How To Avoid Fretboard Fatigue

Do you need more strength?

Have you ever experience fatigue in your fingers when playing or practicing? Of course you have. I'm not referring to the sore feeling you get AFTER you've practiced all night and day. I'm talking about the inability to produce the notes you want due to lack of endurance and strength in your fingers. Or is that really the problem? Or is it something completely different? In this article I'm going to try and prove that strength and endurance has very little to do with the ability to play for hours.

There's quite a couple of tools out there that you can use to build a terror handshake. You can use the "Gripmaster Pro" - you can use finger weights or how about some Chinese exercise balls? A "Flextend Glove" will also help you build incredible finger strength and if all else fails you can use a "Dynaflex Pro Sports Gyro Wrist Exerciser" to take care of that weak wrist of yours.

The key to maximum endurance

Some years ago I picked up the guitar after several years of not touching the instrument at all. I literally hadn't played any instrument nor had I exercised my hands. And since any muscle strength you build today, will be gone in a few days, if you don't keep working the muscles - you would think I would have weak hands, wrists and fingers and I did! But that didn't impair my ability to play at all. I actually never experience fatigue in my hands when I play at all, except for when I'm practicing something new and very different. And this is the key...

So why are there all these strength building tools on the market? In my experience, it's because of one basic misconception that sounds like this "I experience fatigue in my hands because I'm not strong enough" but the truth is a bit more complex than that. It goes something like this:

The real reason for fatigue

The problem is not lack of strength but lack of control. When ever we practice something new, we are really forcing the brain to create new patterns in the brain. We are trying to replace old patterns with new ones, and this is a process of forcing our hands and fingers to do something they'd rather not. The reason why we find it hard to do something new is because our body would rather do something old. As we try to gain control over our fingers on the fretboard, the brain is desperately trying to run patterns of movement that it knows already. All the while we do what we can to force it into doing something new.

It's like having one arm that's completely uncontrollable and then having to control it with the other good arm you have left. While you struggle to keep the bad arm under control, you will eventually experience fatigue in both arms. The problem is that you can't build enough strength to compensate for the enormous stress you put on your muscles when you practice. Even if you where the Arnold Schwarzenegger of hand strength you would still experience fatigue when practicing something completely new.

Whirlwind Economy Picking Run

For some reason this is a run that you can play incredibly fast once you've practiced it enough. It becomes almost effortless to play in the end. Enjoy!

Burning fuel faster than you can refuel

Fatigue comes because you are using up more muscular energy than the body produces. The body constantly fuels the muscles with energy so that you can play for hours and hours. But if you use the energy faster than the body can fuel the muscles, you experience fatigue. When you exercise you hands and fingers using the tools I mentioned, you improve the body's ability to fuel the muscles. So it does work of course. But your aim shouldn't be to have super strong hands but to use less force when you play.

And the less you have to struggle the less energy you use. So it seems like a good idea to use these tools because they will allow you to practice longer and harder right? Yes but only under one condition: if you use them when you can't practice. The best way to build strength is to use the instrument itself! In my experience it's nuts to put down the instrument to go build strength, when you could practice and build strength at the same time right?

There's a way to practice without experience fatigue at all: Focus on relaxing as your primary objective during the process. This will slow you down enormously but it will also relieve the brain of the struggling - and you'll make progress even faster than with the struggling. It doesn't seem like that in the beginning but as you do it more and more you start developing a much more relaxed style of playing.

Precision or brute force?

Remember how hard it was to play a simple chord in the beginning? Then you also remember how much force you used to use to push those strings towards the fretboard right? It was like you had to push down those su... with all the strength you had in order to produce a clear sounding chord. But now it's easy! Why? Because now you replaced brute force with precision. Your are now able to place your fingertips right behind the fret wire, on that tiny spot that allows you to use the least amount of force and energy. You did not become stronger but you did become more accurate. The same thing goes for playing licks and runs. The less you have to struggle with yourself and the more accurate you get, the less force you have to use, and fatigue disappears forever...

So my advice to you would be this: When you experience fatigue, slow down and focus on relaxing in your hands when you practice. Be like a marathon runner rather than a sprinter: Don't push beyond your muscular limits, because it will put a halt to your progress. Relax, slow down and enjoy getting better faster.

"I pay no attention whatever to anybody's praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings"

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart