Developing Good Fretting Technique

This video lesson presents a simple exercise and covers several key points explaining how to minimise effort, making playing the guitar feel more relaxed and comfortable.

Ultimate Guitar
I teach a lot of beginners and find that one of the most common problems they encounter is playing with too much tension, whereby they use more effort than is required to fret notes and chords. Sometimes it can be the fault of the guitar itself, because the action is too high (the distance of the strings from the fretboard), and this is a common problem with cheaper guitars, particularly steel string acoustics. If you think this is an issue it could be money well spent paying for a professional set up, and requesting that they lower the action. Usually music shops will provide this service for a reasonable price. You can do it yourself but I don't want to recommend that people start butchering their instruments! I'm going to assume that your guitar is in good working order for this lesson. The video shows you how to play a simple chromatic exercise which after a bit of practice you should find quite easy. The main benefit of using this exercise regularly is that it will train your hand to fret notes in a more comfortable way. It can feel unnatural to bend your fretting hand wrist and use all 4 fingers on the fretboard, but this is often what is required to play riffs, chords and lead solos. Because it feels unnatural to hold this shape with your fretting hand, it is common for beginners to use a lot of effort to play, and create a lot of tension in the process. Hopefully some of the troubleshooting tips will help you to avoid this common problem, and make playing feel easier and more enjoyable. I don't think it matters whether you want to play like Noel Gallagher or Paul Gilbert, developing good fretting technique will help you to learn more effectively. Have fun!
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10 comments sorted by best / new / date

    "...this is a common problem with cheaper guitars, particularly steel string acoustics." I have played the cheap steel acoustic (with very hard strings) for about 2 years before I bought an electric, and I'm glad I did it, since I obtained massive fretting-hand strength and dexterity on it. I don't have any problems with fretting hand tension now. IMHO, only problem here is the lack of practice.
    Coda Guitar
    Yep good point it can definitely help with stamina if you learn on a guitar with a high action. I'm taking generally across the board though and a lot of young teenagers don't have the finger strength of adults, so they can feel like they're fighting to get the notes to ring out properly. I personally prefer a higher action on my guitar but I've had several students who have benefitted from lowering the action on theirs, and if it feels easier and more comfortable to play it's often more of an incentive to practise.
    Rebel Scum
    Nice article but sometimes those top strings need the thumb lovin.
    Coda Guitar
    If you've got long fingers like Hendrix or Frusciante then why not go for it! Bit tricky for beginners tho
    Rebel Scum
    When I was a beginner I was using the thumb cos I found it easier lol. Found out later on that thats how Jimi played.
    Coda Guitar
    Yep he was a pretty tidy player. Apparently he used to play bass lines with his thumb underneath tracks such as Killing Floor if you can find any YouTube footage! The guy had big hands though, not for the faint hearted..
    do you @rebel scum mean that he was using his thumb to do the fingering on the top of the guitar?
    I had a fan of PG say the action should be as low as possible on an electric guitar. I believe that to play like PG on an electric you would need action that low (plus natural talent and years of practice). However, when you go to a guitar store it is unlikely the guitars on display will have low action and you have to consider that when 'testing' them out. I bought an Ibanez AEL20 because of the way it sounded and looked (Blue with gold tuners), not because of the way it played (being a newbie). I then took lessons and played it for a year before getting the action adjusted slightly. By that time the tips of my fret hand had the type of blisters you get when you use a shovel without gloves. It currently does not have the lowest possible action, which I feel helps maintain the strength in the left hand. One benefit is I can go into a guitar store and play a guitar that has not been adjusted with little difficulty. I will also add that high action would be a turnoff for any kid trying to learn. It was for me many years ago.
    I'm just learning and I can never get the strings down on the fret all the way. I might lower the action on my guitar
    Hi, you seem like you care, so I have quick comment/question. Perhaps it might from the beginning -for those who are of that persuasion- to start out not stretching at all. To see how much strength and dexterity exists already without the added pressure of so called "stretching" to reach 4 frets(1 finger per fret), why not say use two fingers per fret even three(four is too much even for me). One more thing although I now do understand what you mean when you say use the same position for each string(though full barring is another variation), I could not see this without experiencing the action at what I would now call "cognitive speed", all I am saying is it may not be the best way to pursue language acquisition, to start slow to get fast(not this way anyway). You don't have to answer this. Just please think about. Ph