There’s a huge debate on guitar forums and in guitar circles about this. Is anchoring your picking hand OK? Is floating hand better? What does anchoring, or floating, even mean?
In this article, I’m going to analyze this hot topic. I hope you’ll find valuable information in it.
Let’s dive into this issue.
So, what does anchoring mean in the context of guitar playing? It’s basically resting your playing hand fingers on a guitar body when you play guitar. I’d say that majority of guitarists are used to do this, in one way or another.
Our picking hand naturally tries to rest against a guitar body when we play. Some guitarists anchor their palm. Some anchor their fingers, usually ring and pinky finger. Here’s how it looks like.
From this photo you can see that my fingers (ring and pinky) rest on the guitar body. That’s one way of anchoring. I also used to anchor these two fingers in this way.
In this case, I’m resting my fingers beneath first two strings. (high E and B). I’m kind of “locking” them in that position. That’s what anchoring essentially is. Resting and locking fingers.
Now let’s see what floating is. It’s the opposite of anchoring. In anchoring, you’re locking your fingers. They are put to rest against a guitar body.
Floating is when you don’t do that. Floating means your fingers float in the air. Your whole picking hand is staying away from the resting on guitar body. Here’s how it looks like.
As you can see, in this case my fingers are not resting on a guitar body. So, that’s what floating is.
Now let’s talk about how anchoring/floating affects guitar playing, in general.
Is Anchoring Bad? Should I Anchor My Picking (Playing) Hand?
As I said in the beginning, this is a hot topic among guitarists all over the world. Some say that anchoring is limiting guitar progress, namely speed and overall precision of playing. Others say that it doesn’t matter, in other words, you should do what you feel is better to do.
So, what’s better?
In my opinion, and I think majority of advanced guitarists agree, floating technique is better in the long run. That doesn’t mean you should avoid anchoring at all costs. It depends on what you play on your guitar. If you play something confidently and properly, and at the same time you anchor your finger(s), that’s perfectly fine.
However, if your aim is to play fast and demanding, using techniques that are hard to master, then anchoring will get in the way of your development.
While anchoring gives you the feeling of stability and control of your picking hand, it is also limiting your speed and accuracy. That’s because floating hand moves more freely than anchored hand.
Floating Hand Advantages
It doesn’t cost you anything to try floating hand technique, just to see where it will get you. From my experience, I can lay out a few advantages that I’ve noticed.
Alternate picking can become really sloppy when you perform it at higher speeds. Naturally, when we alternate on a string in a fast tempo, we tend to anchor our fingers on a guitar body. It gives us stability and control.
However, try to float your picking hand. At first, it will be kind of uncomfortable. That’s because you’re not used to it. But soon, you’ll notice that actually floating hand makes alternate picking much easier. Also, you’ll be more confident.
As I’ve said, alternate picking tends to become sloppy as you approach higher speed. So why not give a shot to floating hand technique?
Transition Between Adjacent Strings
Picking on one string, then moving to adjacent string, in a fast manner, is often frustrating. It is so easy to make a mistake while doing that. It is so easy to sound sloppy in these situations.
Floating hand made my fast transitions much better and easier to do. Why? I think it has to do with hand position and angle. When you anchor your fingers, and you do some fast picking from one string to another, your hand is curling in a way that you need to adjust your thumb and index finger every time you pick on a different string.
That becomes a problem when you try to access higher strings. With floating hand, your hand is moving up and down, accessing lower and higher strings with the same angle.
To get it better, watch this video. It is explained very well.
Floating hand resulted in less unwanted noise coming from other strings. That’s ironic, since anchoring is used because it gives you some kind of stability and control. Well, I’ve learned that when I anchor my fingers, they often accidentally cause noise from strings that are not being played at the moment.
Do you know that feeling, when you hear a noise from your guitar, but can’t really identify the source of that noise. Especially if you play electric guitar on a distortion. Every scratch you make is going to be heard from an amp. That’s often irritating.
How do you stop that stupid scratching noise? Well, it turns out that floating picking hand, as opposed to anchored, doesn’t make noise. That’s logical when you think about it. If your picking hand floats, it won’t scratch strings you don’t play.
Cool, isn’t it?
Playing Different Guitars
Since I incorporated floating hand in my playing, I’ve noticed that playing other guitars isn’t a problem. Before, every time I switched guitars, it took me a while to get used to a different guitar. That’s because different guitars have different bodies.
When I was “anchor” player, I had to get used to a new guitar body, each time I started to play different guitar. I was too dependent on body shape of a guitar. That’s because my fingers were anchored on a guitar body. And since every guitar has its own body shape, the anchoring is subtly different from one guitar to another.
Since I started to float my picking hand, I’ve realized that any guitar, with its unique body shape, is perfectly comfortable with me.
That’s interesting thing to keep in mind.
Is Anchoring Your Pinky Good or Bad Thing?
Pinky is our weakest finger when it comes to playing guitar. Also, pinky finger tends to flail, especially on a fretting hand.
On a picking hand, we tend to rest (anchor) our pinky finger, often in combination with a ring finger. Pinky and ring finger are physically connected in a way that they’re very dependent of each other.
Anchoring a pinky finger is not necessarily a bad thing to do. Especially when you play something properly. Then it doesn’t matter. Still, I encourage you to try floating hand technique. In the long run, you’ll find that the stability of your picking hand improves and you have a better control of your playing.
Where Should You Rest Your Playing Hand When Playing Guitar?
Resting your playing hand on a guitar body is perfectly fine. Just try to not rest your whole hand. Instead, rest your wrist on a guitar body. Try to avoid resting your whole hand on the bridge.
There’s nothing bad about resting your wrist. Still, don’t become too dependent on resting your whole hand. Otherwise, you’ll struggle each time you try to play different guitar, since different guitars have different body shapes. If you’re too dependent on the body, you’ll need time to get used to every other guitar.
And that’s kind of limiting to your playing and overall expression.
Anchoring and Fingerpicking
When we talk about anchoring in the context of fingerpicking, things get a bit different. It is hard to keep your playing hand floating when you play guitar with your fingers.
Some fingerstyle guitar players rest their pinky, while others do not. There are advantages and disadvantages for each approach.
Anchoring your pinky finger when playing fingerstyle gives you a better stability of your playing hand. On the other hand, it impairs the ability of your ring finger to move freely.
So, what I’d conclude from this information is that depending on what you playing, you choose whether to anchor or float. Some fingerstyle guitar pieces are easier to master with anchoring your pinky finger. Some are easier to master with floating hand technique.
I’d say that you do what feels better in each situation. Nevertheless, it’s good to experiment with both approaches. Then you’ll know which one is better in which situation.
Check out this video on how to have the best right hand position for fingerpicking.
Anchoring vs. Floating – Final Verdict
Anchoring vs. Floating is, as I’ve said, one of the hot topics in guitar community. In the long run, I think the floating hand is better. That’s because we naturally tend to anchor our fingers, anyway. So, you naturally know how to anchor your fingers already.
So, why not try to use floating hand? You can only benefit from it, even if you find it uncomfortable and unnatural at first.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t anchor your fingers at all. If you can play something properly, and you feel more comfortable with anchoring, go for it. But if you struggle with learning something new on your guitar, whether it’s guitar technique, solo or some piece you want to learn, then why not trying something new?
New approaches to playing guitar can only benefit your playing, even if you find out it doesn’t change anything. The process of learning something new is beneficial to our brain, and our neurons. We don’t want to get stuck in the same old pattern.
New approaches open up a new world and space where we can express more. Sticking to old approaches limits our potential. I hope this elaboration is good enough.
I hope this article gave you a valuable information on this topic. If you enjoyed reading it, as much as I enjoyed writing it, I’m more than happy about it.
Don’t forget to check out other interesting guitar related articles on this site.
Cheers, and rock on!