I have been playing guitar for about six years and a couple months ago I got an ovation celebrity. I put extra light gauge strings on it and I have noticed that since then my finger strength in my fretting hand has decreased. Is there any way to regain that strength while playing guitar or not playing guitar? Is it a good idea to buy higher gauge strings (I was thinking light)?
Placement is more important than strength. That said, you won't get stronger by playing comfortable gauge strings. It's very much like building any muscle, you have to positively stress your muscles, they will respond with growth to anticipate future stress.
In short, increase the gauge of your strings by one step. Play for 2 - 3 months. Increase the gauge of your strings by a step, play for 2 - 3 months. Repeat until you are playing the gauge you want to play or there are no readily available heavier gauges or your truss rod is at its limit.
Note that the only reason to have stronger fingers that I can think of is to be able to play heavier gauges. If you like the sound of lighter gauges, you probably don't need strength. You might need stamina (build up by gradually playing longer and longer) or you might need correct technique (find a teacher and/or practice and learn by trial and error, which will take at least twice as long as the teacher route).
To answer your question, get a hand exerciser (e.g. "Grip Master"), put it in your pocket and do exercises routinely. There are different models of different tension, you can start from the lightest tension model, or go to a local store to pick one which suits you most, then get a higher tension model once your fingers get stronger.
As for whether finger strength is important, I would like to give a yes vote, especially for steel-string-acoustic-guitarist. Stronger fingers not only allow you to play on heavier gauge, but also increase your flexibility. If you are spending too much strength fighting against the tension of strings, you won't be able to play agilely and relaxedly. Not to mention certain techniques, like tapping or bending (on an acoustic guitar), require a tremendous finger strength.
By the way, not every guitar is capable of equipping heavy-gauge strings, especially for those cheap ones. A 0.013 gauge string set could tear off the top panel of a cheap guitar.
Here is a couple of methods I made up for myself when I was thinking about this same concept of finger strength and coordination. These methods only really work for beginner guitarists. Feel free to change them up to suit yourself.
First find a hard surface like a desk or even your leg Number your fingers from 1-5 on your left hand (don't write on them but just give them numbers and remember them). (1 thumb, 2 index, 3 middle, 4 angular, 5 pinky) Letter the fingers of your right hand a-e. (a thumb, b index, c middle, d angular, e pinky)
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Now rest your hands flat on the hard surface. In the following patterns, tap your finger on the desk and press into it (or press in onto the desk if not wanting to make a sound) when the number or letter for each finger occurs.
Left hand: 2 1 3 1 , 4 1 5 1 , 2 3 2 4 , 2 5 3 4 , 3 5 4 5
Right hand: b a c a , d a e a , b c b d , b e c d , c e d e
Both hands together (do letter/number above and below at the same time)
2 1 3 1 , 4 1 5 1 , 2 3 2 4 , 2 5 3 4 , 3 5 4 5
b a c a , d a e a , b c b d , b e c d , c e d e
These exercises are an introduction to this practice technique. Here is some of my favourite patterns for this technique.
1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2
b c d e d c b a
This is one pattern I did over and over to improve multiple hand coordination on piano.
1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 1
c b a b c d e d c
This is another pattern I used for the same purpose.
Feel free to vary these patterns, here is some suggestions for variations, 1. Simply change the patterns to suit yourself. 2. Change the patterns to the same fingers used in a song or scales. 3. Use multiple fingers for one time pressing down eg. Press finger 1, 3, a, and d down at the same time. (This can be helpful to practice Fingerstyle patterns). 4. Instead of using the desk or leg as the hard surface, use your thumb (this is useful while walking, it is the main way I would practice this technique) 5. Change the timing between taps of your finger 6. Make different types of taps that could mimic slides, hammer ons, pull offs, finger rolls. 7. Use some sort of stress ball, piece of foam, or grip trainer to do these patterns on. 8. Do this without looking at your hands. 9. Use a rubber band to restrict your fingers and therefore build more strength.
Here is a second technique that isn't for the purpose of finger strength but more the coordination for chords. Most guitarists who have practiced for a while wont need this technique.
Place hand flat on the desk or hard surface with palm facing upwards. Imagine that there is a guitar fretboard where your fingers are and curl your fingers upwards as if you are fretting a chord. Choose two to infinite chord shapes and change the shape of the imaginary chord you are fretting. Try doing this without looking at your hands and then check if the chord shape is right.
Answering my own question a year later when more experience is gained lol.