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Video 4: Left Hand Movement: What to Focus on When Shifting

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It’s amazing how accurate your aim can be, and how much you can eventually do without looking at your hands, trusting them to move and find the right place by feeling.  It’s also amazing how much can happen once you trust the accuracy of your aim and are able to let these small points of accuracy blend into larger and larger musical flow.  Aiming for the right spot and leading gently with your elbow seem like pretty simple principles, but they are the starting point for mastering these larger skill areas: accuracy and flow. You might also think in terms of location and momentum, or in terms of point and field. Shifting successfully is an active conversation between these two, and improving one will improve the other.

Practice your aim (accuracy) by first looking at the exact spot where you want to land your fingertips, and feeling what it will feel like to land there. Then allow your elbow to move gently in that direction and let your hand follow naturally, valuing accuracy over speed at first. You can then progressively go faster, blur your vision or use peripheral vision to guide the shift, and then finally close your eyes or look away from the shift. When you can achieve automatic accuracy from shift to shift while relaxing and focusing more on the overall flow of the music, you’ve gotten there!

You might want to observe how all your body systems act together when you’re focusing on accuracy—your eyes are sharp and focused on one or two points of interest, and your body, hands, fingertips, moving parts, are more sharply aware as they work to control where they are going. Your breathing might be shorter and sharper too. Your ears will be listening for little glitches, mistakes, fine gradations in the sound.

And observe how all your body systems act when you’re concerned more with flow. Your eyes are more relaxed, noticing the larger picture. And your body might feel more spread out, with a relaxed feeling of enclosing the guitar perhaps, as all parts of you blend into one single feeling. Your breathing might get longer, and your ears will be able to spread out and take in the whole soundscape, the shapes of phrases, the impact of shifting harmonies, as well as becoming more aware of what other players are doing, if you’re playing music with others.