This is an interesting little thing that I’ve noticed a pattern with over the last couple of years with a number of my students. Thinking back on it, it’s something I used to do (or rather didn’t do) until someone (thanks Philip Houghton) pointed out to me that there’s a really simple little thing you can do to make quite a difference in your playing.
Looking where you’re going.
When I say looking where you’re going I mean where your left hand (or right hand if you’re a left handed player) is going on the fretboard.
I’ve noticed that a number of intermediate level players want to look away from the fretboard most of the time, often treating it like it like it’s a badge of honour not to look at their left hand! Others don’t necessarily have that active “want” to look away from the fretboard. Perhaps they’re deeply connected into the notes on the page, or have their attention split between other aspects and not paying too much attention to the left hand.
It’s interesting in that as complete beginners we’re very much concerned with where our left hand is! But that focused attention seems to drift away from the left hand over time as you become more comfortable and confident as a guitarist perhaps.
So it’s also an interesting question to ask, if you have fully (or even partially!) functioning eyes in your head, that wonderful sense of sight you’ve been gifted with, why would you not use it to help you in playing the guitar?
I say use all useful weapons at your disposal in your arsenal! And in this instance, using your eyes to help you in your left hand movements is a very helpful weapon indeed.
So what exactly do I mean then by “look where you’re going”?
Well, I’m not sure about the physiology of the phenomenon and how it all works, but more often than not if you look at or towards something you usually end up moving in that direction.
Think about when you’re driving a car or riding a bicycle. If you want to travel nice and smoothly through a corner you don’t look directly into the apex of the bend, you look through the corner to where you’re aiming to come out. Then (most of the time) you end up on that part of the road as you move through the corner and out the other side.
Same thing with our left hand on the fretboard – if you’re moving up and down the fretboard, moving say from third position to seventh for arguments sake, you would ideally look towards that seventh fret, to the position you’re headed to.
I’m not saying that you have to stare intently at your left hand all the time. Far from it. We always need to maintain balance in our playing, but perhaps where we’re making larger movements up or down the fretboard or movements within a chord shape that call into use your powers of independent finger movement the principle of looking where you’re going can be a useful one.
I think it’s important to emphasise that you look where you’re headed to – not where your fingers are or where they’re coming from. You know where they are if they’re already there! But if you look ahead slightly, thinking a note or two ahead, helping to guide the fingers with your eyes you will hopefully find that your movements around the fretboard become a little easier and transitions smoother.