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Why some guitar players "pulse" a chord? (pressing down while strumming, relaxing for a split sec, press it again for next strum)

Is it to mark the beat, relax the fingers, silence the strings, all of the above?

I've tried it and it's harder to play (at the start anyway), but I'd pick it up if it helped with my sore fingers!

See for example: Tommy Emmanuel Guitar Lesson - #11 Bass Part - Fingerstyle Milestones.

Edit: Just found another possibility. Andy Guitar suggests doing it to get the shape of a chord into "muscle memory", lifting the fingers up to 5mm (as an exercise, not necessarily during playing).

Thank you all for your answers!

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Generally pulsing a chord would most often be used as part of a rhythmic technique to lend a particular element to the rendition as part of the style of playing - or as part of the arrangement for a particular song that lends itself to the technique.

The video example you shared is actually part of a fingerstyle technique of creating a bass line and although Tommy is pulsing his fingers, the muting effect in the video is achieved by palm muting.

As Tim suggested in his answer, if you are using barre chords, it is not difficult to create the rhythmic staccato effect by "pulsing" or releasing the pressure on the strings to mute or dampen them in a rhythmic pattern but is very difficult to do while playing chords with open strings. I find palm muting (using the strumming hand) to be a much easier technique to master than attempting to mute open strings with fingers on the fretting hand.

A musical arrangement featuring many barre chords can indeed be tiresome to play so "pulsing" would certainly be one way to reduce the stress on the fretting hand by alternating between pressure and relaxing the pressure.

If your primary goal at your stage of learning guitar is to reduce finger soreness, you might try lighter strings and/or having a skilled guitar tech lower the action on your guitar. You will find more tips for minimizing finger pain during the early stages of learning to play guitar here on Stake Exchange Music.

Custom Finger Friendly Guitar String Set for beginning guitarist

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  • Thanks! Good catch on the palm mute, and good to know I can use that if I ever wanna stacc, since I'm learning it. My primary goal is to keep up with Tommy. I know: aim for the stars, but with firm fingers on the fret board! (so no pulsing for now :) – Chema Nov 18 '19 at 20:23
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    You are welcome. Keep aiming for the stars. One thing I have discovered about playing guitar is that no matter how much I improve my own skills, there is always plenty of room to get even better. YouTube is full of examples of players that make me think "I could never play that well". But I can do things now that I used to think I would never be able to do and it makes me wonder why I ever doubted. How good you become is a matter of how dedicated you are to improving. It sounds like you are very interested in improving your skills. Keep it up. But most importantly - enjoy the journey! – Rockin Cowboy Nov 25 '19 at 19:14
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With some rhythm patterns, it's necessary to strum chords that are very short in duration. It spices up the rhythm itself, and the simplest way to achieve it is to 'pulse' - hold down the strings, and momentarily loosen the grip to make that strum sound short.

It works best on full barre chords, because all strings can be choked at once, with one slight move. On chords involving open strings, it's a slightly different technique, as not only do the fretted strings have to have their associated fingers relxed, but at the same time, any open strings need muting with the same or spare fingers.

For a simple entry into this technique, try 'She's a Woman' (Beatles), where there's only 4 strums per bar, but all cut short by the simple motion of releasing the finger pressure on all strings just after the strum, producing no sound, before the next strum. But be aware that those strums are all on the &, not on each beat!

Having sore fingers isn't pleasant for guitarists. Perhaps you are pressing a lot harder than needed. perhaps the action is too high, perhaps the strings are too tight due to their gauges.

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That's the normal way to play a repeated note when the notation doesn't call for sustained notes or legato.

Note that on, say, a piano, if you play a chord twice, there will be a silence because when you lift your hand, the dampers will kick in. To prevent that, you can use the sustain pedal. Then that becomes somewhat like the effect of strumming a guitar's strings while holding the chord.

One reason to avoid sustain in a guitar passage might be that it contains a mixture of repeated and non-repeated chords (possibly requiring left hand position changes), and for whatever reason you want all of the durations to be consistent.

Another is that guitar music doesn't all have to be "jingly-jangly"; listeners get tired of that and their attention fades.

In rock guitar, if you strum repeatedly on a fingered chord, the effect isn't particularly dramatic because the attack and volume are leveled by distortion. In a mix with other instruments, the additional strums might not even be audible, except for the additional sustain duration they provide.

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The above answer is fine. I use the technique to give a "snappy" rhythm. Not for melancholy of serious songs, great for "Happy Birthday" and other lively music.

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  • I think you meant for this to be a comment as I see it as a comment to an answer where it makes more sense. You might want to delete this as an answer to avoid downvotes. – Rockin Cowboy Nov 18 '19 at 18:04
  • I see you've made a comment as Rockin Cowboy suggests, but you haven't deleted the answer. – luser droog Nov 18 '19 at 19:48
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I’ve found this technic out myself as I’ve been an autodidact in Guitar playing. (There were no wikipedia or youtube tutorials SE!) All we had were some basic diagrams like C, G7, D7, E, am ... and we shared our knowlegde at the campfire. So I learnt to play the F chord with help by the thumb. This was quite easy: the movement was similar to make a fist.

Also the barré chords we found all out ourself by constructing them from the am and E chords ... (Unfortunately it was too late for me: my fingers had been already deformed by arthritis.

Is it to mark the beat, relax the fingers, silence the strings, all of the above?

Yes, it has all those effects. You can choose why it do it for you. I used it for all three purposes.

Don’t give up. It will benefit your sore fingers!

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To silence the strings for a rhythmic effect, usually staccato. The tempo is unrelated, but often you'll find this heavily used in fast Funk and Pop rhythms with heavy syncopation.

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  • The above answer is fine. I use the technique to give a "snappy" rhythm. Not for melancholy of serious songs, great for "Happy Birthday" and other lively music. – ohdearme Nov 18 '19 at 14:47

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