening? 

Well, you are taking the curvature of the three knuckles in your fingers and allowing the middle and front knuckle to straighten out. 

This results in your fingertips pointing toward the ceiling instead of the strings. 

When you go to make a new shape you now have to begin bending each finger, as you’re moving toward the strings, while also rearranging them in the new shape. 

This is way too complicated to do accurately in a second or less. It’s like hitting a moving target…it’s nearly impossible. 

As you bend each finger in order to get the fingertip to point towards the string, you have to slow down the forward movement of the finger and this creates the staggering effect. 

How To Avoid Staggering Your Chords 

The trick to avoiding the “stagger” is by eliminating the mechanism that straightens your fingers…your middle knuckle. 

If you can move your finger exclusively from the big knuckle, then you can maintain that hook shape in your finger and keep the fingertip pointed at the strings. 

This entirely eliminates the need to re-bend your fingers as you move toward the strings when making the new chord. 

Instead, your fingers are already pointing in the right direction, all you have to do is rearrange them in the new shape and move them forward again. 

The removal from the strings, as well as the return to the strings, should be done completely from the big knuckle. 

By removing the middle knuckle from the equation, you stop the straightening of the finger and are always facing your target. 

Not only that, but instead of trying to bend and move three knuckles on multiple fingers (all of which have to bend at different angles), you really only have to move one knuckle…the big knuckle. 

It’s simple math really…it’s far easier to move one knuckle on each finger than two or three knuckles on each one. 

This greatly reduces the amount of time it will take you to form that new shape. 

Check out this VIDEO for a great series of exercises to practice moving only from your big knuckle. 

Learning how to keep your fingers curved and move them only from the big knuckle is an incredibly valuable skill to have. 

And luckily it can be done daily with very little effort. 

Take time each day to practice, away from the guitar, how to best move your fingers individually, from the big knuckle only. 

Start with a curved finger and move small distances. Be a little harsh on yourself too…if another finger is moving when it shouldn’t use your mind to try and control that excess movement. 

Try to use your time wisely. Since you don’t need a guitar for this, do it while filling up at the gas station, or waiting in line at the super market. It’s discreet and the more often you practice this skill, the faster, more efficiently you’ll play. 

Stop staggering and play from the big knuckle. It a game changer! 

-Max Rich