By Chris Glyde

When a kid learns to ride a bike, a tricycle wheel is first used so they can get used to pedaling and not have to worry about balancing themselves. In teaching guitar, I use the term tricycle wheel to mean anything you use first to help develop proper movements faster. Anything that is assisting you in performing an action or preparing you for a next step is a tricycle wheel in my book. Just a musical tricycle wheel. This is important to discuss before we move forward. I’ve written a number of articles on the subject of technique, but this one is special. Before talking about the tricycle wheel, I want to talk about how your fingers respond when you play guitar. Generally, when people play guitar, they’re typically going to lift their fingers off of the fretboard (picture below)

What if I told you this exact motion is one of the huge barriers you need to work to overcome if you wish to play guitar at a high level? What if I told you that once you’ve replaced this habit with another, your guitar playing ability will explode? Well it’s all true, so let’s talk about it in more detail. As a guitar player you should focus on relaxing off the fretboard instead of lifting off the fretboard. What’s the difference? When you lift off the fretboard you’re engaging so many of your finger muscles and joints.!” For example, if you form your finger like the picture below, you will notice that many more muscles are engaged when the finger is floating that high. If you let the finger sit there, you will notice the tension increase in time. If you relax off (the next picture below) and move the finger it will look like this:

1) Less travel time between your finger and the fretboard. The closer you can keep your finger to the fretboard, the sooner it will get to the next note.
2) You’re using fewer muscles. If you’re using a lot of muscles to move between notes you’re going to need to focus in on relaxing those muscles and moving those muscles again. This will mean that you will have to make more motions, which equals too much movement. Too much movement will make you much slower.
3) Your hand will be more relaxed which will allow you to move between notes smoother.
4) If you can learn to relax off the fretboard, your playing will be more consistent because your fingers are much closer.

How can you learn to relax off the strings? The answer is by using the tricycle wheel we briefly mentioned in the beginning of the article. This concept is actually very easy to learn. I want you to bring your hand to the fretboard right now. When you do so, I want you to press down on one fret. It can be any fret. Let’s say the 7th, for those that must have instructions. Now that you’ve pressed that fret down, relax your finger. When you’ve relaxed the finger, the finger should still be touching the string, and it should be muting the string it originally pressed down. Do this several times fast, you should here a note and then it mutes. If done correctly it will give off a staccato (short and choppy) sound. The idea is that your fingers rest on the string before the next note is played. This is a tricycle wheel of sorts, but for guitar. It prepares you for the next step while still allowing you to play music and enjoy yourself.

Play all your lead phrases like this for a month and you will quickly learn how to relax off the fingers instead of lifting off the fingers. Within time it will become so natural that you can relax off without the use of the staccato sensation and you will be done with this tricycle wheel.


About the Author
Chris Glyde is a guitar teacher based in Rochester New York. He loves receiving feedback for his methods, so if you would like to share how this article helped you visit his Guitar Lessons page , click the tell me about yourself button and fill out the form on the next page to share your experience.