How hard do you press on guitar strings? Some guitar newbies make the mistake of pressing too hard on the string, which can result in a wayward tone and worn-out fretboard. How much pressure to put on the strings can vary on the guitar and the note, but in most cases, you don’t need to apply bone-crushing pressure!
Playing the guitar requires a lot of practice and skill that even something very specific such as the pressure you apply to the strings matters. Beginners rarely consider this, and just press the way they believe is right.
When you press too light, you may not be able to produce a successful tone. Meanwhile, when you press too hard than what is necessary, you might wear both your guitar and your hands.
So, what is the right amount of pressure to apply on the strings?
The answer is a sweet spot that lies somewhere in between the two.
Pressing Too Hard: The Beginners’ Common Mistake
Beginners know that pressure should be applied to the strings to produce a tune. But what some of them eventually find out is that it’s just not any pressure.
When they press the stings very lightly, the tune would sound incomplete. To solve this, they will eventually add more and more pressure to the strings until it begins to sound so much better. Most newbies tend to press on the strings too hard than necessary, and they naively believe that putting too much pressure is the right way.
This incorrect practice would lead to problems over time—blisters and callouses may form in their fingers, their hands and wrists might get crampy, and their guitars might wear out faster than they should.
Apart from getting your hand hurt when you apply too much pressure, your performance becomes shaky and harsh rather than fluid and smooth. Placing your hand on the fretboard too tight would retard your pace of moving in between chords.
Guitar players that start with acoustic guitars are those who tend to press too hard and experience these distresses. The strings of acoustic guitars are thick which leads to its new users having a notion that they must press more than usual to counter the high tension these strings possess. On the other hand, those who start with electric guitars differ, they are accustomed to pressing lightly due to the material (which is nylon, by the way) of its strings.
How Hard is Hard?
So, if the “will turn my fingers red” hard is not the appropriate hard, how hard is hard, then? In reality, there is no well-defined standard of “hard” since it varies from one person to another. Yet, some exercises are created to find the right amount of hardness that suits you.
To help you discover the right pressure that suits you, follow these steps:
- First, on your fretting hand, press any note at the fifth fret on any string that you are comfortable with. Ensure that the note is located to the fifth fret and not in the middle of the space between the fourth and fifth fret.
- With your picking hand, pluck the note. At this point, no solid tone should be produced since the string is not positioned against the fret yet. Increase the pressure you apply on the string in very small amounts. As you add pressure, continuously pluck the string. There will come a point when you actually play the correct tone. Remember to take note of how hard you pressed to produce this sound.
- Now, if you add more pressure beyond this point, you will notice that it will not change how the tone sounds, which proves that putting extra pressure does not come with any benefit but only with disadvantages.
- Repeat this process with your middle finger, ring finger, and pinky finger on any of the strings on the sixth, seventh, and eighth fret, respectively. Once completed, repeat this process, but now with chords.
- Start with playing the chords lightly, build up pressure until you are able to create a clean tone across all the guitar strings.
Now you know the feel of how much pressure you should exert on your strings. The next objective is to be familiar with the amount of pressure until it becomes muscle memory. You can achieve this by doing the exercise earlier as a warmup before every session. Before you know it, your fingers are recalibrated to press that way.
Here is a helpful video on this topic:
When the Guitar is the Problem
You’ve done all the necessary steps, but still, you can’t seem to find a comfortable way to press your strings.
It could be that the problem is not with the user, but with the instrument he is using. One way to figure out if this is the case is to check your guitar for possible defects, and there are two common areas to this:
The Strings. Check if the strings are old or rusted. Having rust on your strings due to the oil and salts from your fingers will compromise the sound of your guitar, resulting in dull or muffled notes.
If this is so, you will have to replace your strings immediately. There are many inexpensive but good-quality guitar strings available in the market. Brands such as Ernie Ball and D’Addario sell great affordable strings that would make your guitar sound a hundred times better.
Strings vary in thickness; some provide stronger tension than others. If you feel like you need to press too hard, just to produce a full note, you should consider buying light gauge strings such as 0.9s or 0.10s. With these, pressing is a lot easier.
Don’t know how to attach your strings? Worry not, setting up these strings on your own is not a problem since there are loads of tutorial videos, such as this:
The Nut Board. Apart from the strings, the nut board can also be an issue. The guitar action is highly reliant on the height of the nut. If it is placed too high, you need loads of effort to be able to produce the right sound; if it is placed too low, the guitar will produce a buzzing sound almost all the time. Having the nut board fixed by a guitar technician is very affordable and is highly recommended.
If problems still persist, you can have your guitar checked by a guitar expert. He will then adjust the neck, action, bridge, or any parts necessary to make your guitar playable to the way it was intended. However, a guitar setup is quite expensive. If you are using a low-end guitar, it is more practical to replace it with something better instead.
In the quest of finding the right pressure, don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself!
Don’t be too hard (no pun intended) on yourself. Finding the right amount of pressure is one thing and practicing it on every single song is another. With dedicated practice, and a number of callouses along the way, playing the guitar wouldn’t be that hard anymore.
Joyce Ann graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies at New Era University. She especially enjoyed her journalism class and was nominated for Photojournalist of the Year. Joyce Anne loves music; she is a self-taught piano player. When she's not writing (or baking or watching documentaries), she's probably playing songs on the piano, mostly by ear.