right hand pinky little finger classical guitar

The Right-Hand Little Finger: What About the Pinky?

As guitarists, we focus a lot on our left-hand fingers (finding the right string and fret). And we do our best to play the correct string with the right hand fingers.

But what about the little finger (aka “pinky) of the right hand? Do we use it? When? And should we train it?

Do We Use the Right Hand Little Finger (Pinky)?

In classical guitar music, we do occasionally use the little finger. Not often, but sometimes. And it’s more likely in advanced music.

Using the right-hand little finger generally falls into the category of “special effects”, or special techniques.

When we do use it, it’s usually one of three scenarios:
1. As part of a chunk chord, along with other fingers.
2. As part of a rolled chord (warning: this puts the little finger on the highest note, which can “pop out” due to the thin tone quality characteristic of the little finger.)
3. As part of a rasgueado. A rasgueado is a flamenco (Spanish) strumming technique that uses the out-stroke of the fingers for a bright, percussive strum.

The Connection of the Little Finger and the Ring Finger

If we attempt to curl the little finger without moving the ring (A) finger, we can observe a connection between the two.

The ring and little fingers are not as indepenent of each other as are the index and middle.

First, the ring and pinky are more connected by fascia and tissue within the hand. The specific anatomy is beyond the scope of this article.

Next, just as most of us lack fine-motor control in our toes, we also lack fine motor control with our 4th and 5th fingers. This is in part because we haven’t built the synapses in our brains to control the movement with as much independence as the index and middle.

But we can improve with time and practice, as anyone handless who writes and functions with their feet and toes can attest.

The Albatross of the Right Hand

For classical guitar-related purposes, the pinky has the potential of slowing us down by causing excess tension and pain. And the excess tension could increase the potential for repetitive stress injuries.

Like Coleridge’s fabled “albatross around the neck”, the little finger can make it more difficult to move freely.

Release the Side of the Hand

One exercise to use the little finger to our advantage is to practice releasing the outside of the hand.

The “karate-chop” muscle, when tensed, brings excess tension into the palm. This in turn creates more resistance for our fingers. When this happens, we work harder and tire more quickly.

Instead, we can imagine the outside muscle and little finger (as well as that entire side of the forearm) as soft and passive. We can visualize openness, release and softness in our palms.

Let the Pinky Follow the Fourth Finger

Unless using the pinky for specific purpose, it can usually just follow along with the ring finger (A).

We want to avoid the extremes of over-extending (pointing) or over-contracting (gripping in the palm).  Follow the basic rules of guitar technique, and avoid the common mistakes.

Build Strength and Control

As we progress on guitar, we’ll naturally gain more control of the little finger. As we develop the other fingers, the pinky “overhears” some of the lessons.

But we can also build strength and control with intention. We can do this through rasgueado exercises, off-guitar exercises, or by playing using the little finger in place of another.

Less is More

Over time, a small amount of attention to the pinky can yield noticeable results.

We should spend most of our attention on more directly beneficial practice, such as scales or maintaining repertoire. But a few quick reminders to release excess tension in the pinky can help our hands to work better.

Gentle instructions to release, plus an awareness of tension levels can help us gain independence with the little finger. Over time, we discover how to use this finger more effectively, and build the habits that allow the other fingers to move more freely.

allen mathews classical guitar

About Allen Mathews

Allen Mathews learned guitar as an adult, and has been a full-time guitar teacher for almost two decades to students age 4 to 96.  He has taught classical guitar at Reed College and Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and has been a guest lecturer and clinician at schools and universities throughout the U.S.  Allen is often praised for his creative teaching abilities, and his dedication to helping adults learn classical guitar.  He has a popular Youtube Channel offering regular classical guitar tutorials, and has gained fans worldwide for his weekly emails and articles at ClassicalGuitarShed.com.

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