Ultimate Finger Strength for Guitar

Finger strength is something that every guitar player wants to develop. Click here to get to the bottom of this challenge and find out how you can play better right away.

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Ultimate Guitar
Ultimate Finger Strength for Guitar
25

Introduction

Almost every guitar player has come across the concept of "finger strength". There are literally thousands of exercises out there that are supposedly designed to increase the strength in your fingers and help you to play better; some teachers have even developed full programs of lessons dedicated to this purpose. There are even some products available that are said to increase your strength and enable you to play faster and for longer, by making you practice squeezing your fingers together into a fist.

But what is the best way to build finger strength? In fact, do you really need it at all? Most guitar players spend far too much time focusing on increasing their finger strength, when they could be spending their practice time far more effectively. In this article you'll learn exactly why finger strength isn't as important as most guitar players think. You'll also learn exactly what to focus on instead in order to make more progress every time you sit down and play guitar.

Why Finger Strength Isn't What You Need

When you pick up your guitar to play, how much tension is there in your muscles? Do your fingers feel relaxed and light and does it feel easy to play, or does it constantly feel like you are struggling to push out the notes? If it's the latter, then you are playing with too much force.

This is a very common problem with guitar players, and particularly with electric players. We'll start by dealing with the fretting hand: an electric guitar string is very thin - around 1. 5mm at the absolute thickest - so it doesn't require a lot of force to play the strings. In fact, if you measure it, you will find that the amount of force required to fret a string is less than the weight of a large apple - practically nothing compared to the amount of force most players use!

This means that you don't need fret-hand finger strength if you want to play well. In fact, even when doing bends and playing legato passages, the amount of force required doesn't go beyond what any normal human being can do. The question, then, is this: why do players find it so hard to play notes if it doesn't require a lot of strength? What is the problem if not force?

Well, that's the key: the problem is force. When you use more force to play you'll find it much more difficult to play passages and notes easily (and don't even get started on barre chords!) because your fingers and muscles are working against themselves and against your instrument. Instead, learn to work with your instrument. Play lighter and you will be rewarded with more ease every single time you pick up your guitar.

The reason most guitar players use far too much force in their fretting motions is a lack of control. They have not yet built up the required control to play accurately and correctly, so they compensate for this by playing harder, thinking that it will solve their problems - and in the short term, it does. For example, using more force does make the barre chord notes come out more easily but only because the player doesn't yet have the skill required to play them without using excess force - the better your technique, the less force is required and the faster and more easily you can play. The problem is that this tension then becomes habit, and when you want to learn more complicated things you quickly run into difficulties. This leads people into thinking they need to use even more force (after all, that worked last time, didn't it?) which they can't do because they are already pushing their muscles to the limit, so they think they need more finger strength; hence all of the lessons, courses and products related to this topic.

This is also where endurance comes into play - the more force you use, the more quickly your muscles will get tired and the less time you'll be able to play for before you have to stop because of pain or fatigue. This means that if you stop focusing on "strength" and instead start to focus on relaxing when you play, finger fatigue and endurance will cease to be an issue. If you're struggling with any kind of finger tiredness (even when playing fast) then you're using too much tension! Slow down and relax, and you'll find everything far easier to play. Then, speed up gradually without letting the excess tension back in, and you'll eliminate all of your issues. If you use too much force then of course your muscles will get tired! It's a lack of control that causes fatigue - not a lack of strength.

Using extra force in your fretting hand can also cause another serious problem - making your notes go out of tune. When you press down on a string it contacts the frets but not usually the fretboard - that is, if you are playing with good technique. If you play too hard then the string will get pushed into the fretboard and bend slightly, making everything you play sound sharp rather than in tune. This can be very frustrating, as all of the money you have spent on a nice guitar that stays in tune will be wasted - it won't sound in tune if you play with too much force!

Next, we'll move on to the picking hand. If you've ever read articles about guitar tone, you will have heard the advice that "the harder you pick, the better your tone." Almost every guitar teacher says this, which is a real shame - simply because it isn't true! People use Stevie Ray Vaughan as an example of a player with great tone who played hard, thinking that his hard, aggressive picking style was the reason for his good tone - in fact, he sounded good despite his picking, not because of it. Picking too hard has the same effect that fretting too hard does - it makes the notes sound sharp because the string vibrates so much that it stretches up to a higher pitch.

Good tone from the picking hand has much more to do with the angle of the pick and the position of the pick relative to the string (i.e. whether you pick closer to the bridge or closer to the neck) than with how hard you play. If you want to improve your tone, pick lightly and experiment with the angle of the pick and the position of it. This is a very personal thing - some people prefer the tone gained by playing with a flatter picking angle, and others prefer playing with the pick at more of an angle. Some players prefer picking closer to the bridge, but others prefer the softer tone that is gained by picking closer to the neck.

Picking in a more relaxed manner is also a vital part of picking faster. You might find that if you want to play fast right away, you'll tense up your arm to get a little more speed out of your abilities. Although this will work in the short term you'll soon find that you can't play fast for much more than a few seconds, and that you'll struggle to get any faster in the long term. The real solution is to relax as much as possible and play at a speed which is effortless; then, increase the speed gradually. If you focus on maintaining relaxed control like this you'll get much faster in the long run, and your skills will be more reliable than if you tried to conquer the challenge with "finger strength".

The Truth about Finger Strength Exercises

Hopefully by now you've realised that finger strength isn't what you need to be a good guitar player. Play in a relaxed and effortless manner and you'll find yourself playing much better than before - not to mention the amount of time you'll save by removing "finger strength" practice from your playing time. There is just one question left, however: if finger strength isn't what you need to become a better guitar player, why do so many people find finger strengthening exercises helpful? Surely if strength and force aren't what you need, these exercises would hinder you rather than help you?

The answer lies in the nature of the exercises themselves. You see, if you were really going to do "finger strength" exercises you'd get some mini weights or practice resistance exercises, not play guitar licks. The exercises most people give you to work on your force and strength are usually just patterns of notes that feel awkward to play, so the more you practice them the more control you gain and the less awkward they feel. The patterns aren't really strengthening your fingers (at least if you practice them in the correct, relaxed manner as shown above), they are improving your control - this is why they seem so effective. It's OK to practice these exercises, but don't try and force the notes out with your "strength" - that will lead to unwanted tension and a lack of progress. Instead, play the exercises while remaining as relaxed as you can - even if it slows you down at first. This way you'll develop control much more easily, and learn faster than before.

If you've found this lesson helpful, leave a comment! Check out my blog TomGuitar (www.easy-guitar.weebly.com) for more free lessons, cool articles and reviews of awesome products. Head over there now!

25 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    potbelly66
    Use the EVH school of principle. Light gauge strings, lowest action possible, make the guitar easiest to play as possible. I've never heard anyone say Eddie doesn't know what he's talking about.
    beggar__
    You're freaking right. I need to go home and practice!! Relaxed!! Thanks, this is awesome.
    brrt !
    To play relaxed you need a decent amount of fingerstrengh. I don't know what people told you, but that's a fact.
    R3ap3r_Tokyo
    Watch this :
    You've got a bit to learn.
    eddievanzant
    Regarding the first part.. Just like carpal tunnel, you can build your muscles of the pinky in such a way that they completely wreck you and requires surgery. http://drum.lib.umd.edu/handle/1903/9176 Building dexterity definitely includes some soreness. It's odd because it's not as simple as aerobic vs anaerobic but the best and easiest way to develop speed and dexterity is to just open and close your hand a ton of times. Kinda focus on leading the motion with your pinky. Eventually your fingers will be moving faster. You'll notice your endurance will actually go down once you can move them faster. That's the point at which you start developing 'strength' but it's actually endurance. When you're doing this you can work on different muscles by keeping your fingers straight or curling them. Another trick is to put your wrists together and clap
    Guitar-Made-Eas
    No it's not. Relaxing the muscles is exactly the opposite of what strength is used for - strength is used for tension, and when muscles are relaxed no strength is needed. If guitar strings required a lot of force to press down (for example, if you had to use 700-800g to get a note) then you'd be right - you'd need strength to press them down easily, so I can see where you are coming from. However, they actually require around 80g of force to press down (you can measure it if you like) - meaning you don't need extra strength at all.
    Maritvs
    Wow, that was extremely helpfull! As a complete beginner I didn't even realise that I'm not supposed to push the strings all the way to the fretboard... Learned a lot today here at Ultimate Guitar and from Guitar-Made-Easy! Thanks!!
    mhillup1
    Very helpful info to relax and not try to squash the strings! Reminds me of golf lessons and the same recommendation for a soft grip vs. choking the club. Relaxation vs. tension! Also, never thought about picking technique like you suggested. Thanks for the great info!
    ArthurSungward
    I agree that you shouldn't rely on strength when playing. That doesn't mean that you don't need finger strength. If you're starting to play gigs for example, you're probably gonna have to carry your amp to shitty pubs if you want to sound any good (or you'll be playing on the backline Spider or crappy Marshall). If your fingers are weak, you won't be able to play decently for some time after carrying the amp. If you're on a tight schedule, this may screw your gig up. You might even screw up your fingers carrying your gear around. Having strong tendons might also help prevent RSI. There are always situations in which your technique is gonna deteriorate. It's usually these situations that lead to injury. For example, playing in the cold for too long or playing with a drummer who likes to speed up tune a lot (I did both...). It's impossible to concentrate on perfect technique all the time when you are playing for a long time or the environment is distracting. This is why it's good to have strong hands, so that you don't ruin them when you eventually play with incorrect technique. Here's a (shameless) plug to an article in which I cover some of this stuff: https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/lessons/the_gui...
    tablue
    Excellent article. I've been playing 45 years and this has been a revelation. I have lots of bad habits to break but your point has hit home with me. Thanks Tim
    toateridax2010
    Very interesting idea, I'm slowly realising it myself after being fixated on "strength" since I started playing two years ago. Thanks!
    QuicksilverEvan
    A+++ article- I love pieces like this. I wish I could share this on other platforms in a timely and non-"spamily" fashion.
    JoachimR
    Couldn't agree with you more! I've struggled a lot with my guitar playing due to hearing the phrases "play hard" "finger strength" and such in my early days which made my progress a lot slower than when I realized that it's control and relaxed playing that is the key.
    Guitar-Made-Eas
    Exactly! The worst one I think is "play till your fingers bleed". The message is good - play lots - but if your fingers are bleeding you're putting in way too much force. Control and relaxed playing really are the keys
    bonekrusha27
    I drove an engineer/producer absolutely crazy during one session because I was fretting too hard. I was pressing the notes out of pitch. Going to heavier strings helped with this a lot, but just masks the problem.
    jay3213
    My solution: Finger Strength trainer by Planet Waves. That thing fixed my weak pinky problem and I can finally use my pinky more than I used to.