Hand Strength Vs. Hand Fatigue

"I use a lot of strength when I play, and after a while, my hands hurt. What can I do?"

This is a very common problem, especially for many self-taught guitar players. Chances are when you started playing the guitar, you were putting way too much pressure on your left hand. You were not efficient at the time and the result was to try to compensate for that inefficiency by using more strength. Unfortunately, over time this has become a habit and now you keep doing it without even thinking about it. Obviously, it is not optimal because once you start doing that, your hands will get tired very easily. You will lose stamina and it is much more likely to get injured.

Let's see if I can help you!

There are two things to take into account when you are trying to do that.

Keep your finger close to the fret wire

First, let us say you want to play a note on the fifth fret. Your fingers should be as close as possible on the fretwire at the end of the fifth fret, NOT in the middle. By just fixing that and programming your brain to play at the end of the fret, you are going to need much less pressure to get a good sound.

Use the minimum amount of tension

Second, once you do the first step, the next thing is to make sure to start decreasing the pressure you put on the string and the fretboard. The way to do that is quite simple. You want to start by minimizing the finger pressure to the point where the note does not really sound clearly. When you achieve that then you need to press just a little bit more and this will be the minimum amount of tension you need to be doing to make the note ring clearly. Try to focus, mentally, on how much pressure you need to use since this will need to become the new norm for your playing.

Incorporate the above into your practice routine

Here is what I do in my guitar coaching academy to help students internalize these concepts. I have the student practice using a scalloped guitar. Because of no wood under the string, he is, basically, playing in the air. If he presses too hard, the string goes out of tune. Now he has immediate feedback that he is doing something wrong! This helps self-correct the problem in the most efficient way. I have had many students that had been playing for several years by using too much force, getting a lot better with the scalloped fretboard after only a few hours of practice. This happens because when they put too much pressure, the note goes out of tune and they can hear it and correct it immediately. So, they correct themselves, not just because the coach told them to do so, but because they want to sound in tune.

A final reason why putting too much pressure might happen is because of general playing stress. If you are very stressed about what you are going to be playing and you are not feeling very comfortable with the technique you are going to perform, then it is very possible you are going to be using more strength to overcompensate. So, what can you do in this situation?

The best thing you can do is to be very well prepared. If you are supposed to play a piece of music, instead of practicing it for 3 hours, practice it much more, maybe for 10 hours. With this approach, you will be able to play this piece of music at a higher speed than required, so the normal speed will seem easier.

If you are going to be playing at a specific location, try to be there early and test out the equipment. Familiarize yourself with the environment and the people you are going to play with. Basically, these are all the mechanisms in which you minimize the risk of something going wrong. By minimizing the risk, you minimize your own stress that occurs when you worry about something that might go wrong.

I hope this was helpful. You can watch the video below, where I explain this topic in more detail. If you're interested in developing your guitar skills and reaching your music goals, please check the different Elite Guitar Coaching Academy packages and how you can get private coaching from me.

Ioannis Anastassakis is a guitarist from Greece who has produced recordings in a variety of moods and styles, including flamenco and fusion.

His CD is entitled "Suspension Of Disbelief", his long-awaited rock/fusion instrumental album.

Ioannis Anastassakis