Finding the Right Balance: I’ve been pressing the strings too hard.

Last week, I learned some new chords, but wasn’t making a heck of a lot of technical progress in terms of execution. I’ve started to think of learning guitar as alternating struggles and epiphanies.

In today’s practice, I realized that I was probably pressing the strings too hard.  That’s probably at least a part of my flexibility problem.

Today at work, I found the muscles in my forearm felt a little tense.  It’s not what I would call pain, but just a general sense of mild discomfort that made me stop what I was doing and massage the arm a bit from the wrist up to the inner elbow just to loosen the muscles up a bit.  I don’t know if that’s normal.  I don’t know if it’s just a matter of building muscle, or if it’s caused by unnecessary tension, but I have been very aware up to this point that “relaxing” while playing has been a struggle which required conscious effort. That conscious effort didn’t always help; sometimes just thinking about relaxing wasn’t enough to make my arm relax, and I wondered if my arm was in the wrong position, or if the guitar was at the wrong angle, but couldn’t figure out precisely WHY I was so tense and unable to relax.

Towards the end of today’s practice, I remembered something I read early on: to press the strings ‘only enough to make a sound’. While my brain knew that, that information wasn’t connecting when I was trying to form the chords that I was struggling with.  It made me feel like my fingernails – cut as short as possible – seemed to long and kept getting in my way on the fretboard.  It made me feel like my fingers are currently WAY too weak for this, and that I just have to get stronger, as if that would solve all of my problems (as if life is ever that easy!).

What I’ve realized today is that I have to lighten up a little.  I have to consciously teach my brain to send ‘not so hard’ messages to my fingers.  I have to memorize just how hard I need to press the strings down.  This is a guitar, not the edge of a cliff, and I’m holding on for dear life when I don’t need to.

So, now I need to focus a bit in practice on learning just how much pressure the strings need to sound clearly. It seems like the answer might be 40-50% of the pressure I’ve been exerting, which likely hasn’t been helping the flexibility issues I’ve been struggling with in the least.

I haven’t attempted to learn any more chords yet, or to put them together into songs.  I don’t feel I’m at a place where I’m ready to attempt that right now.  For the moment, I have D, A, and E, and I’m just practicing making them sound clearly, and switching from one to the next …slowly.  And, I’m still doing the scale exercises, which I am still not so great at.  I’ve started practicing the Spider technique a little, too, which I’m even worse at. lol.

So, I have lots of room for improvement, but improvement is happening little by little.  I was able to practice for a good forty minutes or so today before my hand got too tired that it was getting too clumsy to continue.  Breaks still happened frequently, but mostly just to shake things out,  then I would switch between scales and chords to switch up what the hand is doing and relieve a bit of tension, when I started to tire, and then switched back.  It’s certainly not the most elegant way of practicing, and probably not the most structured, but going back and forth between practicing the scales which demand I stretch the fingers, and the chords – which sort of compress them- seems to be a good way to keep my hand from getting exhausted as quickly, so further experiments in that sort of alternating practice routine seem to be worth exploring to make the most of my time.

So, for now, progress is still moving slowly forward, but forward nonetheless.

Until next time, I’ll just have to keep reminding myself that I’m not She-Hulk, so it’s okay to ease up a little!

2 thoughts on “Finding the Right Balance: I’ve been pressing the strings too hard.

  1. I press the strings on my basses really hard too. I generally don’t plug in to practice, so I know that I’m overcompensating for the lack of amplification. I did plug in a little and practice earlier this year, and it is definitely different. You really don’t need to press as hard to get a tone, but then muting becomes more important as well. Do both though. If you really need to hear yourself play, like with a song, then plug in. If you’re just running scales to warm up or memorize the fingerings, you can do that unplugged just about anywhere.


    1. The bass requires a firmer pressure. I noticed that. The guitar, press as firm as the bass and everything goes flat. The bass, press like the guitar and the strings Buzz, so there’s definitely a balance to be struck. I mostly need the amplification because my roomie has the tv on 24/7. I need a little volume just to compensate for the constant background noise of a house that’s never quiet, really. I don’t even have a practice amp for the bass yet.

      Liked by 1 person

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