Reducing Finger Pressure

In this guitar lesson we’re going to talk a little bit about how to reduce the amount of finger pressure that you use to fret notes. This is an area of technique development that is often overlooked, and this oversight usually causes the common problem of using way too much pressure when fretting notes.

You might be thinking now…”What’s the big deal? Why does it matter if I use a lot of pressure to fret notes?”.

I’ve got to be honest. If you have no aspirations of playing guitar at a high level then it doesn’t matter at all. Carry on as you are. :-) But if you’d like to one day be able to play guitar very well, and make it look and feel effortless, then retraining how much pressure you use is essential.

Why? Well, to answer that, let’s use a silly example…

If you had to walk 10 miles every day to get to work, would you prefer to…

  1. Walk the 10 miles with 50 pound weights strapped to each leg?
  2. Walk the 10 miles normally without having to carry the extra weights?

Most people, unless they’re trying to be a smart ass, would choose the second option. Having to carry no extra weights would mean…

  • It would take far less effort to walk the 10 miles.
  • You’d be less likely to injure yourself.
  • You’d probably enjoy the process of walking to work a lot more.

Habitually using too much finger pressure to fret notes is a lot like trying to walk with weights strapped to your legs, and it causes these major problems…

  • It makes the process of becoming a good guitarist harder, and more frustrating, than it needs to be.
  • It increases the likelihood of injury or physical discomfort when playing guitar.

How To Retrain How Much Pressure You Use To Fret Notes

Let’s now take a look at two simple exercises. They are designed to help you to do the following…

  1. Develop your sense of touch, and make you much more aware of how different amounts of pressure feel.
  2. Help you to discover the absolute minimum amount of pressure that is needed to fret a note cleanly. (I call this the optimal amount of finger pressure).

Exercise 1: Touch > Buzz > Optimal

Step 1:
Lightly touch the thinnest string with your first finger at the 7th fret. Pick the string to check that you aren’t pressing hard enough to fret the note. You should hear a clicking sound when you pick the string.
Step 2:
Keep on picking the string slowly. While you do this, start to gradually increase how much pressure you are applying to the string with your first finger. Keep on doing this until you start to hear a buzzing note.
Step 3:
Once you can hear the buzzing note, increase the amount of pressure you’re using just enough to remove the buzzing. You should now be hearing the 7th fret note sounding clearly.
Step 4:
Close your eyes and pay careful attention to how it feels when you’re using this amount of pressure. Are you using more or less than you normally do?
Step 5:
Repeat Steps 1 to 4 using your second, third and fourth fingers.

Exercise 2: Normal > Buzz > Optimal

Step 1:
Play the 7th fret note on the thinnest string using your first finger. Use as much pressure as you normally do to fret notes. Close your eyes and pay attention to how it feels to use this much pressure. Start picking the string repeatedly at a slow pace.
Step 2:
As you’re picking the string, start to reduce how much pressure you’re using to fret the note. Keep on doing this until the note starts to buzz slightly.
Step 3:
Now that you can hear the buzzing note, add just enough pressure to stop the buzz. You should now be hearing a clear note.
Step 4:
Close your eyes and really pay close attention to how this amount of finger pressure feels. Compare it to the feeling that you had in Step 1. Are you using more or less pressure?
Step 5:
Repeat Steps 1 to 4 using your second, third and fourth fingers.

A Few Last Words

Because these are awareness building exercises, I recommend doing them at the beginning of your practice sessions for a few minutes as part of your warm-up. You’ll find that if you do them regularly, you’ll start to notice that the awareness of finger pressure will overflow to everything else that you practice.

Have fun!

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