top of page

7 Bad Habits To Avoid In Your Fretting Hand

Article Written By Ryan Mueller

The very beginning of your guitar playing journey can be very exciting, since you're finally starting to learn what many great musicians already know. That said, it can also be very confusing, since you're learning a skill that is brand new to you. It's completely foreign, and your body is not used to what needs to happen to actually play.


This is especially true with your fretting hand – while you may know what needs to physically happen (I.e. pressing the strings to the fretboard with your fingers), your limited knowledge and experience could easily lead you to develop bad habits in your fretting hand that may stop you from playing guitar altogether, or at the very least could hinder you from playing specific things on guitar in the future.


In my experience as both a player and a teacher, I've noticed that it's much harder to replace a bad habit than it is to learn the correct technique from the beginning. Let's take a look at some of these bad habits so that you can avoid them and get better faster:


Bad Habit #1 - Using Your Fingerprints Instead Of Your Fingertips


The vast majority of the things you will play on guitar involve pressing down the strings with your fingertips, instead of your fingerprints. Not only do your fingertips make it easier to press the strings down (since there's more direct pressure on the string), they also make it less likely for the flesh of your fingers to wrap around the string and spreading onto the other strings, accidentally muting them. This is especially crucial if your calluses are not yet formed, as your fingers will be softer and the spreading of your flesh will be more likely to happen.


Bad Habit #2 - Not Cutting Your Fingernails


If your fingernails are long and are extending past your fingertips, you won't be able to fret your chords properly because they'll get in the way of you using your fingertips. In this case, your options are to either press the strings down with your fingerprints (and playing chords that sound clunky, sloppy and muted), or bend/break your nails as you try to use your fingertips. Neither of those options are ideal, so make things easier for yourself by cutting your fingernails short.


Bad Habit #3 - Bad Thumb Placement


The thumb of your fretting hand should be pointing perpendicular to the guitar neck, with your thumb print or tip comfortably resting against the back of the neck. This how your thumb should be for nearly everything you play on guitar, the exception being when you do string bends and vibrato, where your thumb can wrap around the neck for better control.


Many beginners (and even intermediates) fall for bad habits such as having the thumb pointing towards the headstock, not using the thumb and letting the neck rest in the palm of their hand, or wrapping their thumb around all the time. These habits can limit the mobility in your fingers to stretch and reach certain positions as needed, and also make it harder to properly apply pressure on the strings. In really bad cases, they can lead to severe cramping and injuries to your hands and forearms.


Bad Habit #4 - Not Pressing Down Hard Enough


Guitar playing is not about strength, but you still need to learn how to properly apply pressure to the strings so that they're held down enough for their notes to change. If you aren't pressing them down hard enough, they'll just get muted. Make sure you press the strings down hard enough to eliminate string buzzing and change the note.


Bad Habit #5 - Pushing Down Too Hard


On the flip side, you don't want to press the strings down too hard, or else it will cause massive tension in your fretting hand, which can lead to cramping and possibly injury. Plus, if you press down too hard, the string will be out of tune. Find the right balance of using enough force to play a clean note/chord without excessive tension and without sending your guitar out of tune. As your calluses build, it'll become easier for you to press the strings down and produce cleaner notes with less effort.


Bad Habit #6 - Pressing Down Directly On Top Of The Fret


Ideally, you want to press the strings down as close to fret as possible, but don't touch the fret itself with your finger – this will result in a muted, buzzing sound instead of a clean note.


Bad Habit #7 - Pressing The Strings Down With The Side Of Your Finger


If you're playing a chord that involves having to stretch your fingers apart, resist the urge to press the strings down with the sides of your fingers (with the exception of basic barre chords which involve a mix of your fingerprint and side), even if that means you have to go farther away from the fret. This will result in tension and cramping in your fretting hand, and greater difficulty in producing a clean note.


If you are reading this and realize that you have some bad habits in your fretting hand, my advice to you would be to make a short list of what bad habits you have and focus on correcting them one at a time. Don't overwhelm yourself by trying to fix all of them at once.


If you're brand new to guitar and are just starting to play your first chords and notes, use this as a general guideline/checklist so that you can avoid these bad habits and make much quicker progress by doing it the right way the first time.


About The Author:


Ryan Mueller is a guitar teacher and music school owner, dedicated to giving the best guitar lessons in Etobicoke.

bottom of page