Any beginner guitarist is bound to give this question a search online at some point in their musical career. Most beginners find that after playing guitar for five minutes, your fingers are ready to give out. You may be wondering if playing guitar is supposed to feel like that or if you are doing something wrong.
When holding down guitar strings to play guitar, you should press down on guitar strings only as hard as you have to for the note to play properly. Anything harder and you’re only putting strain on the tips of your fingers, and anything less will result in the note playing poorly or not at all.
Even if you’re doing this properly, there can still be problems with your guitar, strings, or technique that can make you think you’re still doing something wrong. In this article, I’m going to give you a step-by-step guide to finding the perfect pressure and explain the most common problems beginner guitarists experience. Let’s dive in!
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A Step by Step Guide to Finding the Right Pressure
So how hard do you hold down guitar strings, and how do you find that balance? There’s a great way to practice the right pressure to hold your guitar strings, and I’m going to let you in on all the steps to get there.
- Using your “fretting” hand (the hand you use to hold down chords on the fret) to pick one note (string) anywhere from the third to the fifth fret of your guitar. This is a section of the guitar’s neck where chords are commonly played and the strings aren’t strained because of their proximity to the beginning or end of the neck. Choose any note that feels comfortable.
- Start to slowly apply pressure to the note with your finger (do this as close to the end of the fret as possible, as guitar chords are properly played this way, not in the middle of the fret). As you apply pressure, pluck the string you’re putting pressure on using your finger or a pick.
- As you pluck, notice how the sound of the note changes as pressure increases. Once you reach the correct tone, you’ve found the right pressure to play at. When the correct tone is found, any extra pressure you add to the string will have zero effect on the sound of the note; it will just hurt your fingers more.
- Get familiar with this pressure and practice playing the note until you have it down. Once you’re familiar, try practicing with different strings on different frets until you feel comfortable trying out a chord at this pressure.
If you’ve tried this method and you still feel like something is a little off, keep reading to find out why you may feel that something is wrong with your technique or guitar.
Reasons You Might Still Feel Like Something is Wrong
There are a number of reasons why your fingers may be hurting more than you think they should, or why your guitar isn’t playing the way you think it should- even at the right pressure. These are all common mistakes, so make sure you get familiar with them so you can work your way up from beginner to intermediate!
You Haven’t Developed Callouses Yet
As you practice playing guitar on a regular basis, you’ll notice that the tips of your fingers will start to develop tough little skin caps called calluses. You may remember these from playing on the monkey bars as a child, or from doing gymnastics.
Calluses are an important part of playing guitar. If you don’t have calluses to protect your fingers, they will hurt more easily as you play, and you won’t be able to play guitar for as long as you could if you had them.
If you’re a beginner to guitar and you’ve found the right pressure but your fingers still hurt, you may not have developed calluses yet. It can take anywhere from two to four weeks to develop them. If you feel like this might apply to you, don’t give up! It’s supposed to hurt a little while you develop these, and you won’t develop them unless you keep practicing!
If the pain is unbearable, however, you can purchase finger caps to allow your fingers to rest so you can still play. Some top brands come with five different sizes so you can find the perfect one for your hands.
There are also guitar training products you can purchase to help strengthen the muscles in your fingers if you feel your finger muscles are weak. They allow you to build strength, endurance, and flexibility in your fingers so that you can play the perfect chord every time.
Your Nails are Too Long
Have you ever noticed that guitar players often have short nails, especially on their fretting hand?
This is because nails can get in the way of playing notes or chords on the fret. You want to put pressure on the string using the tip of your finger, but if your nails are too long, they might end up accidentally touching another string, or they might be reaching the neck of the guitar before your fingers can apply the correct pressure to the string.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have the nails you want if you desire to play guitar. But while plenty of seasoned guitarists have found ways to play guitar with long nails, if you’re a beginner, it can be difficult to get the basics down while your nails are in the way.
If you feel like this applies to you, I recommend trimming your nails on your fretting hand just to the point that they don’t get in the way. Once you become more comfortable with the guitar, learn to adjust your technique to your nails. You can try a nail file to buff them down if you don’t want to trim them.
You’re Playing on Old or Rusted Strings
Many of us buy our first guitar secondhand. Who wants to pay full price for a brand new guitar you’re not even sure you’ll like? This comes at the benefit of reduced cost, but also with the risk of old or rusty strings. As guitar strings are played over time, the oils and salt from our fingers can wear away at the strings and cause them to rust.
Old or rusted strings can make your notes sound dull or muffled when what you really want is a clear and bright tone. If you’re applying the right pressure and you still feel like your note doesn’t sound like you expected, old strings could be the culprit.
The solution is easy- purchase some new guitar strings. They’re usually not too expensive. I personally love the brand Ernie Ball, and you can find their Super Slinky nickel wound guitar strings on Amazon.
There are plenty of videos on YouTube like the below one by Fender that teach you how to re-string your guitar yourself- it’s hardly as difficult as you might think it is.
Your Guitar Nut is Too High or Too Low
The nut of your guitar is the section on the top and bottom of the neck of the guitar that holds the strings in place. If this part is too high, you’ll be pressing down really hard to get the right sound and if it’s too low, you’ll be hearing a lot of buzzing.
This was the issue with my first guitar. It was extremely painful to play because the nut held the strings too high. I took it to a guitar repair shop and they were able to adjust the nut to the right height for me. It fixed the problem immediately, and guitar nut repair is often relatively cheap.
How Hard Should You Hold Down Guitar Strings? Concluding Thoughts
Learning to play guitar is an extremely rewarding experience. In order to figure out how hard to press down your guitar strings, follow the step-by-step guide provided to finding the right pressure. Make sure you’re developing your callouses, playing with trimmed fingernails, and are playing on new, high-quality guitar strings to get the perfect sound. Rock on!
Side note, do you want to learn to play guitar songs the easy way? Learn how here – results are guaranteed!