How to develop a more relaxed fretting hand?

Hi everyone! I’m playing for more than a year now and noticed, that I have some trouble to get to a more relaxed use of my fretting hand. Advanced players always seem to press strings with no effort. Fingers are “flying” over the strings, especially when they are playing scales.

I noticed, when I’m spreading my fingers over 4 frets, e.g. when playing the Am Pentatonic Scale, a considerable tension in my hand occures. This tension again hinders my fingers to move as relaxed and quickly over the strings as they should.

When I close my hand around the neck, my pinky isn’t straight but moves extremely towards my third finger, even comes to a position behind my third finger. So to reach the relevant fret with my pinky, I have to put a lot of effort actively in to place my fourth finger correctly and together with my thumb at the back of the neck the tension in my hand increases massively.

I have those problems not only while playing scales but also when changing chords. I do finger stretching exercises, train independent finger movement, etc. as a warm up before playing, I force myself not to press strings to hard, I try to play scales extremely slow and try to press strings as less as possible, I practice on electric also, so long story short, I’m fully aware that I have to relax, but I’m not very successfull with that.

Part of it is a certain physical disposition for sure (as I have some issues with my third finger too, due to an old injury) but I’m looking for some good advice to improve the skill to be more relaxed. Is that just another skill that comes with time, like so many others, or can I do something about it?

EDIT 1: As I was asked to post a video: there it is! JG Community Am Pentatonic - YouTube , just a quick recording, so neither the quality of recording nor my playing is great, but my faults are visible and audible (hope Richard doesn’t move it into the category of “how to not play scales” :joy:)
I know, there are plenty of mistakes, I shouldn’t brace my pinky, fingers closer to the strings, I think my fingers are curled to much, etc…
EDIT 2: I posted an update, see post 76


For me, it’s something that’s come with time. I’m amazed how easily I can fret a barre F chord now.


Looks like you’re doing all the right things Helen. Takes a while, probably moreso if you’re on the wrong side of 40 or so. :crazy_face:
After about 2 years, I started seeing notable positive differences in tension, and the flying pinky was long gone. However, its one of my main goals this year to reduce tension more as I can still detect it too often. I think its just an ongoing process.

Cheers, Shane


Hi Helen,…
Yes, the things you describe are annoying,…you are well aware of it and do the right exercises as I can read it,…my ring finger (3rd) curls behind my driving finger when I do them straight on the fretboard and my pinkie has the same intention towards the 3rd,…with a new intro that JK is to blame for I notice that when I make a mini barr with my index finger I suddenly can’t do that 3rd finger properly fretting :flushed:,…practice practice practice,…take it easy because then the cord won’t break, :blush:…hopefully someone will come up with the solution, but I’m afraid patience is key,…
Good luck,… :grimacing:


Time playing, for sure, like @tony says. Some things my hands are really relaxed now, some they still tense up a lot (Greensleeves, even though I’ve been playing it a while now).

I think we’ve each got different anatomy too. My pinky has good reach but I can’t separate ring and index much at all. So I play some things with different fingering (e.g F#/D → G in highway to hell I use index, middle and pinky). So figure out what works for you.

Maybe try posting a video of your Am pentatonic? It might help people give good suggestions.

I would have missed that @roger_holland … if I didnt’ read almost every thread :rofl:


:joy: :rofl: :joy:
Crxp,…I spill tea on my pants :joy: :clap:


I started this this morning after an earlier attempt of 2 days or so when it just came out I thought (not quite sure anymore) ,…the beginning is in my head ,…now just talking with my fingers about it :grimacing:)

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^^ This. I know everyone wants everything to happen immediately these days, but the reality is that that is not how developing skills actually works. This isn’t the Matrix. There are no shortcuts, no magic bullets, no secret method to force your body and mind to do complex tasks that they’ve never done before. Playing guitar is all about fine motor skills and muscle memory, and neither of those is developed overnight.

You just need to practice, practice, and then practice some more. It’s that simple. Eventually it will come, though the time it takes will vary from person to person. Keep it fun, don’t put too much pressure on yourself, vary your routine, and you’ll succeed… in time.



I’ve not long started a scale routine, trying to fret as softly as possible and experimenting with pressure. Also holding the pick with less force. I am conscience that tension and exerting too much pressure, has been inhibiting my ability to play faster. The exercise is done slowly to reinforce the feeling and ultimately transferable to “normal” playing.

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Andrea out of curiosity is it literally with everything or are there some items you are more relaxed with, like 3 favourite and easiest to do chords? Pick a few and see if you tense up when you use them, if not it probably means you just lack of experience and as others advised with training it will eventually go away. If you get those tensions even with easiest chords to play it still probably is the case of tension however it might mean something can be improved as for your technique goes. As JK suggested a video how you play a scale would be quite useful to judge your fretting hand’s performance.

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We had a little discussion about a Udemy course on this topic in this thread:

I am not sure the course content is worth it’s cost at $39 USD, but look at the sample lesson. It gives you the gist of a reasonable focusing exercise for tension. The rest of the course is applying this to both the fretting hand and picking hand.

I also agree with spending some time just fretting a cord. Find the least pressure, find the tension, try removing your thumb and still have the cord ring, try relaxing ever tense muscle while holding it and so on. A few minutes of focused meditation on tension every practice.

The guy in the Udemy course recommends doing nothing but his exercises for many hours daily for a couple of weeks I think. The idea being that by only focusing on the techniques to release tension, you can’t fall back out during routine practice. Although that is probably a good idea, that is also not achievable for me, but I did learn some from his course.

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This is something I’ve struggled with for a long time, but I have made some progress on it this year.

I switched to very light strings - just out of curiosity since I’d heard Billy Gibbons used light strings, who learnt it from BB King… “why you workin’ so hard?”

I figured if it’s good enough for them…

What I found was that it forced me to be more conscious of the pressure I applied, as it was significantly easier to push notes out of tune if you gorilla grip like I did.

In the beginning it led to a lot more bum notes, but with time I learnt to be more precise and careful with my fingers. Which is exactly what this is all about. You could achieve the same thing by just being careful, but when doing the wrong thing makes it sound bad, I found I was much more inclined to adjust, as there was an immediate feedback loop.

I’d first picked up a guitar in the days of everyone believing you needed to play 11’s like SRV to be a real guitar player, but someone recently described using light gauge strings like going to the Gym. As a beginner, no-one would tell you to bench press the heaviest plates on day one. That is just going to lead to poor form and injuries. Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with playing a lighter gauge. Plenty of professional musicians do. It’s all just personal preference.

In fact, personally I’ve actually found I prefer the sound, and am unlikely to switch back.

Strings are cheap. Though drastic changes may require additional setup work. But my recommendation would be to give it a shot, even just dropping down one gauge, and see if it helps. It’s really breathed life into my playing.

Best of luck. Hand cramps suck.


SRV liked 13s…



Thank you all for your replies so far! I’ll answer when I’m home again. Unfortunately there are some responsibilities besides guitar :joy:.


Yeah. You’re right.

Crazy to think that I have gone from 13s at one point to 7’s. :grimacing: such a big shift. To the point that I even consider 11s to be “heavy” now, where I would have considered them “average” before.

Just goes to show, don’t knock it til you try it. Everyone is different and has their own path to travel.

It worked for him, pretty damn well. But I think I’m content with where my setup is these days.

You’re doing all the right things! Keep it up, let go of the outcome (don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t get better as quickly as you’d like), and keep learning songs and techniques that speak to you.

As for lighter strings, my only advice is to not go thinner than 9’s. When I tried 8’s early in my journey, I found that I was accidentally bending strings sharp when I played.


Don’t worry, you’ll get your priorities straight soon enough… :wink:


In this case, the tendency to bend strings sharp is exactly why it worked for me. It forces you to be gentler.

It’s an adjustment for sure, but it has helped to correct a lot of bad habits that I had built up over the years.

Interestingly I have found that these changes carry over even when playing 10s now, I can play much longer sessions with those string gauges since I’ve learnt to relax a bit more in my playing. I would have expected it to become harder, but was very pleasantly surprised to find the opposite.

Helen,…WHATTT :flushed: :hot_face:

I don’t want to hear them,…please keep those crazy ideas to yourself,… Guitar, I want guitar.I want to play guitar,I can play guitar all day long,there is nothing else :hear_no_evil: :hear_no_evil: :hear_no_evil:


Thank you all for your replies, I didn’t expect to get so much feedback, so I try to answer everybody without taking a day off :wink:

First of all I recorded a little video, just a quick recording, so neither the quality of recording nor my playing is great, but my faults are visible and audible (hope Richard doesn’t move it into the category of “how to not play scales” :joy:) I know, there are plenty of mistakes, I shouldn’t brace my pinky, fingers closer to the strings, I think my fingers are curled to much, etc…
I post a link here JG Community Am Pentatonic - YouTube and will edit it to my first post too.

Thanks Tony! So there is a light of hope :grinning:.

Uuups, you got me… the 40 is quite a while away, seems as I’m more in the “Old dog” category with 54. So I tell everybody it’s due to my age? :joy:

OK. I’m patience in person. At least sometimes…

@jkahn Thanks, JK, I postet a link above. I also experiment with different fingerings in songs but not when I’m playing the scale.

NO, NO, NO I’m not of that species who thinks, they grab a guitar and play like David Guilmour after four weeks.
I know, that it will take time and there are no shortcuts. I was not asking for a shortcut :wink:.

My intention was to ask before I develop bad habits in hundreds of practice sessions. Better to ask, than to turn the clock back later.

I’ll do so, thanks!

@TheMadman_tobyjenner Thanks, Toby. Good to know, that advanced players like you have to work on it after many years of playing too. Maybe one should do some “guitar meditation” with active stress relief…


@adi_mrok I feel tension when playing stretchy chords, with the fourth finger involved. I have chords that I can play without big effort but when changing to those stretchy chords, I feel tension and after playing for longer it gets really strenous. I think, that’s quite normal. I was more interested how to avoid tension while playing e.g. scales, or riffs, because this tension makes finger movement sluggish or slow. I feel, that it hinders me to get faster. As suggested I posted a video above.

@Jamolay Thank you, Joshua, you quoted the post I was searching this morning, but didn’t find anymore. I read that suggestion but I fear, I can’t do this exclusively for weeks. But I’ll have a look at the video.

@goosecheese Thank you for your reply. I already have 10’s on my acoustic and 9’s on my electric. And both guitars are set up.

I love this, because it’s spot on! I’m tall, my hands are quite big for a woman and I have power. But playing guitar doesn’t work with a sledgehammer method :joy:. My problem isn’t so much that hands cramp, it’s more a problem of getting more agile with my fingers.

Thanks for that, Eddie!

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