My buddy Tony from Down Under suggested I write about a basic issue all guitar players face: how much pressure is necessary and advisable with the hand you use to fret the strings. He said he is often guilty of subjecting his guitar neck to the “death grip” and that is both fatiguing and results in slower movement. He also pasted in some thoughts other guitarists have on the subject.
I agree that sometimes we use too much pressure with our fretting hand. This is part of the formula to achieve clean, clear tone. Simply put, if we don’t press down hard enough the string or strings cannot make solid contact with the frets, resulting in buzzes or muffled tone. My experience with hundreds of guitar students is that a bigger but less obvious problem is not placing the fingers close enough to the frets. The farther away from the frets we are, the harder we have to press to make the strings make firm contact with the fret. This is usually because it is difficult to achieve adequate separation of the fingers. There are very few things we do in every day life where fingers must separate radically and apply pressure so training them to do this is a big chore! Dropping the wrist helps. Many men seem to want to use what I call the “baseball bat” grip on the neck of their guitars and this in turn makes it just about impossible to achieve adequate finger separation.
This also can lead to a general tensing up of the entire arm and even the whole body. The point that the writer of the text that Tony sent makes a case for using only enough pressure to make the firm fret contact. I agree with this to a point but I wonder how many people are able to make a conscious decision to do this? My feeling is that most people come to that point naturally and adding another conscious element to the pressing down of the strings could be counter-productive. I could be wrong about that, of course! In any case, there is no denying that subtle technique tweaks can only make you a better player.
One of my students had an interesting experience at the Boston Guitar Center store last weekend. I have VERY mixed feelings about GC and their online arm, Musician’s Friend. I’ve done a fair amount of business over the years with both and the best thing I can say is that they have the best return policy in the business: a 30-day, no questions asked refund or credit policy. However, their advertised prices are nothing special, typically about 20% off list price. Apparently they will match any advertised or direct quoted price but I have no experience in that. Where they can and often do fall down is in the in-store sales experience. And that is what my student encountered.
She went into the store and decided to try out a nylon string guitar, which she had not played before. She is a pretty shy lady and took a guitar down, found a quiet corner to sit and play (not an easy thing in most Guitar Centers where every teenage rocker wants to show off his best licks via an electric guitar and a loud amp!). Almost immediately a young salesman appeared as she was picking her way through a basic version of “Blackbird,” which she has worked hard to learn. The first words out of his mouth were: “So, do you play guitar?” She kind of looked at him in disbelief, and being a bit of a smart@ss, she replied, “Oh no….I just had my first lesson!”
Without asking, he took the guitar from her and proceeded to play a much fancier version of that song, then gave it back to her. You can probably imagine her reaction.
“So, do you want to buy the guitar?” he said. “I will throw in a free bag for it.”
As I understand it, she basically said that not only did she have no interest in buying the guitar, she had no intention of ever going into another Guitar Center.
So to review, here’s what Mr. Young Guitar Center Stud accomplished, beyond losing a sale of course. He lost someone who might have become a long term customer, and made her feel bad in the process. And not only did he drive away a customer from that Guitar Center, he drove her away from EVERY Guitar Center. But hey, I’m sure he had a good story for the other hot shot salesmen on his coffee break about the lady who couldn’t play “Blackbird” correctly.
Peace & good music,