The Left Hand Little Finger – Common Problems and Solutions
The left-hand little finger, aka pinky, is the smallest and weakest of our fingers.
It is shorter than other fingers. And we rarely use it in isolation in everyday life. So when we play guitar, this finger is often the source of trouble.
Luckily, we have ways to use the left little finger effectively. We can use positioning and form to assist it. And in our daily practice, we can build strength and control.
Common Problems with the Left-Hand Little Finger (the Pinky)
Problems with the left little finger often fall into one of three general areas. When we become aware of these areas, we can prevent many of the frustrations that may otherwise arise.
Playing too straight
When the little finger is too straight, it may be weak. This means it may not press the string fully to the fret. This causes a buzz. It may also touch other strings, causing a buzz.
This can fatigue the finger quickly and make fast playing difficult.
Instead, the little finger is at its best when curved. This adds strength and control.
When extending the little finger, it may roll through the joint. Instead of a smooth movement from in to out, we get a quick “snakebite” movement.
This movement is not usually in control, and so is not the best when playing our music.
The Snakebite often happens when the little finger is spread far from the ring finger (3rd finger). Bringing it closer may bring it back into control.
We can also practice moving the little finger in and out (contracted to extended and back) slowly. When we practice moving the finger slowly, we build more awareness and more control.
Coming up short
Another problem with the little finger involves reach. This is where the little finger cannot reach the desired note.
This is often due to the 1st finger placement. We often press the big joint of the 1st finger against the neck of the guitar. When we do, we limit the movement of the little finger.
The remedy here is to keep the big joints of the fingers parallel with the side of the guitar neck. This allows for more reach and movement with the little finger.
Left-Hand Position for Maximum Reach on Guitar
We can also optimize the hand position for the best little finger performance. We often hold the guitar so that our 1st finger (pointer or index) is most comfortable or secure.
Instead, we can focus on the position of the little finger. We can make the optimal curve and placement over the fretboard.
Then, if the 1st finger needs to stretch to reach something, so be it. We have more control of the 1st finger. It is more agile and strong.
This may mean that we supinate the hand, turning the palm slightly up. The elbow may drop to help this.
Enjoy Your Full Range of Movement
Within a piece of music, it is important that we maintain freedom of movement. This means not keeping the hand rigid in one place.
Instead, we can rotate the hand as needed for the current musical demands. This freedom can allow us to better position the little finger. And this increases our chances of a solid and secure placement.
In general, the better our left-hand form and positioning on guitar, the better our little finger will perform.
Do Technique Exercises for Strength and Control
As a long-term strategy, we can build more strength and control in the little finger. Perhaps the best guitar exercises for this include descending slurs, or “pull-offs.”
Pull-offs are strenuous and demand precise movements under pressure. So they are effective at improving precision, accuracy, and strength.
We can also practice ascending slurs (“hammer-ons”) to great benefit.
One fun experiment is to do pull-offs with other fingers (such as the 2nd and 3rd fingers). While doing these, we closely watch the little finger.
We can demand it to remain in one place while the other fingers perform the exercise. The little finger often wants to fly around against our will. As we practice holding it steady, we gain more facility with it.
Hi, I’m Allen Mathews.
I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
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