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Pinky finger dilema


My pinky finger is a bit smaller than normal. As such, if I fret notes with it on the low "E" string it almost lays flat across the fretboard. It simply isn't long enough to curl and reach the notes.
Given that I am an "older" intermediate blues player - who often bends with his middle and third fingers, I'm contemplating just abandoning the pinky and using my third finger instead.

At this point, I am curious what the better players might think.



I'm not what you'd probably consider one of "the better players", but I have small hands so strike the same issue when using the pinky on the lower strings. My logic is not to try and do things that I'm not physically able to do. Just find a different way that works for you and go with that.


The length of your pinky is not likely the problem, it's the hand position. If you're playing with your thumb over the neck and holding the neck in the palm of your hand, your reach is severely limited. If you can lower your thumb, using it as a pivot point on the back of the neck, and move your wrist forward, your pinky will reach anywhere you want, no problem. I have small hands and guitars with necks like baseball bats.


*pulls out tape measure to compare "pinky" sizes*

So bent at a right angle, from the back of the knuckle to the tip of my pinky it is 3 inches.

On the palm side, from the crease where it folds to the tip is about 2-1/8 inches.

My index and ring fingers, when laid out flat side by side against the middle, come to about where the nail on the middle finger starts (i.e. my middle finger protrudes fingernail length past my index and ring fingers). By comparison, my pinky reaches only to the top knuckle of my ring finger (i.e. it is one complete
finger joint shorter than the ring finger).

I too can lay it across if I'm lazy, and sometimes play that way to mute all the other strings beneath.

But when playing a chord form like this:


with the pinky on the 6th string, I can definitely arch it enough to not mute any of the other strings.

Sometimes, doing things like this means the top joint "hooks over" and the rest of the finger is straight or almost straight, but those kinds or fingerings are either rare for me or things I avoid.

So I agree that it's likely hand position that could be compounding your issue.

FWIW though, Django only had 2 fingers, and I saw an Ozzy/Sabbath Tribute guy missing his index (played with fingers 2, 3, and 4 though used what was left of his index for some things).

If you watch Clapton, he rarely uses his pinky when soloing, and this is true of a lot of rock players (I think Leslie West only used the first two).

But if you watch Clapton play power chords, you'll notice he often does it with his index and pinky, and because of his "thumb over" position, his middle finger is straight out looking like he's flipping you off.

I do the same thing - "lazy" or often called "broom handle" playing where your thumb goes over the top of the neck and your palm is against the neck, which kind of angles the hand and fingers a bit.

For me, it means that 2 fret spans I very often play with index and pinky, rather than index and ring.

But you should look into "Classical Position" which you almost can't help but use if you play full barre chords.

There's no right or wrong way, just what works for you. But if you're finding you can't reach something in one position, and want to, then it might be worth investigating alternatives rather than just giving up on something - too much of that and you end up not being able to play very much.


Well, just to give you some perspective. I thought my hand in general was small until I met an older tutor out of Berklee who taught as Professor at a local university and had a public radio show, so he has credentials.

On the first lesson he literally did a chord stretch across five frets at the top of the guitar with root G on the low E string, can't remember what the chord is called but I can look it up if you are confused by that description. Needless to write it's a big span. I immediately asked him if I could compare my hands with him and I did by putting my hand over his like a high five. We had the exact same hand size.

The problem I was having was that I was using a Les Paul and he was using a Telecaster. Maybe he can, but I cannot do that chord with a Les Paul. Now, I play a Telecaster and I can pretty much reach most frets on the low E string. To this day I test if a guitar is right for me by doing that chord and seeing how my hand does on the upper access of the neck.

To be thoroughly honest, I use my pinky very little. Instead opting, for the ring finger next to it to do most things the pinky could do because I have more control of it for anything including vibrato and it feels more comfortable. So, the point is your hands are fine, if anything, maybe a more narrow neck is a better fit and if not just use the ring finger. No one will correct you for it and it's not wrong to do and I'm sure many before have done the same.


FWIW though, Django only had 2 fingers, and I saw an Ozzy/Sabbath Tribute guy missing his index (played with fingers 2, 3, and 4 though used what was left of his index for some things).
I wonder if you mean Tony Iommi, the original Sabbath guitarist, who has lost the tip of his first finger and wore a home made prosthetic cover for it, or if you actually saw a guitarist in a tribute band, paying tribute to Tony's injury as well as his riffs. I shudder to think one would actually injure themselves for the chance to play in such a tribute group.

Tone Loco

Gold Supporting Member
If your main thing is blues I'd spend some time on youtube and see what the great blues players whose playing you admire did with their pinkies. You'll probably find that no matter how big or small their hands were not much pinky fingering is used. But it would still be worth the time to check for yourself.

Tommy Biggs

Silver Supporting Member
I'd use em all. If you abandon it, for sure it is never going to be usable. Even if you can't stretch out like Paul Gilbert.


My pinky finger is a bit smaller than normal. As such, if I fret notes with it on the low "E" string it almost lays flat across the fretboard. It simply isn't long enough to curl and reach the notes.
I bet it can if you move your hand forward (beneath the neck). The only reason it would lay flat on the fretboard is if your fret hand is in the wrong position.

Try this: lay it flat with the tip on the 6th string, parallel to the frets. Now keep the tip on the 6th string and push the rest of your hand forward and up (lowering the thumb on the back of the neck if necessary). Now the rest of your pinky will come off the fretboard, right? The more you move the hand upwards (keeping the tip on 6th, thumb slipping down the back) the more the pinky will curl too.

OK, that might seem an unnatural exercise - and I'm not suggesting you MUST use your pinky on 6th string if it's generally awkward! Speaking personally, although I can easily reach 6th string with my pinky (measures 2.5 inches underneath from crease to tip) without touching the other strings, I almost never do. There's no reason to. Anything I need to do on 6th string, the other 3 fingers can easily manage. So I don't quite understand your conclusion...
Given that I am an "older" intermediate blues player - who often bends with his middle and third fingers, I'm contemplating just abandoning the pinky and using my third finger instead.
Abandon the pinky altogether? Just because it can't reach the 6th string? :confused:
The bending issue doesn't seem relevant to me. I can bend with my pinky, but mainly I bend with middle or ring, because they're stronger. The pinky is still very useful and there's no reason to do without it altogether, just because it can't do everything the other three can!


Don't give up on your pinky!

I have somewhat smaller hands, but have found by deliberately working on my technique, including forcing myself to practice wider stretches on the lower frets over time, I can play a lot of things I couldn't a few years ago and I doubt my hands have changed size!
Just have a look at all the little girls on Youtube (like Lisa-X) playing shredding songs using their pinkies and wide stretches and you'll realise it's not about size, it's what you can do with it ;)

Tim Bowen

The following exercise addresses finger independence and the pinky problem. The goal is equal volume and tone from all notes played with all fingers. Play slowly, as whole notes. No finger is to lift up off of the string until it needs to move a new fret/string.

The only way to get all the notes to ring clearly in this exercise is with good thumb placement and proper posture for all fingers. If the pinky is laying down, it can either get a less than robust tone from the note that it is fretting, or cause an adjacent string to plink by inadvertently dampening it.

Even seasoned players (and often, long time 'three finger players') have trouble with this exercise and get frustrated, but give it some time. It will cure a multitude of ills if you stay after it. Ultimately the goal is to start with index finger on first fret, but start where comfortable, and work backwards as it gets easier.

On low E string: Place index finger on 5th fret, play as whole note;

index remains on 5th fret, add middle finger on 6th fret, play as whole note;

index & middle remain on 5th & 6th frets, add ring finger on 7th fret, play;

index, middle, and ring remain on 5th, 6th, & 7th frets, add pinky on 8th fret, play;

middle, ring, and pinky remain on 6th, 7th, & 8th frets on the low E string, but now move the index finger to the 5th fret on the A string, play as whole note;

ring & pinky remain on 7th & 8th frets on low E string, index remains on 5th fret on the A string, and middle finger now moves from low E string to 6th fret on the A string, play;

Continue the process all the way across the strings. Again, no finger should move until it has a new destination, and play slowly and with volume.


As mentioned earlier, lots of accomplished rock and blues players are three finger players, some by design, and some even feel that they phrase better in this way. I'm mostly a one finger per fret guy, and would be lost without the pinky, but will get into three finger mode temporarily when lots of bending and penta position shifts are on the agenda of the moment.

Also as has been mentioned, the typical issues are not usually due to the size of the hands or fingers. On the other end of the spectrum, many mandolin newbies initially claim that their (normal-sized) hands are too big, when in fact the hands and fingers have not yet been trained for and acclimated to the instrument.


I say 'work with what ya got'.

The above suggestions are excellent and will help you develop your fingering abilities. If you don't have the actual physical ability to make a certain stretch, learn to play it somewhere else on neck where it's easier or substitute something simpler etc.

You tried a short scale guitar? Maybe one with a smaller neck?


Silver Supporting Member
vetplus40 I wouldn't worry about it. There's lots of good suggestions here, but IMO in your case do what's comfortable and don't lose sleep over it, unless you find it's a hindrance. The best musicians work with what they got. Look at it this way, you got two fingers up on Django. :)


Hey man,

You are probably a lot better with your pinky than you think! If you have been playing with the other three fingers most of the time, then they are going to be ahead of your pinky. However, keep up with your pinky and compare your pinky in two months to your pinky now, and I reckon that you might be surprised : )

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