photo by Derek Martinez

Hello everyone!! Sure hope that all is treating you well and all is as well as it can be. I’ve tended to cover a lot of what I’d call “broad strokes”… meaning that they’re more focused on the overall scope of the “why” we play guitar rather than the “how”. For me I’m generally more fascinated by that aspect but this month I’d like to cover something more tangible.

Finger strength!
This is the building block that all of your playing is stacked on top of. We all have it to some degree but more and more I see it as the defining attribute that separates the good from the great. It makes notes sound like music. I’ll back up a bit to explain. I’ve talked about vibrato some, as well as confidence… these are aspects of finger strength. Finger strength is simply the muscle control of your left hand if you’re a right-handed player or vice versa if you are a left-handed player. The ability to bend notes to pitch without wavering; the ability to hold it there once you’ve hit pitch without wavering; the ability to get a consistent tone out of notes all over the fretboard… this is truly where the phrase “the tone is in the hands” comes from. It’s an ability that is way too neglected! If you train yourself to get better at this, you’ll hear it immediately when you hear other players.

I neglected it for some time when I was in a club band in Nashville. We were playing mostly old school country and lots of rapid fast bluegrass. After a period I gained muscle memory for speed but lost it for overall tone and vibrato. It took me a while to notice because I was so focused on keeping up with difficult material. Eventually it took being around another player who had beautiful natural tone and great hand strength for me to notice and realize I had some work to do. It took me a few months of simply bending up to pitch and holding it. Along with listening intently to the “sound” I was making depending on how much pressure I was putting on my left hand. This actually was most important. I listened intently and heard the difference and tried to get consistency between the notes I fretted. I took my time and it eventually was fixed. Ever since this I’ve always remained very aware of where my hand strength was. Sitting down and testing myself to see where I’m at and if I need to strengthen up some. It has become my most valued aspect of playing. Everything I do is stacked on top of it so I have to have a solid foundation. I’ve tried to share this with as many as I could because of what a huge revelation it was for me!

As I’ve shared this with some older players who are heroes of mine, they’ve all laughed and confirmed that “back in their day” it was all they focused on! For it truly was the foundation of your playing and your sound!

Nowadays I feel this element is becoming much more skipped over. With other techniques and mountains of effects we can rely to make us sound interesting, it’s easy to not take care of fundamentals. Or feel we’ve got them down when we really don’t! So, take a minute and test yourself. Where are you at really?

I realize that there are much sexier things to talk about when it comes to guitar playing and that this is kind of the “eating your vegetables” element of playing. However much like vegetables make a healthy body, finger strength makes for a solid/grounded guitar player! So hopefully this makes sense and you can take the time to work on it. Just sitting in front of the tv and bending up to pitch would improve it in a month’s time. Get your hands in shape and get you some tone!


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