Is Your Fretting Hand Too Small To Play Guitar?

3 minutes read, by Tommaso Zillio

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guitar stretching

Are your hands too small (or too big) to play guitar? Do you think there are things that you cannot play or are much harder because of the size of your hands?

Well, you are not alone. "My fretting hand is too small" is one of the most common complaints of guitarists worldwide. Fairly common, but rarer, is the opposite complaint: "my hand is too big" (as in: "every time I try to fret a note I end up fretting the adjacent strings too).

The worst case scenario is the 'sausage fingers': short and thick fingers that combine both disadvantages. One of the best guitar player I know has these. His fingers are even shorter than mine... and guess? He can play chords that I can't play (yet) ;-)

Personally, my hands are on the small side too. Most of my students have larger hands than mine.

Is That Really A Problem?

A psychologist friend of mine told me once that there are top 3 complaints that people have about the their family of birth. Here they are:

  • I was the first/only child
  • I was the last child
  • I was the middle child

In other words, everybody think they are in the worst possible situation :-)

The situation with hand sizes for guitarists is exactly the same: people who have small hands complain about it, people who have large hands complain about it. I did the same when I started!

Let's face it, when you start playing (or every time you learn a new technique) things feel weird for a while. You have to 'convince' your hand to make movements that you are not familiar with. Like the first time you ride a bicycle or drive a car, it's going to take some time for you to get used to it.

It's very easy and completely natural to think: "my hand is too small" or "my fingers just don't bend this way". But as every practiced musician will tell you things get easier with practice and time. Things that are "impossible" today will become just "difficult" tomorrow, then "easy" the day after... until they become second nature.

Consider also that while people with big hands have the advantage or reach, people with short fingers have usually better leverage for bends/vibrato. Also, quite frankly, if you spend your life thinking at the advantages that other people have respect to you, you will never accomplish anything :-)

Focus on getting what you want with what you have.

But Isn't The Size Of Your Hands A Physical Thing You Can't Change?

Not really. With exercise and practice:

  1. Your hand will learn to stretch more. My left hand stretches (index-to-pinkie) half an inch more than my right hand does. That's enough to grab an extra fret when needed. Everybody can increase their flexibility with stretching, and thus increase their hand's finger span.

  2. Your hand will become stronger. Part of the problems you are experiencing right now is not that your hand is not large enough. The problem is that when your hand is extended your fingers are not strong enough to fret that note. This will change with exercise.

There is a catch, though. The above happens ONLY if you use the correct technique.

Ok, So How Do I Overcome My Short Fingers?

So what is the correct technique the short story is that you need to put your thumb BEHIND the neck, opposite your middle finger. Now, just reading this sentence will not help you of course: you need to see it done at the very least.

You can see an explanation of the correct technique in the video below. The explanation of the stretch starts at 4:00.

And then again, if the mountain does not come to the prophet, the prophet must go to the mountain. If really, really, REALLY your hands are too small and there is nothing you can do... as a final resource remember that there are guitars that are built with a short scale.

A Les Paul guitar (scale 24'' 3/4) would be more comfortable to small hands than a Fender Strat (scale 25'' 1/2). There are guitars with even shorter scales (24'' or even 23'') so do your research.

But before you do that, try the technique in the video above ;)

And now that you know how your hands can fret chords and scales that you could not play before, I suggest you take some time to learn your scales and modes on guitar properly.


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