Wrist and Elbow Motions Explained

When you play the guitar, you’ll use a variety of different wrist, forearm and elbow motions depending on what it is you’re trying to achieve. Quite often, you’ll need to combine a number of different motions all at the same. For a better understanding of all the arm motions you’ll be using, read on.

Elbow Motion

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Extension and Flexion

The elbow only moves in two ways – it opens (Extension) and closes (Flexion). Think about the movement your arm would make when hammering a nail. Hitting the nail is Extension, and bringing your arm back ready for another hit is Flexion.

Forearm Motion

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The forearm, like the elbow also only moves in two ways – it rotates outwards (Supernation) and rotates inwards (Pronation). Think about the motion you’d make when locking and unlocking a door with a key. Locking the door is Supernation. Unlocking the door is Pronation.

Wrist Motion

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The wrist is a little more complex than the elbow and forearm and it has 4 different motions.


The first motions are known as Radial and Ulnar Deviation. Basically, it’s a similar motion you might use if you are waving to somebody. When you’re waving to the left, it’s ulnar deviation. When you’re waving to the right, it’s radial deviation.

Extension and Flexion

The second wrist motions are known as Extension and Flexion. It’s the same type of movement you’d use if you were knocking on a door. When your knuckles knock on the door, the motion is Extension, when you bring the knuckles back to prepare for another know, the motion is Flexion.

Combining Movements

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When we play the guitar we often combine a variety of different arm motions depending on what it is we’re doing. For example, stirring a cup of coffee might seem like a single movement, but it’s actually a combination of wrist motions with a bit of forearm rotation mixed in.

Don’t worry about all the weird motion names listed above (unless you want to of course). The most important thing is to understand the motions themselves. By understanding each motion individually, you’ll grasp a better idea of how to properly use and combine them for specific techniques.