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I've been playing for years now as a hobby guitarist, but my fretting hand strength plateaued - it never really improved much beyond what I could do 2 months after I started playing.

Since then, I'm at the point, where playing a full F chord

F

is easy enough. Also, I don't have too much strength problems playing an electric guitar. On my classic guitar, however, I still can't play many pieces as fluently as I'd like to, because the strength of my fretting hand is barely enough make the notes ring cleanly. Especially, when I play classical or jazzy pieces with barré progressions and a melody over it, e.g. like this (not showing the melody here)

$5.9.$4.11.$3.9.$2.10.$1.9 7.7.7.9.10.9 7.9.7.8.7.7

, my hand is near exhaustion all the time - no pain, but it doesn't feel easy and fluent at all. (I'm already trying to apply just as much pressure as required, but I'm not sure, if I'm still applying too much while I'm concentrated on playing the piece.)

I never had a teacher, but I did have phases where I tried to practice barré chords and left hand strength a lot. I also got a GripMaster (medium tension) finger trainer, but all it ever did was exhausting my hand, I was never able to build up any strength with it - but maybe I was doing something wrong (wrong exercises)?

Do you have any good tips on what I could do to significantly strengthen my left hand?

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7 Answers 7

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Try stretching your hands every day and do some hand exercises that increase the muscle elasticity and control. It's important that you stretch any muscles before use or they will fatigue faster.

Muscle strength is not just a function of your hands though. It is a whole body experience. If your in poor shape it's very difficult to strength just one part of your body. Also, without proper warm up you can actually create muscle fiber that is counterproductive to endurance(There are basically two types of muscles one for endurance and one for strength... But by proper training and/or genetics you can create a hybrid).

In any case position is important from a physics perspective. This is why in classical music they drill in the proper position because it affords the best leverage(for your average person).

I would bet that if you spend 10-15m stretching before and faster a serious practice regime you will make drastic improvements within a month. Make sure your muscles are warm before you start though. You can do this by using warm water or doing some other pre-exercise warmups(fast scales, licks, etc... usually this is slower than using warm water but helps with increasing joint mobility).

There are also hand strengthen devices that do work but are probably just a waste of time unless you can use them when you can't practice on guitar.

Also make sure your action is not too high or it will be difficult to barre for anyone.

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Lots of great pointers in there, thanks! I'll definitely start with stretching in the future. I wonder, if 5mm (0.197 inches) between the E string and the 12th fret may be too much for a classic guitar - I really don't know? –  Chris Lercher Feb 13 '11 at 23:10
    
It seems to be a little high. hillguitar.com/website/news/articles/… suggestions about 3.2 mm in which case your almost double that. Go to a guitar store and try some other instruments and see how they feel compared to yours(take yours with you if you want). –  Anonymous Feb 14 '11 at 3:02
    
What you can do, if it's really bothering you and preventing you from learning pieces is to tune down half a step. This will make it much easier to barre. Once you learn the song you can play it in standard tuning or keep it half a step down. (it won't strengthen your hand as much but only purists will complain) –  Anonymous Feb 14 '11 at 3:05
    
Today I finally had the time to take my guitar to the shop and play a dozen of their guitars - it's fascinating how easy it is to play some of them. Some acoustic guitars feel more like my electric guitar. I'll probably get one of those - and have fun again when playing a difficult piece. –  Chris Lercher Aug 29 '11 at 17:10
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Every day, after I've finished my regular practice routine, I put a metronome on, say, at 60 beats per minute and start changing chords back and forth - one change on every 4th beat. One of the chords should be open position chord, and another - barre chord, for example:

Am / F

or

C / Bm

And I keep doing it until I actually can't go on any longer. Usually, I can keep it up for about 4-5 minutes. This works kind of like a push-ups - you are giving tension to you hand on a barre chord and releasing it on open chord. This helped me to develop really good strength in left hand over several months.

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I tried this exercise yesterday, and it's very nice because it alternates between tension and relaxation evenly. I'll keep doing it for some time. I actually couldn't bring my hand to the point where it can't go any longer (I ran out of time) - I think I've built up quite some endurance over the years, but only little strength. –  Chris Lercher Feb 13 '11 at 9:29
    
@Chris, I'm really glad that you found my advice useful! Keep on! –  Silver Light Feb 13 '11 at 14:32
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When I was in school studying classical guitar, a bunch of people had suggested that left-hand [the fretboard hand] strength was really something you didn't need to work on because you should be able to finger any chord without having you thumb touch the back of the neck. Sounds nutty, but it's possible... it's done by using the weight of you arm, and gravity, to apply the pressure to sound the chord, and not by squeezing the neck with your thumb.

Other factors related to the guitar can also cause you issues... With my Ramirez it was nearly impossible to do what I suggested [bad action]... until I bought another instrument.

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This is absolutely the way to go. The majority of fatigue issues are due to problems with technique. These problems don't always present as obvious roadblocks to basic playing; more often than not, they show up after several years and simply prevent a person from advancing. Learning to use larger muscle groups, how to roll onto the side of one's barring finger (like, along the x-axis), and figuring out how to use as little energy/pressure as possible to produce a sound are key. Often times, one or two lessons with a qualified instructor is enough to straighten things out. –  Smovies Sep 27 '13 at 20:47
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I've had similar issues for years. Partly it is a matter of slow buildup. The muscles in my left hand have grown stronger, but only very little over a long period of time. Obviously, this requires daily practice. Occasional breaks for a few days are also warranted to give the muscle time to heal.

However, there is one other thing that I've found makes a big difference with hand fatigue. The left arm position while fretting is important. Until not so long ago, I didn't pay any attention to it and let the elbow hang resting. However, good arm posture greatly reduces the role of the thumb, lessening hand tension. My hand still gets tired but noticeably more slowly.

I find that keeping the left arm "wing out", that is elbow away from my body, so that my forearm is nicely perpendicular to the neck, helps a great deal. This naturally is more pronounced (and less natural feeling) near the headstock. So try it and remind yourself to do it when practicing, see if it works for you. If your arm is at 90 degrees to the neck, you should even be able to barre without the thumb at all, although I only recommend that as a test to see if you have the position correct, not a playing technique.

Let me know whether it does anything for you.

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"you should even be able to barre without the thumb at all" - wow, that really works! Very interesting. I'll experiment more with arm positions. –  Chris Lercher Feb 13 '11 at 9:39
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I go the opposite way to most of these answers - for finger strength I use an old acoustic guitar with heavy gauge steel strings and an incredibly high action. Playing this once a week practicing barre chords and fast licks means that when I go back to my electrics everything is very smooth and light.

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Yeah, true. Playing the same songs on my electric guitar feels much more easy and fluent, and that's what I want to achieve with my classic guitar, too. Maybe I'll buy a (cheap) steelstring acoustic as my 3rd guitar, just for the strength exercises :-) –  Chris Lercher Feb 22 '11 at 20:43
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To me you have to treat guitar like a sport and train hard cause you never run out of shit thats hard todo , left or right , together or not . And if buzzing frets on a bar chord is hard todo then shortcut the chord to to make it easier n quicker . Theres no use hanging on something like that when theres an easier way and holding you back . Get outside the square !

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To strengthen your grip, smear vaseline on the handles of some 5 lb dumbbells, grasp one in each hand, and go for one mile walk. Repeat 3x per week. Increase mileage, poundage.

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