Learning how to play the guitar with two working hands is not always easy, but most people can manage it with the right motivation.
By dint of training, exercises, motivation and support, you can reach a good level in a few months of regular practice. But can you play with only five fingers?
If you only have one working hand, there are various challenges: you will have to find a way to hold the guitar, and to play the notes, either with a pick or your fingers.
Playing chords is a whole other issue, and you may welcome some outside help (ex: guitar lessons).
To play the guitar with one hand it is essential that you rest the guitar on a stable support. This can be on your knees, like the outstanding musician and guitarist Ben Harper (although he uses both hands), or on another support. For example, you could rest your guitar on a bottleneck and play the notes with one hand. A bottle neck is a small tube of glass or metal that the guitarist wears on one of his fingers of the left hand (if they are right handed) and use to make a characteristic metallic sound.
Country and blues musicians are very fond of this type of accessory.
Some of the techniques in this article may not be for beginners…
Always be careful of how you hold yourself why playing the guitar: keep your back perpendicular to a chair or stool, and place the guitar flat and close to your body.
Keep the back of the guitar flat or ask someone (such as your guitar teacher) to help you.
Beginners on the guitar especially find using a pick helps them distinguish the notes they play.
A pick is a triangular piece of plastic used to pluck individual notes or to strum the strings of the guitar to make a chord (with a tuned guitar).
A pick is cheap and any music store or website will have dozens of kinds.
To hold your pick, pinch it between your thumb and the side of your index finger as you make a loose fist, and be sure to hold it perpendicular to the strings, leaving about half a centimeter with which to strum.
To play the guitar with one hand, you can start with the back and forth technique, which does not require you to hold the neck.
You will play the strings open, that is, without holding any down.
The back and forth technique is used in many styles of music.
The idea is very simple: using your pick, you strike the strings from above and then from below to play the notes.
This exercise is not as simple as it seems.
It requires a lot of practice, flexibility of the wrist, and attention to the sound of each string.
The more you practice this technique, the more you will gain in fluidity, precision and endurance.
Still using the back and forth technique, you can play one-handed while skipping some strings to make different sounds.
You will need to work with precision.
This technique aims to increase your comfort in transitioning between strings (find out how to choose the right strings), especially those that are not immediately next to them.
It sounds simple at first, but requires a good deal of dexterity.
Here are some tips to help you master the back and forth technique:
• Respect the back and forth: one downwards stroke followed by one upwards.
• Do not go too fast, start slowly and then increase the tempo according to your comfort.
• Try a series of downwards strokes followed by an upwards series.
• Make sure your pick is no thinner than 3mm.• Control the pick with your wrist and not your elbow.
• If possible, work with a metronome to get used to strumming in rhythm.• Practice every day.
• Read more on: how to play the guitar?
Have you already heard the song, “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC, in which Angus Young seems to play the notes of his guitar with one hand?
This effect is the legato, a technique that skillfully combines two other techniques, the hammer and pull-off.
The term legato comes from the Italian for “bound”; when combined with drag effects, for example, legato lets you play melodies with one hand.
The legato gives an extremely melodic and fluid rendering similar to that of a saxophonist.
Many famous guitarists use this technique; Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Dweezil Zappa, and Shawn Lane, an American guitarist and composer who played with The Eagles.
He played on a Vigier guitar that had no frets (like some bass guitars).
You will need an electric guitar with a high level of distortion to make the string resonate.
Turn the treble up to maximum, use the trestle mic and beat the frets with the left hand, while plucking and releasing the string quickly and lightly.
This technique, which is mostly played with both hands, can also be learned with one hand.
It will again need to connect your electric guitar with a high level of distortion.
The touch technique involves hammering the strings with your right hand (if you are right handed).
Tapping allows you to get very fast melodic lines and to play further up on the neck to reach high notes (How to play the guitar faster?).
You need to touch a string with your index finger or your middle finger of the right hand between two frets.
There is no need for a pick as a rule, though some pieces alternate tapping and other phrasing.
In these cases you will have to tap with the middle finger while keeping the pick between your thumb and forefinger.
You need both precision and force to make a sound.
When releasing the pressure on the string, give a slight pressure downwards or upwards (whichever is easiest) as if in a pull-off.
The sound will be more precise.
This technique produces a saturated sound.
The important thing is to stifle with the right hand: place your right palm on the strings to make the sound sharper. You will prevent other strings from vibrating and creating secondary sounds, especially if your sound is saturated.
The musicians who use this technique most are Eddie Van Halen (listen and see the song “Eruption”) but also Steve Vai (see video below), Joe Satriani or Jennifer Batten, the guitarist who played with Michael Jackson.
Another pioneer of this technique is the jazz musician Stanley Jordan.
As you can see, there are different ways to play the guitar one-handed, but not many of them work on their own.
If you have only one working hand (but the same also applies if you have both hands), playing with one hand is a real challenge, but trying to conquer it will teach you a lot about yourself and the guitar.
Bob Gifford (who has a paralyzed left arm) has played with one hand since the age of five.
You will find you are more attentive to the different sounds you make, and this will affect the quality of your playing.
You will probably need assistance to alternate between different techniques.
Finally, whether you have one or two hands, the basics stay the same: play regularly, every day if possible (it’s more effective than playing three hours straight on weekend, or taking private guitar lessons at home), always start slowly and then increase the tempo when you’re feeling comfortable.