Technique is an important part of playing any instrument. (See the post on technique for a fuller description.) Today, I would like to talk about the correct right hand position, or plucking hand, on guitar. See here for the left hand, or fretting hand, position.
While the exact positioning of each players hand might vary slightly because each player and each instrument are slightly different in size, the proper plucking hand position will follow the four rules of efficient musculoskeletal function. It is important to have a qualified teacher to help you with these fine details of positioning during your guitar lessons.
1. The wrist should have minimal deviation and arch, none if possible. It should have no more than 10 degrees of arch, 20 degrees at the absolute maximum if it is necessary in order to reach the strings. In other words, the wrist should be relatively straight. To the left are examples of poor positioning, followed by examples of good positioning. The straight wrist satisfies the requirement of muscular alignment.
2. The fingers should be positioned so that all of the joints in the fingers are curved and in the middle of their range of motion. This position satisfies the requirement of midrange function of joints. See the images to the left.
3. The finger tips should be on top of the strings, not underneath or on the side.
4. The twist (wrist rotation) is set so that the palm is parallel to the strings. In other words, turn your wrist clockwise or counter-clockwise until the palm is flat to the strings.
5. The thumb is placed in front of the fingers, so that when the thumb plays it lands on the side of the index finger and not behind it. This positioning is usually automatic if rules number 2 and 4 above are followed.
6. The large base knuckles of the fingers are positioned directly above the point where the fingertips contact the strings. This is an absolute requirement! If that is not properly placed, then the fingers will not be able to function properly. This position also guarantees that, when you execute a proper finger stroke, you will only strike the string that you intend and will avoid striking more than one string at a time.
The rules above describe the optimal right hand position, or plucking hand if you are a lefty. Unlike the fretting hand, the plucking hand is much more stable and should not leave this position, except in rare cases.