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Odd Physical Limitations


(@hanging-chord)
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Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 87
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I've been hacking at the guitar for about a month now (never touched a guitar before that). I found it a bit odd that some chords beginners find difficult (short-barre F), I was sorta OK with, while other "easy" chords (G) give me fits. The other day I saw a post with a tab that included a chord with a 7/12 fret fingering, and I about fell out of my chair. "That's physically impossible" I thought. And indeed it is; the maximum stretch I can achieve is about 2.5 frets near the neck. I can barely finger the lower (weak) part of the 4th fret (F#) if my index is fingering right on the 1st fret on the 3rd string (G#). If I move my index to the 2nd string (C), my pinky gets pulled off. If I use my other hand to "force" the pinky wide, it snaps back as soon as I let go.

As a result, I've grown to hate F# (and the C# and G# on strings 5/6), because I have to move my hand up the neck to finger it, and this almost always causes me to pause, misfinger the subsequent note, and/or lose hand position on the neck.

Then I saw my wife make this fingering without too much problem (on a classical guitar, no less). In trying to figure out why this was so hard for me, I discovered something that I'd never really noticed before: when I curl my pinky in to touch my palm, it curls way in towards the thumb. In fact it touches the palm well inside the base/fleshy part of the thumb, and it's impossible for me to touch my palm on the pinky half of the hand (my wife has no problem doing this).

In other words, it seems that my issues with some chords may not be a matter of too little experience/practice, but a physical limitation of my hand.

A (possibly related) phyiscal oddity is that my pinky and ring finger cannot operate independently to any degree. When I perform that palm-touching exercise with my pinky, my ring finger curls down almost as far, and I can't keep it from doing this. I've noticed that sometimes where my pinky fingers a note in a chord but my ring does not, the string below the pinky is at least slightly muted by the ring finger.

For the G chord, I've taken to using the knuckle of my ring finger to hit the 1 string, which is the only workaround I can find. Someone suggested a 234 fingering for that chord, but that's obviously impossible for me (can't spread my ring and pinky fingers that far apart).

So...I'm wondering just how much this (genetic?) condition is going to limit my growth as a guitar player, and if anyone has any suggestions for workarounds or techniques to overcome this?


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(@welchsboy)
Active Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 16
 

Can you post a picture of your hand doing this or something? When I try touching my pinky to my palm my ring finger also curls in the same way, but I have no problems doing a 5-fret stretch, and my hands are smaller than the average guitar player.

Where do you put your thumb while playing? It sounds like you might be holding your thumb in the wrong place. If you lower your thumb towards the floor (to around the fattest part of the neck) it opens up your hand and lets you reach your pinky out farther, the piece of flesh between your thunmb and index should not be touching the neck in any way. if you anchor your thumb on top of the neck then it limits how far you can stretch, 2.5-3 frets is about how far I can reach also in the "rock" position.

Try searching the web/google for "classical guitar hand position" or something and see where they place the thumb


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 pab
(@pab)
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Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 103
 

increases in your stretching ability will happen over time (of course there is a limit to this but for someone just starting you should be able to see improvement with work).

improvements in your finger independence will improve as well with time and work. Scott Tennant has a book called pumping nylon that has exercises in the beginning to help with this. however, i'm not sure i would recommend it for an absolute beginner. it helped me. when i first started fingers would curl with each other and move with each other. to a much lesser extent, they still do. however, it is a major improvement from when i started.

pab


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(@jeffster1)
Estimable Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 231
 

Yes, it's probably your thumb. Pull your thumb back to right underneath the neck to allow your fingers to stretch. I have tiny hands and can pull off all chords, it's just practice. I remember feeling like it was impossible too. Want a great practice for stretching? Play the beatiful outro to Pantera's "Floods".

http://www.fretplay.com/tabs/p/pantera/floods_outro_solo-tab.shtml


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(@hanging-chord)
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Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 87
Topic starter  

I keep my thumb behind the neck, pointed toward the headstock or even more towards the other fingers. For some chords where I twist my hand outwards (supinate) to get the angle I need to finger the notes (such as the small-barre F), my thumb even pokes up below the neck a bit. It never comes over the neck unless I deliberately mute the 6 string with it.

Interesting to hear that the pinky-ring independence can improve over time. I figured if that was a nerve issue or something, it would be difficult to overcome, but sounds like that isn't the case.

I'll take a look at the Pantera segment. Any other suggestions for pieces that can work to counter these things?


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(@jeffster1)
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Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 231
 

A note, that pantera piece should be played with first, second, and pinky. I could not believe that I could physically play that at first. Mastering that greatly increased my finger range. If you can play that, you can reach anything believe me.


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(@wes-inman)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 5599
 

As was said, when you don't have reach, it is usually the position of the thumb. Try this, hook your thumb over the top of the neck and then play a note with your index finger. Now, while still fretting this note, see how far you can extend your pinky. I am willing to bet you can only reach about 2 frets up.

Now place your thumb behind the neck in the hitchhiking position (thumb in center of neck pointing toward the headstock). Now play that same note with your index and then stretch with the pinky. Now, you are just starting out, stretch develops over time, but I bet you can reach a fret or two higher now.

Also, look in the mirror and see if your wrist has lots of bend in it. You want your wrist to be as straight as possilbe. Lots of times a new player will angle the guitar so they can see their fingers and the fingerboard. This will cause your wrist to bend and will greatly decrease your reach. Now make sure the guitar is straight vertical (not angled up toward you). I bet you will notice your wrist is not as bent, and that you have more reach.

Playing the guitar too low will decrease your reach. Sure, it looks cool to have your guitar down at your knees like old Jimmy Page photos, or even Billy Joe Armstrong. But Page had long fingers, and Billy Joe rarely plays lead. Bring the guitar up some and you will see that you can reach further. Do not wear your guitar like this:

No, wear your guitar a little higher and make sure your wrist is straight like this photo of our very own David Hodge. :D

Your wrist should not look like this:

You do not have to have large hands to play guitar. My hands are not large at all and I can easily do the reach you wrote about. I was the one who posted that tab. Actually, that part you mentioned is super easy for me. But you have to have proper technique.

As for finger independence, this takes time and practice. In time your ring and pinky will be able to move independently from each other. Only much practice will bring this about.

If you know something better than Rock and Roll, I'd like to hear it - Jerry Lee Lewis


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(@chris-c)
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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 3460
 

Hi,

As others have said, many of us start with some sort of physical limitations, and some are harder to overcome than others. But with practice and work almost anything can be either improved, worked around or fixed. If you haven't already checked him out, Django Reinhardt was a gypsy style jazz guitarist of great speed and skill who is still revered today, many years after his death, yet he only had two properly working fingers on his left hand. The others had been badly injured and were next to useless. Whenever I start to feel that my hands aren't up to the job I take inspiration from Django.

Good luck with it all,

Chris


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(@mmoncur)
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Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 168
 

I think you'll be surprised what you can accomplish with time. If you had any sort of unusual physical limitation like that, you'd probably have noticed before you picked up the guitar.

I felt the same way right after I started playing. A fret 7-12 stretch seemed impossible. Now it's a year later and I can do 7-12 with no trouble, 1-5 with no trouble. It's been lots of work - my teacher has repeatedly given me "impossible" exercises to work on. The exercises I was working on a year ago seem very easy now, and I've moved on to "more impossible" things.

Also, everyone's different. I STILL have trouble with the "short barre" F chord, even though I can easily play a full F chord, or a C-shaped F at the 5th fret.

I've also learned to make my pinky and third finger move (mostly) independently.

Don't give up. Just find the hardest thing you can possibly do right now, and do it every day. If a 7-12 stretch is impossible, do an 8-12 or 9-12 every day until it's easy, then move on. You also might want to try a teacher if you haven't - someone who can actually watch what you're doing can give you better advice than we can.


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(@hanging-chord)
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Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 87
Topic starter  

I think you'll be surprised what you can accomplish with time. If you had any sort of unusual physical limitation like that, you'd probably have noticed before you picked up the guitar.

I'm not sure I've done anything before where this particular characteristic would have been a noticeable issue.
Also, look in the mirror and see if your wrist has lots of bend in it. You want your wrist to be as straight as possilbe. Lots of times a new player will angle the guitar so they can see their fingers and the fingerboard. This will cause your wrist to bend and will greatly decrease your reach. Now make sure the guitar is straight vertical (not angled up toward you). I bet you will notice your wrist is not as bent, and that you have more reach.

This could be a factor. While my thumb position is fine, and I keep the guitar fairly high on my abdomen, I do have a tendency to angle the guitar up so I can see what I'm doing when I'm trying to finger a new or difficult chord (or to see what I did wrong when I misfinger a chord). My wrist does tend to have some extra (sometimes painful) bend in it. I will try holding the guitar more vertically and see how much difference that makes.
Also, everyone's different. I STILL have trouble with the "short barre" F chord, even though I can easily play a full F chord, or a C-shaped F at the 5th fret.

I haven't been able to do a full barre by itself yet. Even when pressing down hard with my index, and at various angles and "twists", the 1 & 2 strings have room to move under my finger. I'm thinking this might have something to do with my bony fingers, such that when the first knuckle is as far against the fretboard as it can go (~ the third string), there simply isn't enough flesh between there and the base of my finger to hold the first 2 strings.

Yeah, I'm a phyiscal freak, as you may have gathered. I'm athletic, but very skinny (~4% body fat), and my fingers are probably the boniest you'd ever see. In profile, they widen at the phalangeal joints, and narrow in between. I think the only place that will have an impact is the full barre.

You'd think I'd have no problem muting adjacent strings accidentally, but so far that isn't the case. Doubtless that part will come with practice and more precise fingering. :?


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(@vic-lewis-vl)
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Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 10340
 

Hanging Chord, you may have a rival for the "boniest fingers" title....ME!

And while we're on the subject of physical limitations....a couple of years back, I had a nasty argument with a pane of glass. The glass won - I had a severed tendon in the back of my left (fretting) hand which meant I had to completely change the way I played guitar, just when I was getting somewhere.

You see how that middle finger's bent down? It stayed that way for a while - it took me months before I could play again, but I was utterly determined that nothing was going to stop me from (A) playing and (B) keeping up the rate of improvement I'd found since joining GN. I still have trouble playing barre chords - I can get away with a couple or so in a song, but more than that and I HAVE to play them as mini-barres with the thumb over the bass strings. You can also see from that pic that my little finger is disfigured - it's been broken so many times I've lost count, and now has a permanent kink (No, not Ray Davies!) in it.

What you have to do is work around the limitations - there are guitarists with hands half my size who have more stretch and can play a blues shuffle with no trouble whatsoever, which involves a five-fret stretch. What you have to do is experiment with chords and find the best fingering for you - there's no right and wrong, there's only "It works for me!"

There have been guitarists with severe physical disabilities - Django was mentioned, also Tony Iommi lost the tops of two fingers on his right (fretting) hand - there are other musicians with disabilities. The drummer with Def Leppard lost an arm - but with a lot of hard work, he learned how to play one-armed and let his feet do most of the work. People like that inspired me when I thought I'd never play again - but it's all about dedication, determination, and (in my case) sheer bloody-mindedness - someone says I'll never do something, I'll make it my life's work to prove them wrong. I'd spent too many years and too much money on guitars to never play again .

And there's more than one way to skin a cat - you can always buy a slide and tune to open G, or open D, or variations thereof....

I wish you luck - but you're going to have to work at it!

All the best....

:D :D :D

Vic

"Sometimes the beauty of music can help us all find strength to deal with all the curves life can throw us." (D. Hodge.)


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(@raistx)
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Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 78
 

Physical limitations??

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSnUwA6c67k&NR=1

I love this clip, very inspirational. I think learning the guitar has become a lot less frustrating since I saw this guy on Youtube.


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(@mmoncur)
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Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 168
 

Oh, one more thing --

Try moving your guitar to a different angle on your lap. Start with it parallel to your chest, like you probably already do, and then try rotating it to the right until it's almost perpendicular - imagine someone standing right in front of you and aim the guitar neck at them. Try a few positions in between these two extremes. I had lots of trouble until I discovered it was OK to have the guitar at a bit of an angle.


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(@ghost-rider)
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Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 274
 

Physical limitations??

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSnUwA6c67k&NR=1

I love this clip, very inspirational. I think learning the guitar has become a lot less frustrating since I saw this guy on Youtube.

This is inspirational. It's a shame that no one stopped to hear the song. I guess sometimes, people need a personal "invitation", or some kind of social proof. (i.e others stopping to listen) I wonder what would happen if the guitarist set up a couple chairs or stools in the front. It would be an interesting social experiment.

Check out this Jeff Healey (R.I.P 2008) video circa 1989. He was very young, would've been in his early twenties. I find Jeff Healey very inspirational, and really a testament to a lot of good guitar practice. I read somewhere that he thought of himself as a musicologist, who just happened to play guitar (!). Pretty phenomenal guitarist.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBBCJ68mC4c&feature=related

Ghost 8)

"Colour made the grass less green..." 3000 miles, Tracy Chapman


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(@sparky1ma)
Trusted Member
Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 54
 

Physical limitations??

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSnUwA6c67k&NR=1

I love this clip, very inspirational. I think learning the guitar has become a lot less frustrating since I saw this guy on Youtube.

That is incredible. I have trouble picking up my boxers off the floor with my feet let alone playing the guitar with them. Truely an inspirational guitar player.

Where am I going....and why am I in this hand basket?


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