Less Fret About It
A thread on the Fingerstyle-L newsgroup inspired this note about the amount of pressure you apply when fretting strings. The discussion was spurred by someone who had a question about 12-string guitars, but my response (copied and edited below) applies to playing any stringed, fretted instrument.
If the action is setup by someone who actually knows what he's doing with an acoustic 12-string in his hands (many do not) ... and if you use light gauge strings ... and if you learn to play with a gentle attack ... 12-string fingerstyle guitar playing could be a dream come true. The 12-string is not favored by many guitarists, perhaps because it's a bit too distinctive a sound and can tire the ears when it's the only sound heard for a full performance ... and many, I think, are just afraid of it!
One thing I would strongly suggest is to check that you aren't playing head games with yourself when you pick up a 12-string (or any other fretted instrument) ... squeezing the neck more than you need to ... fretting strings with 300% more G-force than needed --- all because you THINK you are driving a bigger team of horses and need a bigger whip --- you know?
It's important that you are not tense when you play your instruments ... all movements should be occuring with grace, comfort, and confidence.
Take a minute to check your guitar's action by placing your finger over one of the strings, at the 3rd fret ... don't fret the string, just touch / mute it while picking a steady and continuous 1,2,3,4 plucking ... now, very slowly, begin depressing the string ... gradually ... listen closely as it changes from a muted thwap ... into a dull note ... into a buzzy note ... and finally, into a clear note ... STOP right there! ... notice how much pressure is actually required to get to the clear note ... and notice how much less pressure you are applying, compared to when you are normally practicing or playing.
Learn how little pressure *your* guitar requires and try to adjust your playing to that.
Oh, and by the way ... your accuracy will double in the process, too.
And, finally, here are a couple of cool books for you to check out:
A Folksinger's Guide to the 12-String Guitar As Played by Leadbelly
by Julius Lester and Pete Seeger
"The driving rhythms he developed on his unusual guitar, with its double strings, are unforgettable to anyone who ever heard them. Today, many young people wishing to learn his songs as he sang them, are trying to learn his style of guitar playing. This book is designed to help them, but it cannot be considered a substitute for listening to the recordings of Leadbelly....It must be remembered that more is involved than playing the correct notes and rhythm. When you listen to Leadbelly on record, you are listening to a man with many years of experience play an instrument. To achieve what he achieved is something which cannot be communicated in a book."
~ Julius Lester
DVD - The 12-String Guitar of Roger McGuinn
by Roger McGuinn and Happy Traum
From the first notes of this DVD, Roger McGuinn's signature Rickenbacker 12-string will immerse you in the sound that made The Byrds a prime musical force. Roger teaches favorites from his powerful repertoire - Mr. Tambourine Man, Turn! Turn! Turn!, Eight Miles High, Mr. Spaceman, and others - and shows how to master the licks and guitar techniques that make his sound instantly recognizable. Roger provides important instructional pointers and detailed advice on basic 12-string maintenance, recording techniques and other "insider" tips. 60-minute DVD, includes music + tab.