frustrated beginner; are guitars designed for men?
I've been playing guitar for roughly six months in total. I bought it less than year ago, worked on it for maybe two months, put it down for about six months, and took it up again in late February. Since then, I've been practicing obsessively (often hours every day). I love it. It's a beautiful instrument, and I've been reading everything I can get my hands on about guitar and music theory, songwriting, different musical genres, etc.
But here's my problem. In the last few days/weeks, I've become massively frustrated at my seeming inability to make any more progress beyond what I can already do. I have this fear that my stagnation is because my hands are too small. There are certain things I can't do, or I can barely do, or I do badly (e.g., it's extremely difficult to play the G chord with the alternate fingering--the one most sources recommend, using your pinky on the high E string--and I almost always end up muting the A string). That, and I can't switch chords very well. And one finger per fret? My pinky doesn't cooperate with that plan. I can't reach from the first fret to the fourth fret across strings with my index finger and pinky. I've made progress on a lot of things, and I thought I was getting somewhere, but I've become discouraged by the idea that if I can't do a simple thing like play a G chord without readjusting my fingers so I get them in the exact position where the strings ring out clearly, how the bleep can I learn anything harder than that? It probably doesn't help that everywhere I look I see men playing guitar. Every instructional DVD I've seen has men teaching. My guitar teacher, while being a very nice guy, is a guy, and there aren't a heck of a lot of female guitar teachers out there, and the two that I know of in town don't intrigue me musically. Most bands consist of men. Women, if they're in a band at all, are often vocalists only. I know, I know, there are lots of great female musicians and even great all-female bands, but I have to work pretty hard to find them, and most of the material geared toward beginners seems devoid of women.
I guess I need some inspiration. Can my hands adjust? How? What am I doing wrong? Someone please reassure me that women can be good guitarists and that the deck isn't stacked against me. Or if it is, how do I cope with that?
You know... there are guys that have small hands too.
My instructor is a woman... and she is without exaggeration, one the best guitar players I have ever had the pleasure of hearing play.
The same questions come up all the time in regards to big stubby fingers (like mine), or people saying that their fingers are too short or weak to make barre chords.
I could list off a ton of amazing female guitarists... but I am not going to bother. It doesn't have anything to do with that. There is no conspiracy or sexism in the design of a guitar.
It is all technique and practice. It will come with time, just as it did for me. With my short and fat fingers, I didn't think I could ever do a proper barre chord or open A chord without muting strings... but now I can. There are different guitars that could help you though. Smaller, thinner fretboards, etc. Just like there are wider neck guitars (ie. Seagull) that are good for people like me.
Keep at it and you will eventually be able to do it.
If you have any doubt that small hands can play a guitar, just search for Sungha Jung" on YouTube and look at his videos from a couple of years ago when he was 8 or 9 years old. If he can do it... anyone can.
I have this fear that my stagnation is because my hands are too small.
No such thing, Windy. Just keep pickin' at it. It'll come.
Playing guitar and never playing for others is like studying medicine and never working in a clinic.
I once went to an all girls college to play in an open mic competition sort of thing.
When I came back, I was thinking that maybe guitars are designed for women!
Well, all instruments can be played by anyone. Even cats can play guitars. Some do better than me.
Keep hanging there. For another set of lessons that may help a beginner look here - http://guitar.about.com/library/blguitarlessonarchive.htm . I keep recommending them to eveyone here.
Good Luck! :D
There are a couple of other things to think about - first off, what kind of guitar do you play? Can you sit correctly (and comfortably?) with it? Many women have trouble holding "dreadnaught" style acoustic guitars - the guitar's body is a bit bulky and it's hard to get comfortable with it. You might want to borrow a "folk" body, which is more the size and shape of a classical guitar ("parlor" and "auditorium" styles are worth trying out, too).
There are companys, like Luna, that build guitars for women specifically. It is a marketing plan but Luna does make some very good instruments. And more and more big guitar companies are realizing that not everyone wants a dreadnaught so you can find different sized guitars if you look for them.
Second - try to work through one of the big "beginner obstacles" as soon as you can, and that's the need to look at what you're doing with your fretting hand. Finger and hand size are not the problems when you're holding the guitar correctly. Remember that you want to get the fingertips to sit on the strings. Two main things keep players from doing so:
Many people starting out will tip the body and neck of the guitar slightly (and sometimes more than slightly) upward. This pulls the fingers down and away from the strings and makes it harder to get notes on the low strings as well as mutes notes on the higher strings.
The other thing that hurts good finger position is letting the thumb dictate where the fingers go. When you wrap your thumb over the top of the guitar neck, that's also pulling the fingers down and keeping them from being on their tips.
A good way to check for either of these faults is to see if you can feel the low edge of the neck (the edge closest to the floor) along the palm of your hand. If you can, then you're gripping tighter than you want to and you're not getting your fingers up on their tips.
It's difficult for beginners and understandably so because you want to see wherre your fingers are going. But once you have them in close to the right position, try to sit with your guitar straight so it sits parallel to your spine (and you should be sitting straight, too!).
And most people take a good while before getting all their chords cleanly. As everyone's mentioned, it's a lot of practice. Don't let that discourage you. But the next time you're in a music store, check out different guitars and see if any of them are easier to play.
Hope this helps and keep at it!
Since everyone else has supplied the best advice and I can't really add to it. I'll post some inspiration for you.
Jennifer Just one of the many cool lessons that she has on youtube.
Orianthi No if ands or buts the lady can play.
I believe Noteboat just posted a link to one of his female students who had entered a contest and last I looked she was right at the top.
And as everyone already said. Just keep at it. It will come.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -- "WOW--What a Ride!"
Hands can not be too small unless you are smaller than a 10 year old? That's a serious comment, not an insult. But guitars can be found to fit, even if you are small. I think that your hands will adjust however. And you're trying hard and sticking with it. I know what you mean about the G chord - it is open and wide, and you have to spread some, while keeping fingers closest to 90 degrees as possible to the fretboard, so that they are not interfering with another string.
I have sold or transferred many of my guitars to beginners, and always insist that the action is optimal, and that the strings are easy to press down upon, without pain, and buzzing etc. I provide that - guitars that almost play themselves.
I'm pretty sure, if not positive, that it just takes more practice and physical conditioning/co-ordination. I see girls play, and also many kids of both genders on youtube.
I was at a High School Idol contest recently where the girls outnumbered guys 10 to 1, and they played the guitar, yes.
And they naturally won! 8)
Here is a 8 - 9 year old, with pics very minimized. Anyhow there's positives and negatives here that you will overcome with focus or technique. In the first pic, she's just smashing the E chord flat, while her face doesn't show effort. As luck would have it, that won't effect the sound of that chord. And also on the plus side, she has a thumb over with lots of room, and a freed-up pinky, to do stuff, if she knew how? It was accidental, she tends to assume a violin finger posture, as on the Ricky 12. But, I think that younger female fingers can be of sufficient size. Get your hand well over, around and on top of the neck; last is a fat wide Ricky 6. You're gonna own that neck and show it how! The posture or bending of fingers is correct IMO but she can't make a chord with the instrument vertical, now her hands think she is playing a cello?
Like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.
Since some people are posting links... I will throw this one out there.
She is a very talented girl that I bet we will be seeing more of in the future - at the very least on YouTube.
Yep... my student is still at the top of the contest - she's sk8ergurl: http://www.youtube.com/group/mayhemguitar2010
One of the guitar teachers at my school is female, and probably just over half our guitar students are. In the time I've been teaching (32 years) I've seen the number of female guitarists steadily rise. There are easily 10 times the number of female guitarists there were in the 70s.
If you've got the right size instrument, then it's just a matter of getting the right technique - how you hold the guitar - practicing effectively, and developing confidence. I've got a couple of 8 year old female students right now who would blow your mind with what they can do.
I wouldn't worry about the gender issue so much. If your instrument is an appropriate size for you, you can learn to play it... there are plenty of guys out there with small hands too - I'm one of them. And my student in the video has even smaller hands than I do - she's just 14 or 15, with a very small build... but she's able to do the extended reaches you see, and she's doing them on a long scale guitar. And as her technique improves, she'll get even more reach - she's got a way to go before she reaches a physical limit.
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OK. Thanks so much to everyone. Lots of good ideas and inspiration. Just the idea that I can play around with how I hold the guitar and how I sit helps immensely. I've been doing that already, but I guess I need to try harder. I do have a dreadnought-style acoustic guitar, so maybe I should try other guitars. I've been really tempted to buy a classical guitar lately, just because I like classical music, but that seems like it would open up a whole new can of worms in terms of difficulty. In fact, I made the mistake recently of watching an instructional video with the classical guitarist William Kanengiser, and after watching him play I figured I might as well hang up the guitar. :) And I've also toyed with getting an electric guitar. The smaller body size seems like it would make it easier to hold, and the lighter touch on the strings might make playing chords easier.
Sometimes you just need to know something is possible before you figure out a way to do it.
You know you can always dabble in slide guitar even if you have small fingers. Its fun! 8)
...and remember.... there is no reason you can't play classical music on a steel string acoustic guitar.... you don't *need* a nylon string classical.
Mighty Windy Gurl - a few thoughts that might help:
Because I teach a lot of youngsters, I often get students with an inappropriate size guitar. You need to pay attention to four things for guitar size:
1. Scale length. If you cannot reach the sixth string, first fret, without fully extending your arm, the scale length is too long. Full size guitars are generally 24.75" (for Gibson style electrics), 25.4" (for most acoustics), 25.5" (for Fender style electrics), and 25.6" (for 650mm classical guitars). Other full-size lengths do exist, but those are the most common ones. "3/4 size" guitars are usually 22-24", and "1/2 size" guitars are 20-22".
2. Body depth. This varies a lot, from under 2" for many solid-body electrics to almost 6" for some jumbo acoustics. You need to be able to get your picking hand comfortably in front of the soundhole or pickups. If your picking elbow is close to shoulder height, it's too deep.
3. Bout and waist width. Your picking arm will rest on the lower bout in 'casual' playing position, and on the slightly narrower part where the bout is transitioning to the waist in 'classical' playing position. If you can't get your hand comfortably in front of the soundhole unless you're reaching through the waist, the bouts are too big. Classical guitars and 'auditorium' or 'parlor' size steel string acoustics have smaller bouts than dreadnaughts or jumbos.
4. Neck width. Full size steel strings are usually 1-11/16" wide at the nut; classical guitars run about 2-3/8". You need to be able to fret the sixth string without touching the palm of your hand to the neck.
Playing position: here you've got more control - guitars are made in a few sizes, but people come in lots more variations. To be most comfortable playing for long periods of time, you want your fretting arm to be pretty straight from the knuckles at the top of your palm to the elbow. Many beginners bend at the wrist, and that puts more strain on the smaller muscles of your hand and fingers - if your wrist is straight, the bigger muscles of the forearm take up a chunk of the work.
Remember that the guitar is a three dimensional object, so you can adjust your position in three different directions - since I can't demonstrate in text, let's call them pitch, yaw, and roll.
You change the pitch by raising the peghead. As it gets closer to your shoulder, your fingers will be more parallel to the frets... which gives you maximum reach. If the peghead is too low, your fingers will come from 'above' the frets (from the peghead side). Look at pictures of people playing classical guitar - the position is designed to line up the fingers with the frets, which is how they best cope with the wider neck.
Yaw is how far away from your body the neck is. If you push your fretting hand away from you without changing the pitch angle, you're changing the yaw. Holding the neck too close to your body puts more stress on your fingers; holding it too far out makes it difficult to have your fingertips go straight down - perpendicular to the plane of the strings.
Roll is the angle of the guitar's face. Most beginners tip the guitar so the upper edge is much closer to their body than the lower edge - that makes it easier to see if your fingers are in the right place, but it forces your fretting hand wrist to bend. The best position is pretty close to vertical - the exact degree depends on how you're built.
If you have a guitar strap, I'd mess around with playing position while you're standing. Once you find a position where your wrist is pretty straight, and your fingers are coming down perpendicular to the fretboard, hold that position... and slowly sit down. If the position of the guitar changed while you sat, figure out why...
If the entire guitar rose, it was caused by one of two things: either the lower bout hit the chair, changing the pitch... or your leg forced the whole thing to move up in relation to your body. If the pitch changed, do it again - but sit at the side of the chair, so the lower bout hangs out over the seat. if the whole thing moved, shorten your strap and try the whole procedure again.
One more thought - there's a difference between musicianship and showmanship. Many musicians wear their guitars far too low for visual reasons, not musical ones. I'll often demonstrate to beginners how they handle this on stage - they'll sometimes come to the front of the stage and put one foot on a monitor when they have to play something technically demanding. That looks cool... but it also puts the guitar a lot closer to the proper position. So if you find a good playing position, but you think you're holding the guitar too high, don't worry about it. Get your playing chops down FIRST, then worry about how you can adapt for the image you want.
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This morning I was enjoying a video of the 1982 Allman Brothers playing "Statesboro Blues" and noticed how Dicky Betts was holding his guitar in the "geeky" position, strapped high over his belly with the neck angled way up. (He was also looking at what he was doing with the slide on the fretboard, but it didn't seem to hinder him any.)
"A cheerful heart is good medicine."
Everyone is in such a rush to be perfect or instantly transformed into this or that.
It takes time......& that is something you'll have to be patient with.