Controlling that darn pinky....

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Hey folks

Been playing seriously for around twelve months now (but with about 3-4 months doing almost nothing between about Jul and Oct due to a big project at work) and I'm making reasonable progress in certain areas and not others. 

One thing that I feel is holding me back a lot is a lack of control over the pinky (well, finger independence in general but specifically the pinky). I'm sure this is normal but just wanted some advice. 

No matter what I do I cannot seem to get the pinky to behave like the other fingers. See below for what happens when I do the traditional 'spider' exercises - the pinky always wants to be at a 90 degree angle to the ring finger and goes completely against the angle of the other fingers. 

https://s29.postimg.org/if31zbgqf/IMG_1151.jpg

Im doing daily dexterity/independence exercises and I think certain areas are improving but don't feel like I'm making progress with this. 

On the subject of the pinky, I'm also having real trouble separating the pinky from the ring finger. The pinky just always wants to 'stick' to the ring finger. For example if I'm fretting a chord with the index, middle and ring on adjacent frets (say frets 5, 6 and 7 on the B, G and D string and then I tried to hammer on with the pinky to fret 8 on the D, it would naturally want to come down on the same fret that the ring finger is occupying. 

Does anyone have anything in particular to recommend to try and improve this? I'm going to spend a couple of weeks doing pretty much nothing but dexterity exercises and see if I can make some progress. 

Cheers!
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  • octatonicoctatonic Frets: 13415
    edited December 2016
    Isolate the ring and pinky- try this exercise.

    Play any two notes on the 6th string using the ring and pinky on adjacent frets (like fret 5 and 6).
    Work on keeping the pinky no more than an inch off the fingerboard.
    Then skip a string and do it again, then another string.
    When you get to the first fret ascend or descend a fret and then descend the strings.

    So, like this:

    ----------------5676-----------------
    -------------56------76--------------
    ----------56------------76-----------
    -------56------------------76--------
    ----56------------------------76-----
    -56------------------------------76--

    Or this:

    ----------------5654-----------------
    -------------56------54--------------
    ----------56------------54-----------
    -------56------------------54--------
    ----56------------------------54-----
    -56------------------------------54--

    It is key that you don't let your pinky fly off the fingerboard.
    This exercises needs to be played slowly- don't rush, you almost cannot play it too slowly to begin with.

    Then try it with fingers 1&4, 2&4 (obviously you wouldn't be doing this on adjacent frets- keep with 1 finger per fret for now, so if your pinky is on the 5th fret then index finger will be on the 2nd, middle on the 3rd, ring on the 4th.
    "Man walks down the street in a hat like that, you know he's not afraid of anything ... "
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  • Thanks man that's great, exactly the sort of thing I was after. Will give this a bash!
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  • octatonicoctatonic Frets: 13415
    You don't have to overdo this.
    A few minutes a day for a month and it should sort you out.
    "Man walks down the street in a hat like that, you know he's not afraid of anything ... "
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  • Cheers mate! I've resolved that for the next few weeks I'm going to spend the vast majority of my time doing exercises like this rather than just bashing out the same few riffs (badly) that is my normal 'practice' !
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  • PS should I be making a conscious effort to get the pinky rolled round more so the angle is at least a bit more akin to that of the first three fingers - or is it quite normal to take a different path? 

    I tend to get quite tense and that can cause me some hand pain on occasion so I'm conscious of not 'forcing' too much that feels unnatural for fear of causing an injury but if it's something I need to address then I need to get on it....
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  • octatonicoctatonic Frets: 13415
    If your thumb is in the right place- behind the neck, not hanging over the fingerboard, then it shouldn't be an issue.
    "Man walks down the street in a hat like that, you know he's not afraid of anything ... "
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  • I do play a lot with the thumb over and often fret the low e with the thumb. But when I'm doing scales/spider exercises etc I always try and keep the thumb round the back 
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  • steamabacussteamabacus Frets: 820
    edited December 2016
    Looking at your photo, if that's indicative of your normal playing posture (ie not twisting in order to get in shot) I would say you should look more closely at the angle of your wrist.

    Removing the guitar from the equation for a moment, hold out your left arm in front of you (palm facing up, fingers relaxed) at about a 45 degree angle from centre. Don't stretch, keep all you muscles relaxed and bend your left arm and touch your left shoulder, dropping your elbow as you bend. Keep some 'air' under your armpit (rather than clamping the elbow to your body).

    That should be pretty effortless and will give you an indication of the natural relationship between the joints and muscles that will most effectively allow you to apply force down the arm and out through the fingers.

    If you unbend your arm again slightly and imagine a guitar neck perpendicular to your hand/fingers, that would be the ideal angle at which to fret the neck. Obviously, that would put the body of the guitar way out in front of your body and you will need to adjust things - try to keep some air under the armpit and rotate at the elbow rather than twisting too much at the wrist. Try to keep the elbow below the wrist and have the guitar neck angled upwards slightly in order to meet the natural position of the palm of the hand.

    I hope that description makes some sense. I would say the single biggest issue I see in inexperienced players (and many experienced players as well) is having the elbow 'clamped' down against the body leading to the wrist being twisted to compensate. When focusing on the fingers it is all too easy to forget about the rest of the arm but it's all connected up.
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  • octatonicoctatonic Frets: 13415
    I bring my thumb over to bend string and then put it back when playing legato/alternate/economy picking runs.
    I reckon it is the best way.
    "Man walks down the street in a hat like that, you know he's not afraid of anything ... "
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  • octatonicoctatonic Frets: 13415
    edited December 2016
    Oh, and I can't see your picture btw- it comes up with a question mark, so I replied only to your text.
    "Man walks down the street in a hat like that, you know he's not afraid of anything ... "
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  • ChrisMusicChrisMusic Frets: 904
    edited December 2016
    Looking at your picture, I would take care about how much flexure you put into your wrist, straighter is better IMO.  There looks like too much tension in your thumb, which will cause discomfort, so learn over time to put *just enough* pressure on the strings to play, but no more than needed.  Comes with practice, and a little concentration and awareness.

    It also looks like, as steamabacus alluded to above, that you are rotating your hand position which is changing the angle of your first three fingers from perpendicular to the fretboard to quite an acute angle, which will put more strain on the joints.  A lot of blues players seem to have similar finger angles, but it is probably more efficient to form more of a straight line between fingers and thumb, with the neck in between (obviously).

    And in answer to the pinky, yes mine works at a different angle too, although not as severe as yours.  Both the thumb and the pinky function as opposing digits, which is why there is significant muscle mass on either side of your hand.  The pinky is not "god's little joke" as some have mooted, it is actually a very useful and effective finger.  It just takes a bit of discipline and a lot of practice to get it under control.  It is rarely used for anything fine in everyday 21st century life, but it is actually more adept than the ring finger IMHO.

    Many guitarists can't be arsed to put the effort in, so good on you for making the effort, it will pay off in time.

    I would also suggest watching this 1 hour BBC program on the incredible human hand, it will give you a much better understanding of the mechanics involved, and how to protect what is arguably your number one asset as a musician (well after your brain and your ear, I guess)

    http://thefretboard.co.uk/discussion/28437/dissected-the-incredible-human-hand

    edits: to defeat the damn auto-correct (oxymoronic thing that it is!)

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  • vizviz Frets: 3766
    octatonic said:
    Isolate the ring and pinky- try this exercise.

    Play any two notes on the 6th string using the ring and pinky on adjacent frets (like fret 5 and 6).
    Work on keeping the pinky no more than an inch off the fingerboard.
    Then skip a string and do it again, then another string.
    When you get to the first fret ascend or descend a fret and then descend the strings.

    So, like this:

    ----------------5676-----------------
    -------------56------76--------------
    ----------56------------76-----------
    -------56------------------76--------
    ----56------------------------76-----
    -56------------------------------76--

    Or this:

    ----------------5654-----------------
    -------------56------54--------------
    ----------56------------54-----------
    -------56------------------54--------
    ----56------------------------54-----
    -56------------------------------54--

    It is key that you don't let your pinky fly off the fingerboard.
    This exercises needs to be played slowly- don't rush, you almost cannot play it too slowly to begin with.

    Then try it with fingers 1&4, 2&4 (obviously you wouldn't be doing this on adjacent frets- keep with 1 finger per fret for now, so if your pinky is on the 5th fret then index finger will be on the 2nd, middle on the 3rd, ring on the 4th.
    Yes, and play this fingering on sequential frets:
    1234
    2341
    3412
    4123

    then try

    1432
    4321
    3214
    2143

    then try 

    1324
    3241
    2413
    4132

    then find the other 3 sets. Practice them all till you can do any sequence at lightning speed. Then your fingers will be truly independent. 
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  • octatonicoctatonic Frets: 13415
    +1 to @viz.
    Also ascending up and down one string with the various 1234 combinations, sliding up one fret at a time- then two frets at a time etc.
    "Man walks down the street in a hat like that, you know he's not afraid of anything ... "
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  • FuengiFuengi Frets: 77
    I broke my left hand boxing when I was 19 and have a lump of calcium between 2nd knuckle and wrist as a result.

    The little finger will not go on straight. But I can still fret a chord fine, there is just an unholy space between 3rd and 4th finger at the first knuckle. 

    I practiced playing the Heart of Lothian riff over and over - it's circular - until I could play without looking. 

    Like most guitar playing issues they are a pain to practice, but disappear if you stick at it. 
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  • BRISTOL86BRISTOL86 Frets: 307
    edited December 2016
    Thanks for the input guys! Will have a proper digest of it tomorrow when I'm less tired!

    As a further complication I have some hyper mobility in my fingers which makes me second guess everything - i.e. is that normal for a relative beginner or am I finding XYZ especially challenging because of it. It can be a blessing in some ways (ie very easy to play an A chord with one finger whilst clearing the high E - see below!) but a bit of a hindrance in others as getting those fingers under control seems a lot more challenging for me than others. 

    https://s30.postimg.org/vs1qgtbc1/IMG_1152.jpg
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  • Just looking at your first picture there seems to be a lot of extreme angles going on. I'm not even sure I could replicate that if I tried. I too had to work at my fretting hand angle and find a happy medium.
    When playing a simple 3 note per string scale, the hand and fingers have to be more parallel to the frets to reach the lower notes. When going up the scale crossing from the D to the G and on up to the top strings a gradual transition occurs so that the hand angle turns slightly, giving the fingers more like a 45 degree angle. When you want to bend a note or add vibrato then, the hand has somewhere to turn.
    With regards to the bending the tip of your finger back as in the last picture, it will be handy as you have said for chords, but I'd always try to have it the other way for anything else.
    Ultimately playing should be as comfortable as possible. Any extreme angles or unnecessary pressure on your joints is going to cause you grief you don't need.
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  • Just looking at your first picture there seems to be a lot of extreme angles going on. I'm not even sure I could replicate that if I tried. I too had to work at my fretting hand angle and find a happy medium.
    When playing a simple 3 note per string scale, the hand and fingers have to be more parallel to the frets to reach the lower notes. When going up the scale crossing from the D to the G and on up to the top strings a gradual transition occurs so that the hand angle turns slightly, giving the fingers more like a 45 degree angle. When you want to bend a note or add vibrato then, the hand has somewhere to turn.
    With regards to the bending the tip of your finger back as in the last picture, it will be handy as you have said for chords, but I'd always try to have it the other way for anything else.
    Ultimately playing should be as comfortable as possible. Any extreme angles or unnecessary pressure on your joints is going to cause you grief you don't need.
    That's the trouble though - I have no choice about that! My joints extend beyond the normal
    range, which is why I said it's more curse than blessing. 

    Where normal peoples joints stop bending under pressure, mine continue beyond. It certainly creates more problems in terms of getting fingers and joints under control!
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  • Mine do it too although not quite as much as yours.
    If we consider the bend in your last photo as a negative one. Try to make sure your finger has a positive bend before you place it. When you apply pressure then, the joint will be in the positive position (like your first pic).
    Of course use the negative bend where it enables you to play chords easier.
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  • Makes sense. I think a lot of the issues I face will
    improve when I get that dexterity and independence licked. 

    I've spent a few months just generally dicking around and playing what I feel like but have never had a religious practice routine.

    I think I'll see some real improvement now that I have got into the mindset of disciplined practice. 
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  • BRISTOL86 said:
    Just looking at your first picture there seems to be a lot of extreme angles going on. I'm not even sure I could replicate that if I tried. I too had to work at my fretting hand angle and find a happy medium.
    When playing a simple 3 note per string scale, the hand and fingers have to be more parallel to the frets to reach the lower notes. When going up the scale crossing from the D to the G and on up to the top strings a gradual transition occurs so that the hand angle turns slightly, giving the fingers more like a 45 degree angle. When you want to bend a note or add vibrato then, the hand has somewhere to turn.
    With regards to the bending the tip of your finger back as in the last picture, it will be handy as you have said for chords, but I'd always try to have it the other way for anything else.
    Ultimately playing should be as comfortable as possible. Any extreme angles or unnecessary pressure on your joints is going to cause you grief you don't need.
    That's the trouble though - I have no choice about that! My joints extend beyond the normal
    range, which is why I said it's more curse than blessing. 

    Where normal peoples joints stop bending under pressure, mine continue beyond. It certainly creates more problems in terms of getting fingers and joints under control!
    I think you may be overthinking this. I've never heard of this condition but I can replicate the bend in your index finger shown in that last photo quite easily. Maybe you do have complications to playing I'm unaware of but I will say it's very common when beginning to play the guitar to think "but my fingers just won't do that". I thought something similar myself when I first began playing. It is also very common to apply too much pressure when fretting until you become more experienced with the instrument - indeed, most people retain substantial 'bad habits' that limit what they are able to play (we all find our own level of how much 'proper technique' we need to articulate what we need to say on the guitar).

    Keith Richards manages to play the guitar with gnarley old arthritic fingers, Dolly Parton could accompany herself on guitar with long painted fingernails. Django Reinhardt became a virtuoso trailblazer with only two good fingers and two semi paralysed after a fire. I've even seen someone playing slide guitar with their feet!


    Playing the guitar seems difficult at first but so is walking upright when we're very young and very few of us don't manage to learn that. Perserverence is the key.

    One thing to bear in mind is that the setup on your guitar can make the difference between something being easy to play or impossible to play. Has your guitar been set up by a professional? If not, I would strongly recommend investing a few quid towards that. You may be surprised at the difference it makes.
                                                                                                                     My 'Guitar diaries' on BandCamp
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  • ElectroDanElectroDan Frets: 542
    edited December 2016
    Many top players avoid their Pinky fingers when they can. Marty Friedman and SRV don't/didn't use theirs so much.
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  • BRISTOL86BRISTOL86 Frets: 307
    edited December 2016
    BRISTOL86 said:
    Just looking at your first picture there seems to be a lot of extreme angles going on. I'm not even sure I could replicate that if I tried. I too had to work at my fretting hand angle and find a happy medium.
    When playing a simple 3 note per string scale, the hand and fingers have to be more parallel to the frets to reach the lower notes. When going up the scale crossing from the D to the G and on up to the top strings a gradual transition occurs so that the hand angle turns slightly, giving the fingers more like a 45 degree angle. When you want to bend a note or add vibrato then, the hand has somewhere to turn.
    With regards to the bending the tip of your finger back as in the last picture, it will be handy as you have said for chords, but I'd always try to have it the other way for anything else.
    Ultimately playing should be as comfortable as possible. Any extreme angles or unnecessary pressure on your joints is going to cause you grief you don't need.
    That's the trouble though - I have no choice about that! My joints extend beyond the normal
    range, which is why I said it's more curse than blessing. 

    Where normal peoples joints stop bending under pressure, mine continue beyond. It certainly creates more problems in terms of getting fingers and joints under control!
    I think you may be overthinking this. I've never heard of this condition but I can replicate the bend in your index finger shown in that last photo quite easily. Maybe you do have complications to playing I'm unaware of but I will say it's very common when beginning to play the guitar to think "but my fingers just won't do that". I thought something similar myself when I first began playing. It is also very common to apply too much pressure when fretting until you become more experienced with the instrument - indeed, most people retain substantial 'bad habits' that limit what they are able to play (we all find our own level of how much 'proper technique' we need to articulate what we need to say on the guitar).

    Keith Richards manages to play the guitar with gnarley old arthritic fingers, Dolly Parton could accompany herself on guitar with long painted fingernails. Django Reinhardt became a virtuoso trailblazer with only two good fingers and two semi paralysed after a fire. I've even seen someone playing slide guitar with their feet!


    Playing the guitar seems difficult at first but so is walking upright when we're very young and very few of us don't manage to learn that. Perserverence is the key.

    One thing to bear in mind is that the setup on your guitar can make the difference between something being easy to play or impossible to play. Has your guitar been set up by a professional? If not, I would strongly recommend investing a few quid towards that. You may be surprised at the difference it makes.
    Oh don't get me wrong, I'm not looking for an an easy cop out/excuse not to put the effort in. I've never been more determined to accomplish something than I am to get to where I want to be with the guitar. It's something I see very much as a marathon/life endeavour and I'm not someone who expects to instantly be amazing!

    But I definitely have weird hands....an unusual amount of joint movement - it's something people have commented on my whole life, including a guitar tutor I saw for a while!

    Yes I have had a proper setup so there's no issues there  

    No excuses other than more practice required!

    As someone who is very lucky to get half an hour per day to invest, it's easy to fall into the trap of not really practicing in a disciplined way - after a long day at work you just want to pick it up and make noises that don't make your ears bleed (ie playing that same old riff you've played 500 times) but I think now it's even more important to use that time a lot more wisely and use it for disciplined practice such as these dexterity things. 
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  • xAlnicoxAlnico Frets: 2815
    edited December 2016
    Whenever you're idle, at work, on the bus, wherever, tap out rhythms using the four fingers on your left hand. Use a 6" Ruler to tap against for some familiarity, stretch rubber bands along it if you need to, to mimic strings,..............or use string !

    If you have music on headphones or radio, great tap along to that. If not, listen to a song to death and burn it into your head, then tap that rhythm out as many times as you can remember to every day.

    The problem isn't getting your little finger to be accurate, it's getting it to move at all. It's not used to it.
    Every time your brain says go, the little finger's reaction is something like 

    "What? Me? Are you sure? Oh, well ok,........ let me just put what i was doing down and get my shoes on !"

    The more active the finger is daily, the more likely it is to reach the notes in time when you need it to.
    Accuracy will improve dramatically with finger strength and regular activity.
    'Alnico-Fu' 
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  • Alnico said:
    Whenever you're idle, at work, on the bus, wherever, tap out rhythms using the four fingers on your left hand. Use a 6" Ruler to tap against for some familiarity, stretch rubber bands along it if you need to, to mimic strings,..............or use string !

    If you have music on headphones or radio, great tap along to that. If not, listen to a song to death and burn it into your head, then tap that rhythm out as many times as you can remember to every day.

    The problem isn't getting your little finger to be accurate, it's getting it to move at all. It's not used to it.
    Every time your brain says go, the little finger's reaction is something like 

    "What? Me? Are you sure? Oh, well ok,........ let me just put what i was doing down and get my shoes on !"

    The more active the finger is daily, the more likely it is to reach the notes in time when you need it to.
    Accuracy will improve dramatically with finger strength and regular activity.
    Haha funnily enough that's exactly what I've been doing for the past two days while bored lifeless in work! :) 
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  • sweepysweepy Frets: 851
    The whole hand looks tense and "over gripped", i would try releasing the fretting pressure until it stops fretting cleanly, I think you'll be surprised just how much extra tension you are putting into your hand without realising it 
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  • BRISTOL86BRISTOL86 Frets: 307
    edited December 2016
    sweepy said:
    The whole hand looks tense and "over gripped", i would try releasing the fretting pressure until it stops fretting cleanly, I think you'll be surprised just how much extra tension you are putting into your hand without realising it 
    Yeah that's something I'm very aware of and get under control. I've even found myself on occasion gritting my teeth! 

    I think im making progress on developing a lighter touch but it's taking time to get from an concept in the head ("I know I shouldn't be gripping so hard") into the fingers! 
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  • sweepysweepy Frets: 851
    It's easy to do, I think it's a memory thing from when we all were learning to hold those pesky chords down ;)
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  • GrunfeldGrunfeld Frets: 1806
    BRISTOL86 said:

    One thing that I feel is holding me back a lot is a lack of control over the pinky (well, finger independence in general but specifically the pinky). I'm sure this is normal but just wanted some advice. 

    @BRISTOL86 ; I had the same issue for years and spent a lot of time on it then one day the penny dropped*:  it didn't matter.  A couple of people have mentioned this already but that's my +1.
    Since I stopped trying to get my small finger to behave as I thought it ought to and just played as felt easier for me then everything has just been less stressful and nicer.


    * I was watching a video of Michael Schenker and noticed he barely uses his small finger and I realised he wasn't stressing about it, sounded great, and that you just play the way which feels easy.
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