Guitar Technique:  Anchoring Your Picking Hand Is Bad and Why You Shouldn’t Do It

So what is anchoring?
Anchoring is touching part of your picking hand to the guitar body close to the strings, as opposed to an unanchored or floating style where the right hand does not touch the guitar. The fingers or palm that touch the guitar create a sort of pivot point, so you know where you are, and theoretically, so that your pick will have an easier time finding the right strings.

There are several types of anchors:

  • Pinky: The pinky (and optional ring finger) touch the guitar body just under the top e string.
  • Palm to bridge: Palm rests on the back of the bridge.

So why should I not anchor?
Short answer: Anchoring restricts movement and adds tension. Not anchoring, or floating, frees up your right hand and suddenly things get a lot more fluid. More better. More faster.

There are excellent guitarists who anchor, like John Petrucci, Marty Friedman, Joe Stump, Michael Angelo Batio, Steve Morse, etc. And those who don’t, like Paul Gilbert, Shawn Lane, etc.

The great debate: To Anchor or Not to Anchor?

Proponents of anchoring say:
I’ve always done it that way. It feels natural. Look at all of these great players who anchor, are they wrong? It helps me know where I’m at and pick with accuracy.

“you lose accuracy if you don’t anchor.”

“I don’t know what you guys are talking about when you say there is strain, inaccuracy, and loss of speed (in regards to down-picking). I downpick much faster anchored (I don’t use my pinky, I rest my wrist on the bridge) than unanchored. I anchor when I play metal.”

Proponents of *not* anchoring say:
When I switched to an unanchored position I gained greater freedom of movement and there was less tension in my picking hand. Any part of your hand that is touching the guitar is restricting movement which slows you down.

Those who don’t anchor usually have their forearm resting on the edge of the guitar, but the pick hand is hovering over the strings and bridge. Some will let their palm or finger lightly touch the top of the bridge or strings, but never really use it as an anchor. Now when strumming, players will often palm mute, but this isn’t considered anchoring.

“i used to anchor. after reading a lot on the subject i decided to stop. it is a hard habit to break, but my speed went up 10 fold, there was LESS tension in my hand/wrist/arm, and my accuracy even improved. i would recommend not anchoring.”

“Ultimately it is NOT a matter of preference. If you don’t learn how to pick with
your hand floating, unanchored on the guitar, you will be handicapped. [...] without the crutch of anchoring your hand
on the guitar, your picking will become more fluid and faster.

It is NOT less accurate. It only seems that way to begin with, because it’s more
difficult to learn.”

The comments above are from the entertaining and enlightening ultimate-guitar.com forums thread here. Thanks to skydropsblue, edg, and others for their excellent comments.

Excellent video on the subject:

What does billybadaxe.com’s resident guitar hero Aaron say?
When I asked him, he laughed and said he doesn’t think about it. But I think I kind of planted a seed there because I got a very detailed email a little while later. He sat down with the guitar, played a few songs and watched himself playing. Oh, that’s how I do it! So what does Aaron do?

He doesn’t anchor… usually.

Though, he said, there were a few songs, Sweet Child of Mine intro, for example, where he did anchor to hit individual notes.

So should a beginner anchor or not?
Most newbie guitarists do anchor because it feels more stable, especially when trying to do lead/solo guitar. Picking those individual notes is tough at first and its natural to want to have some grounding or an anchor at first. Sort of like training wheels.

If you anchor, try to go unanchored and see if it helps you play guitar faster. Making the switch to an unanchored position is tough, and make take several months to get used to but it could take your playing to the next level.

Ultimately, try not to anchor. If you can train yourself to keep your picking had off the bridge and body of the guitar, it will really free you up. Your picking hand should be loose, and anchoring does the opposite. It’s a tense point. So you’ve got one or two tense fingers anchoring but the fingers holding the pick have to be relaxed. It’s tough to be tense and relaxed in the same hand!

How do I make the switch from anchored to un-anchored?
Start slow and give yourself time. Play as you normally do (anchored), but reserve maybe 1/4 of your practice time to playing unanchored. Even if it’s only 5 or 10 minutes a day. That is fine. Go slow! Don’t try to play anything difficult. Go back to the basics, play warm-up style scales that you know by heart. Play them methodically.

Slowly increase the amount of practice time devoted to floating. It should be a natural change that happens. Don’t put a lot of stress on yourself. Keep at it and don’t give up. It’s going to feel very strange at first–like your picking hand is out there on the end of a fishing pole and you have totally lost control and accuracy. That’s ok. Don’t give up. Look at it as a 3 to 6 month project that will eventually take your guitar playing to the next level.

I really hope this helps you concerning anchoring, especially if you are really trying to get better. Let me know what you think of anchoring in the comments below. –Dave

10 Readers Commented

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  1. Jake on May 4, 2015
    I started out anchoring, but naturally moved over to floating if you will without ever realizing it, this just felt more natural to me and I could never see how people could rest their picking hand on the guitar
  2. Paul on May 15, 2015
    It's interesting. I can play fast and technical stuff - really fast. And I anchor on and off - it's not consistent. Picking is just not something I've ever paid much attention to - it just happens - doing whatever is necessary. Kinda like I've always alternate picked and/or economy picked and whatnot without ever thinking about it (and then some day you read about it and you're like, oh, that's what it's called, I've always done that). Having read debates like this I've been paying more attention and attempting to anchor less or not at all to see if it makes a difference but, but as stated, it's a hard habit to break, especially after 30+ years of playing. Sometimes I think, I can already play ludicrously fast so maybe just stick with what works...but...it could be faster, cleaner, more efficiently done, and so on....so it's an interesting topic to read about.
  3. Mats Peterson on May 25, 2015
    Regarding not anchoring the right hand, you never write with the hand "in the air", do you? So why would you like to compromise the precision achieved from anchoring when playing the guitar?
  4. geoff on December 21, 2015
    I am a very old picker have been playing from 10 yrs of age to now 69 yrs (very long time) developed dystonia starting about 15 -20 yrs ago, always used anchors, bridge muting or just a little finger etc, always felt more stable, but in the old days had non of the tutoring you have today so largely self tort as one of the mid 50's pioneers but believe I developed some very bad habits ending with dystonia I am adopting the floating /dead, hand approach and it makes a very big difference and my fingers don't seem to want to cramp up or go spastic, arm like wise I'm thinking if I had been shown correct technique many years ago I might not have developed dystonia So listed to the logic of floating hand / speed etc, there is more than one might think in this message or analysis and might help some avoid developing dystonia? Might for some even be akin to "stop smoking before the damage is dome" anyway this technique is showing great promise for me, Thanks for the effort and research you have done, my comments might help some benefit as well Don't write this off a just another crazy idea, I think there's much more to it than you might at first think Kind Regards Geoff
  5. KC on June 13, 2016
    Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, John Petrucci, Alexi Laiho, and Michael Angelo Batio all use anchoring as an integrated part of their picking technique, just to name a few off the top of my head. But, of course, if *you* say it's a bad newbie technique that should be avoided if you wanna be, like, REALLY PRO, random guy on the internet, it simply *must* be true, because *clearly* these guys haven't got the faintest idea about how to play the guitar ...
  6. Panagiotis on January 10, 2017
    I usually anchor when i play the lower strings but i try just to lay my pinky on the pickguard without really touching it. It feels more comfortable than floating where i struggle to keep my fist closed. Sometimes i float my hand (depending on the lick), whichever feels more natural. The key is being relaxed.
  7. Robert on January 27, 2017
    I feel like both side have very good points (anchoring for precision, floating for dexterity/much less tension.) I have tried both and ultimately just naturally anchor. This is an interesting topic because its one of those things most musicians "just do." Over the years I have tried very hard to improve my down picking speed and control but I just can't seem to get my wrist in the proper comfortable position for fast down picking. It ends up kinked in a strange way that is very uncomfortable. Any tips would be greatly appreciated. PS Comments like those from KC should be relegated to the dregs of the internet like you tube. No need for that crap. The author took time to raise discussion on a good topic. It was well presented and was in no way seen (from me anyway) as "YOU'RE WRONG!" So chill out
    • dave Author on February 4, 2017
      thanks for the reply, Robert. yep, it's kind of a hot button topic among guitarists! find the style you like and roll with it.
    • dave Author on February 4, 2017
      Robert, as far as down picking speed goes, have you tried isolating just the picking hand while the fret hand just mutes the strings? just work on the downstroke without worrying about the fret hand. sometimes when you work on just one hand you can see where you are going wrong and work some things out. hope that helps!
  8. Michael Baggett on May 24, 2017
    I've been playing for 40 years. I ran across a website where the expert says you must anchor and how anchoring will increase accuracy. I have tried it and it feels like I have handcuffs on. I can't really control low E open string noise effectively using anchoring. I have adopted a style where I use the forearm of my picking hand to control the E, A, D (to a point) with a little help from the chording thumb and, well, you guys know the routine. I also like to move around over the different pickups to get different sounds. Also, grapping the whammy bar temolo) is awkward to me when trying to anchor on my picking hand on the bridge (for lack of better word).

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