I have a friend who played ice hockey as a kid in Canada, and years ago, as we were sharing stories about hockey (I used to coach), I mentioned that one of the toughest habits to ingrain into players was using two hands. My friend laughed at that and said, “You know how I learned? My coach taped my hands to my stick.” That convention has changed over the years, as the predominant philosophy now is that the stick should always be on the ice to provide a passing target.
But thinking about “two hands on the stick” got me thinking about playing guitar. Pick out a random guitar instruction video on YouTube. Chances are that the focus of that video will be how to place the fingers of your fretting hand on the fretboard. Some might mention the picking pattern you should use or the direction of your picking motion.
No doubt that stuff is useful. But what I’ve found sorely lacking in so much guitar instruction is right-hand technique. It’s almost as if the right is treated as an afterthought. But let’s not forget that while the left hand forms the notes and chords, it’s the right hand that gives those notes and chords a voice! It is also the right hand that provides the rhythm and just as importantly projects the style of music being played.
I’ve encountered so many players, young and old alike who can just burn up the fretboard. But ask them to switch styles from what they’re comfortable playing and it’s often a disaster. In the early days of my old worship band, I had a young guitar player who was into thrash and speed metal, and that kid had speed like you wouldn’t believe. But in the beginning, all he could play was metal. He was great at it. It took me months to teach him right-hand technique to be able to play different styles of music. For instance, we worked on a claw-hammer variant that I picked up from Michael Hedges for rhythmic fingerstyle playing and worked on various palm and finger muting things to add space.
But in the beginning, all he could play was metal. He was great at it. It took me months to teach him right-hand technique to be able to play different styles of music. For instance, we worked on a claw-hammer variant that I picked up from Michael Hedges for rhythmic fingerstyle playing and worked on various palm and finger muting things to add space. All the while, I would constantly have him feel the rhythm of the song and try to align his rhythm on the guitar with the pulse of the music.
Apart from that little aside, the challenge with and beauty of playing worship music (at least with my old band) is that we played all sorts of styles from hard rock to funk and even jazz-tinged music. I used to tell my guitar players, “A G is a G is a G, no matter what style of music you’re playing. But a G played as a power chord for a rock song is going to be significantly different than a G played in a blues song. Same chord, different style.” It’s what you do with the right hand that makes all the difference in the world.
I’ve probably shared all I need to share on this subject, so I’ll just part with these words: IT TAKES TWO HANDS TO PLAY GUITAR.