Improving your guitar fretting hand technique can allow you greater speed and accuracy when playing fingerstyle guitar. Do not start concentrating the other hand that does the string picking before fixing your fretting hand technique.

How To Improve Your Guitar Fretting Hand

You can improve your fretting hand by practicing strengthening and dexterity exercises. But at a certain point, you must make the finger movements more efficient, otherwise your fretting hand will be slow or awkward. Here are five things you can do right now to improve your fretting hand technique.


The number one technique that you can use to improve your fretting technique is to do what I call cheating. In this case, cheating at guitar is actually a positive thing. It sounds great and if you do it well, your listener won’t be able to tell that you are cheating.

So, what does the cheating sound like?

Cheating involves playing open strings while you do a chord change. You can perform cheating by plucking a bass note with your thumb as your fretting hand moves from one chord to the next.

Give Yourself More Time When Changing Chords

If you find that you don’t have enough time to fret the next chord, then this method can help. In this way, your hand has ample time to switch from one chord to the next without rushing.

You can practice cheating by doing some basic strumming. Strum a rhythm that uses sixteenth notes and switch between two basic chords. But instead of holding the chord till the last possible strum before switching, try removing the chord before the measure is up and strumming only open strings.  As you are strumming the open strings, use this time to switch from the first chord to the next.

Notice how this gives you more time to change chords. Don’t switch too early, however, lest everyone find out what you are doing!

Play Simpler Chords

You can improve your fretting hand in fingerstyle guitar almost instantly just by playing simpler chords.

If you have a chord that takes all four fingers, try to play the same chord using fewer fingers. You can accomplish this by using an alternate fingering for your chord. Luckily on guitar, a note can be found in several positions on the fretboard. You can also use an open string, which we will discuss below.

You may also be able to remove some notes from your chord. If this is a chord such as a dominant seventh chord, you can often drop a note such as the fifth and still maintain the proper harmonic function of the chord.

Use Open Strings

The other way to simplify is to use open strings in your arrangement. This ties into our section about alternate fingerings that we discussed above.

You may run into trouble trying to use open strings if your arrangement is in a key that doesn’t allow for it, such as A flat major. If your arrangement currently does not allow for using open strings, you can change the key of the arrangement by using a capo.

Use Alternate Tunings

With alternate tunings, you can play melodies that sound exotic with very few fingers on the fretboard. This is due to the vast number of open strings that you can play.

DADGAD tuning has simple fingerings

DADGAD tuning has many simple chords that are easy to finger and sound great. Also, if you need to cheat, you can just strum away in DADGAD, just like Sungha Jung does in his song Sprint. Sungha Jung uses this cheating method extensively in Irony, another song that uses alternate tuning. 

Alternate tunings also allow you to use the same chord shape up and down the guitar. If you find that your fretting hand moves at an inferior speed than your picking hand, this method could be a game changer.

Understand the Chord Shape

You can improve your fretting hand by choosing more natural or “ergonomic” chord shapes. Whilst nothing is truly natural on guitar without practice, you can choose a chord shape that resembles the basic chords that you’ve learned at the outset.

Awkward chord shapes are extremely hard to fret in a quick period and will slow down your fretting speed. Things that make chord shapes awkward are things such as

  • inverted fingers (i.e. placing the pinky above the ring finger)
  • extremely wide spaces between fingers
  • complicated barre chords (B Major shape)

If you use basic chord shapes such as the G Major or D Major chord, you will be able to improve your fretting speed much faster.

Chord shapes will also help you better remember where to place the fingers of your left hand. You can choose easy shapes to remember, such as the D shape, because it’s shaped like a triangle.

Deciding Which Technique To Use

If you are unable to “nail” a certain passage with fingerstyle guitar, check that your left hand fingering isn’t causing you any issues.  Play the passage slowly and use all the techniques in this article to analyze or “audit” your fretting hand.