“I can’t get my chords to sound right. They don’t ring out and some strings sound ‘buzzy’ when I pick them one at a time. I’ve tried pressing down harder but my fingers start to hurt. What am I doing wrong?” If you’re experiencing something similar to the above, keep reading. These 4 tips could save you hours of frustration. We’re focusing on the fretting hand here, as it’s the hand that most commonly causes problems. I’ll cover strumming/picking techniques in another lesson. So without further ado…
1. Use your fingertips
If you’re using the fingerprint part of your finger to press down on the string, your finger might be catching on another string, which will stop it from ringing out. Be sure to use your fingertip to press down on the string (The exception to this rule is barre chords, where it’s OK to use the flat of your first finger). In the photo below left, the second finger is getting in the way of some of the other strings.
2. Arch your fingers
This one’s similar to tip 1, but still important. If your finger is straight, it will tend to catch another string, which isn’t cool when we’re playing chords (if you want all of the notes in the chord to ring out, that is). Your finger joints should be bent like a hook. The fingernail should be at more like 90 degrees to the fretboard, looking down the neck. In the photo below left, the 3rd finger is catching on the G string. Arch that finger, problem solved.
3. Move up in the fret area
If a fretted note is making ‘buzzing’ noises, try shifting your finger up in the fret area by a few millimetres (towards your strumming hand), so it’s either in the middle of the fret area, or just about touching the fret wire (the metal part). It’s easier to fret notes in this little spot, because the string has less distance to travel before it hits the fret wire. In the photo below left, the first finger would make a buzzing sound. This is fixed by moving everything up a little bit, as shown below right.
4. Check your thumb
Whatever your thumb is doing can have a big effect on what your fingers are doing. Remember the two Ps: Position: Your thumb shouldn’t stick out over the top of the neck, or point towards the headstock. Position the fingerprint of your thumb on the back of the neck (Bonus tip: try having your thumb lower down for chords that span 4-5 frets, you’ll get more reach this way).
Pressure: With too little pressure on the strings, the notes won’t ring out. With too much pressure on the strings, you’ll put unnecessary tension on your hands. Your fingers might also become flat under the pressure, losing the arched shape that we need for playing chords. To get the right amount of pressure, imagine you’re squeezing a lemon between your fingers and thumb, to check if it’s ripe. I know it’s not a lemon, it’s the guitar neck, but the same principal applies. Try and get a feel for what’s comfortable, and what sounds good.
With regular practice, you won’t need to think about any of this, it will all come naturally. It’s normal for fingertips to hurt a little while you develop calluses, so practising in 5 or 10 minute bursts is something I’d recommend If you’re just starting out. I hope this has been useful – Let me know how you’re getting on, and please leave a comment! If you’re getting frustrated with something in your guitar playing, and would like some tips on how to improve, send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org