To Watch Or Not To Watch

When you’re first learning to play guitar, you might find yourself constantly hunching over watching either your chording hand or your strumming (picking) one.  Of course you need to do that when you’re very new to playing because how else are you going to get a sense of where the strings and the frets are?After awhile, however, you may find yourself at a disadvantage if you are habitually watching your hands.  How can you read chords and lyrics or tablature and watch your hands at the same time?  Well, you can look back and forth, but you’ll likely lose your spot on the page pretty easily.   And once you’ve firmly established this habit, it’s pretty hard to break.  I’ve had some students who’ve come to me after having played for awhile, with the habit of watching their hands.  That’s pretty much the first habit I try to break them out of.

Eric Clapton NOT looking 🙂

The truth is, after awhile, you don’t need your eyes for playing guitar any more!  You won’t believe it until you try it.  Even with my beginner students, I work to get them to stop watching pretty soon in the game.  They don’t believe they can do it either, until they try it a few times.  The fact is that your fingers have muscle memory and they will begin to remember the shapes of the chords pretty quickly.  They might not always hit the right string or the right place on the fret, but the shape will be there.  Certain chords will come more quickly than others…for instance and ‘A’ chord where you place all your fingers in the second fret, is easier to find without looking.   A ‘C’ chord does not come as easily to some, so this one will take more work.

If you have a habit of watching your chording hand, try it out.  Discipline yourself to move between two chords that you know fairly well.  You’ll be surprised at how many times your fingers will hit the right spot without the need for looking.  If you MUST look, look AFTER you move, not AS you’re moving.  This will help you to get out of the habit too.

Now of course you’ll notice that there are dots on the neck of your guitar indicating certain frets.  Most guitars have fret dots on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th frets.  Those dots are there to help you see your way to another fret, especially when you are playing up and down the neck.  And this is because sometimes you need to look in order to hit the right fret.  Classical guitars do not have these fret dots, but most other guitars do.  And when you watch Eric Clapton play, sometimes he looks down so he gets to the right fret, although most of the time he doesn’t have to look at all.  So there are certainly instances where glancing down helps.

But the sooner you get out of the habit of looking, the sooner you will be liberated!  How many times have I seen a guitar student’s fingers go to the right chord, and then look and second guess themselves?  The eyes and the thinking can actually GET IN THE WAY of playing more smoothly!  When you don’t have to look any more, you will be depending on your muscle memory and your touch rather than your eyes and your thoughts, and that’s a lot faster!

So do yourself a favour and break yourself of the habit of watching your hands…and the sooner the better 🙂


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