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  • Writer's pictureRon Dickson

Looking for Shortcuts

Those who look to take shortcuts are criticised and considered lazy. Yet, to achieve mastery, we must understand the most efficient way of doing any guitar task – looking for shortcuts.

People often consider a shortcut to be the easy route. However, it can be more challenging to learn and master the most efficient way of moving our hands or learning a piece of music. As we progress through our journey of musical development and learning the guitar, we must consistently review how we play and learn to ensure it is the most efficient way we learn it.

Looking at chords, instinctively, we wish to place our first finger and then move the other fingers one at a time to get into position. Eventually, we can do this very quickly. Let us review this from an efficient point of view. The first or index finger is the most mobile. Why are we placing it first? Every time we place a finger, we reduce the mobility of the other fingers. Since the index is the most mobile, we place it last. So which finger should we place first? Logically, it should be the middle finger since it is the longest, then the ring and pinkie finger, then the first. The pinkie is the second most mobile finger, so it should be the second last.

Is this still the most efficient way of doing the chord change? Not really – going back to the statement, “Every time we place a finger, we reduce the mobility of the other fingers” should we be placing any fingers before the rest are in position? The best way is to move all the fingers together, so each finger arrives at its destination simultaneously. We then squeeze all the fingers down together to form the chord.

We now have the shortcut, move all the fingers at once and squeeze them all in place together. But unfortunately, no matter how quickly you can move your fingers independently, you will never achieve the fluidity or speed of moving them all together.

If, and it is a big if, we learn to do this with every chord change. Once we have the first few basic chords under our fingers, we automatically learn to do this with every new chord we learn. As a result, we significantly reduce the time we take to learn a chord well enough to play in a song. But, on the other hand, if we don’t take this extra effort to learn the most efficient playing methods, we slow up our learning for the rest of our journey.

To teach this is a tricky balance. To make the student feel they are progressing, we have to allow some element of the long route in their playing as it is more straightforward and more immediate rewards. However, at some point, we have to focus on learning for the long-term gain, which may only see rewards months to years down the line. Or, we train the skills required separately and introduce them as necessary to speed up the process. Yet another shortcut?

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