Bottle Cap Method
Back in my day, I would use bottle caps to help my reach on the guitar. I would go digging through the garbage, find old pepsi bottles, and take off the caps. Then as I was watching tv, I would take three bottle caps and put them in between the fingers on my fretting hand. It was great. I was helping my guitar playing even without a guitar. And it worked. My hand could span much more of the fretboard than before. If you want to try this method, please proceed with caution. Though if you do it carefully its not harmful at all, the danger of doing this is pretty obvious. If you feel pain stop. You don’t want to cause any serious damage to you hands and put your guitar playing out of commission for a few months.
Move Your Thumb
Before you start trying to build a bigger reach, look at how your fretting hand is positioned. One major hindrance to a big stretch is a high fretting hand thumb. To give yourself the most reach, you’re going to want to have your fretting hand thumb at about the middle of the neck. This will give you a lot more reach then you would have with a thumb hanging over the top of the neck. There are times, though, when a high thumb is appropriate. For example, if your playing some soulful blues lick and you need to put some power in the bend that you’re about to do. You’ll probably want your thumb all the way around, at the top of the neck in this situation to give some the power and leverage that you’ll want. If you look at guys like SRV and Hendrix, their thumbs are always hanging over the top. Experiment with different thumb positions and find whats most comfortable for you for a particular lick. As a rule of thumb, a higher thumb gives you the power, while a lower thumb gives you the reach.
Using a Great Exercise
If you want a more conventional way to stretch out your hands and promote better finger independence, then try this family of exercises from John Petrucci’s instructional video, Rock Discipline. There is a main exercise followed by a couple variations.
All of these can be done in any position you want. When you start practicing these however, you will probably want to start higher up on the fretboard since the frets are closer together there. As you’re fingers stretch out, you can then move farther and farther down the fretboard. Keep track of the position which you can no longer reach to do the exercise anymore. That way you can track your progress as you get better.
How to Do the Exercise
The main exercise is simple to do. When you start it your fingers should look like a descending staircase on the fretboard. Then after the first four notes, you will switch your 2nd and 3rd fingers. After the next four notes, switch your index and pinky fingers. Finally after the next four, switch your 2nd and 3rd fingers again. In the first variation you move the exercise to different groups of strings. In the 2nd variation, you skip some frets to get bigger stretches between fingers. In the final variation, you skip some strings to get huge stretches. You can use different combinations of the variations to come up with your own exercises.
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