Two Secrets To Clear & Precise Notes On The Guitar
By Jason Wilford

This article is going to focus on something that I often take for granted: proper finger pressure of the fretting hand. I will talk about two different areas of this skill that I’d like to address – pressure when fretting a note, and relaxing the hand properly. Most of the time when a student plays something as a beginner or intermediate player, there is a problem in one of these areas (or both). Today we will focus on some exercises to get these fingers to work for you, and not against you. Regardless if you’re right or left handed, these exercises will improve the clarity and tone of your notes.

The first thing we're going to focus on is finger pressure. One of the most common problem areas is applying too much pressure to a note, or on the other end of the spectrum, not enough pressure. Too much pressure will bend a note out of tune; not enough pressure leads to an undesirable buzzing sound. For the first exercise I want you to place your index finger of your fretting hand on the 5th fret of the 6th string (low E string). Place the finger on the string, without pushing down, and pick the string. The note should make a ‘muted’ sound, since the finger is just touching the string, not pushing down. Once you have this in place, start slowly pushing the finger down and picking constantly until you finally hear the note start to make a proper sound as the string comes into contact with the fret wire. I want you to be aware of exactly how much pressure is needed to make this sound; there is a fine line between not enough pressure, and the right amount of pressure. Try to notice where the note starts to sound good and really shine through. If you apply any more pressure than this, you are both wasting energy and bringing the note out of tune. Keep practicing this until you can accurately gauge the minimum amount of pressure needed to push down on the string to make the note sound. Repeat this same exercise with each finger until comfortable. Once you’ve done that, try this on all the other strings, at various frets. The pressure needed varies are different frets, so this is a great exercise to do all over the neck.

The next exercise I want you to do will take this one step further. When you’re comfortable with the minimum amount of pressure needed to push down on a string to make a note sound, I want you to practice what we will call ‘bringing the finger to rest’. Most guitarists make the mistake early on of bringing the finger completely off of the strings after they play a note. Not only is this incorrect, but it will sound bad and you probably won’t even realize it. To practice this, I want you to push down on the 5th fret of the 6th string (Low E String) with your index finger and make the note sound. Once you have made the note sound, I want you to release the tension in the finger and let the string push it to a resting position. With your hand relaxed, the finger should be at rest on the string, with no pressure at all pushing the string down. You want to make sure the finger is lightly touching the string so that if you pick it, there is just a muted sound. Practice pushing down and playing a note, and then bringing the finger to rest without bringing the finger off of the string. The important part here is that the finger will never actually leave the string; it will just become relaxed. You will notice that if you relax the finger too slowly, there will be a buzzing sound that comes from the string. The remedy to this is to make sure you relax the muscles quickly so that the string pushes your finger immediately back to the resting position. Once you can comfortably do this, practice with all other fingers in the same way. This is an exercise you should be doing all the time so that you’re comfortable with this to the point that you don’t have to think about it anymore. Get comfortable with the idea of having a completely relaxed fretting hand, because tension will always come through in the sound of your guitar playing.

With both of these exercises in place, you’re on your way to clearer and more precise sounding notes than ever before. Keep in mind that these are exercises you should practice all the time, not just once. Practice makes perfect, so keep up the hard work and I guarantee you will see results.

About the Author:

Jason Wilford makes music and teaches guitar in Oakville Ontario, where he runs in Oakville Guitar Lessons (Ontario, Canada).