Do you spend hours working on finger strengthening exercises but still struggle to make your playing sound musical? Have you bought a grip strength builder only to find it had no effect on your playing whatsoever? Chances are you’ve bought into the myth of requiring immense finger strength in order to play guitar. If you want to stop wasting time on pointless exercises and learn how to better direct your practice to help you improve then keep reading.
“If only my hands were stronger” is a phrase I’ve heard countless students utter in frustration as they struggle to play guitar confidently. We’ve all thought this at one point but the truth is having super strength in our fretting hand that will magically aid in our ability to play guitar well is a myth and one that too many people get caught up in. Yes having dexterous fingers and the ability to stretch is very important but too many people get caught up with thinking that they need to squeeze the life out of the strings which can lead to playing with a lot of unnecessary tension and problems further down the road when speed becomes a goal. In this article i’d like to dress the myth and give you a new perspective on the whole idea of fretting hand strength.
Do you need to have a strong fretting hand?
The truth is no… and if you want proof you need to only search youtube to find a thousand of videos of 8 year old girls playing guitar with perfect technique (All of which I’m sure you’d be able to beat in an arm wrestle). Your fretting hand needs to be flexible enough to reach across several frets and needs to have enough endurance to be able to play long passages without fatigue but neither of these things are related to the strength of your hand. In actual fact you will need your fretting hand to be playing with a light touch in order to avoid excessive fatigue when playing speed runs and fast passages of music and training yourself to squeeze too hard will lead to problems later on. “What about bar chords? You need to squeeze hard for them right?” is a common question I get asked and once again there is a misconception about finger strength. You will need to build up some strength initially but the majority of the hard work comes from the callouses you develop on your fingers, not your grip strength itself.
Why building up strength is a time waster
Many aspiring guitarists will spend a solid hour just doing chromatic exercises (1234, 1243, 4321 etc) up and down the fretboard without any direction or goal other than to build up finger strength (no thanks to Steve Vai and the first hour of his 10 hour guitar workout for inspiring this). This hour of aimless playing leaves many guitarists none the better because; 1) none of these exercises have any musical application outside of ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ and 2) it’s an hour worth of practice time you have just taken away from other areas of your playing. You are far better off using the time to work on improvisation, repertoire or actual licks that you are going to use than simply building your finger strength. Now some of you might be thinking “yeah but it worked for Steve Vai” but don’t forget he spent another 9 hours working on other areas of his playing and that’s why he’s a total shred lord!
Do the strength building gimmicks really work?
For this you need to be asking a better question. Do the strength building gimmicks work at building finger strength? You betcha! Do the strength building gimmicks make you a better player? Not one single bit! As stated before you don’t need superman’s fingers to play guitar and every minute you spend squeezing a Gripmaster 9000 is a minute you’ve taken away from actually playing the guitar. These devices might seem like a good idea at first, but don’t get sucked into them.
If you go to the gym and lift weights for an hour you get better at lifting weights at the gym. It doesn’t make you a better guitarist. By comparison doing finger exercises makes you better at doing finger exercise, it doesn’t make you a better player. To improve you need to be working on your fretboard knowledge, lead & rhythm technique as well as your improvisational skills and it’s best you use every minute you have improving these areas. In summary I’d like you to think about how rather than wasting precious practice time on improving your hand strength with finger exercises and grip strength gimmicks you can better invest your time into actual practice that will lead towards you becoming a better guitarist. I hope you’ve benefitted from reading this article and would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.
About the Author
Michael is a heavy metal & shred fusion player from Melbourne, Australia. He plays in heavy metal outfit Hybrid Nightmares, is the head guitar teacher at Melbourne Guitar Academy and can be seen playing Ormsby Guitars & Line 6 FX live and in the studio. If you’re looking for the best Guitar Lessons in Strathmore Michael is the man to see.