Finger Length

OK, here's one to get the ball rolling. Does the length of your fretting fingers impact your playing ability? It always seems to me that the top players all have relatively long fingers and are therefore able to span more of the fret board at any one time and also make playing barre chords look a doddle. I have relatively short fingers and have always found barre chords a real pain so my natural inclination is to use the thumb to wrap over the E and A strings. Anyone have any opinions on this?


  • Ninja_RebornNinja_Reborn Posts: 124Member
    Do what works.

    Books and tutors will sometimes tell you not go thumb over the top - but if it works, do it. I tend to do it on some necks, but not others (notably my tele with vintage radius and less so on my strats with a 9 inch radius.)

  • MegiMegi Posts: 7,191Member
    Some top players don't/didn't have long fingers - Joe Pass is one that springs to mind. And some great players have used the thumb over the top, e.g. Barney Kessel - there are some chords that can't be got any other way, also certain things where the thumb holds a bass note while the other notes change. I guess if you have average or small hands, maybe it becomes more important to play with "proper" thumb at the back of the neck type technique when needed though.
  • Kevin PeatKevin Peat Posts: 3,203Member
    edited October 2017
    The thing with the barre is to use as little pressure as possible. There should be no hollows on the plucked strings and it can be formed as you are playing it - ie a downstroke of the pick must meet with a well fretted note but the base of the barre finger can be loose and only applied until played.

    I note that my barre finger actually pulses with the music.

    The barre doesn't always have to go on at once. With short fingers I'd roll it on to meet that downstroke as it progresses.

    A good learning technique is to play a really tight barre and then loosen it until you hear buzzing. It's amazing how light it can be.

    I suppose short stubby fingers don't matter on bass (less barring) and is why we say "Hey. You've got bass fingers !" when it's more accurately "Hey. You don't have guitar fingers !"

    "He's a great bassist, that Malcolm. Built for it !"


    "No. He's a really s*** guitarist, loves his kebabs and wants to play in a band so much that he'll take up the dog's body instrument to do it."
  • nicholaspaulnicholaspaul Posts: 989Member
    This chap never let his digital handicap hamper him -

  • Kevin PeatKevin Peat Posts: 3,203Member
    I don't expect he could ever have played Smoke on the Water, Nick. (Not that he would have wanted to)

    Apparently Django was very childlike and playful in person.
  • nicholaspaulnicholaspaul Posts: 989Member
    I think he was saved from certain tunes thanks to his affliction!

    Was he? That's good to hear. His playing certainly sounds it.
  • Mark PMark P Posts: 2,314Member
    It's not just finger length but also flexibility and handspan.
    I have small hands and so despite not being chubby my fingers are short.

    It became very apparent on an acoustic forum I'm on after a thread surveying this issue was started that I came in the category of "petite plucker". At least I think that's what was said! It was obvious too that handspan was the big factor rather than just finger length.

    The ranges on that forum survey were:-
    18.5cm to 24.6cm range for handspans. 33% variation.
    8cm to 9.4cm middle finger length. 17.5% variation.
    Interestingly you could have up to 2 cm difference on middle finger length for those with similar hand-spans. Shows how different we all are with our hands.
    It's a shame that they didn't measure span of index finger to pinkie as that would have been more indicative of fretting reach.

    I do know from watching the videos other players do on the forum that their reach really is so much further than mine, and it makes pieces that are physically impossible for me to play a doddle for them, and many pieces a no-go for me.
    Especially now my fretting hand pinkie has to be only rarely used to avoid permanent damage. There are some of them that had an extra two frets of reach even when I could use my little finger.

    It makes pieces with stretches across to the higher frets on the bottom string while playing notes nearer the nut on the higher strings next to impossible. So I have to miss out on a lot of tune arrangements, and have resorted to trying to write my own to increase the number of pieces I can play.

    I guess we need to find styles and types of music to suit our physical capabilities. I have found open tunings with so many more notes playable on open strings have helped to compensate for my limited hand-span a lot.
  • SilversharkSilvershark Posts: 36Member
    Mark P, you make some interesting points. It sounds like you hands are a similar size to mine. My hand span falls just above the lower limit quoted in the survey you referenced although I agree that pinkie to index span would be a better measure. More significantly my middle finger length matches the lowest figure quoted (8cm).

    The thing I find annoying about playing barre chords is that they feel much easier to play when sitting down. When standing up, it seems that I have to twist my wrist so much that it feels unnatural and borderline painful. I guess I must have short arms too. As a result, my natural tendency over the years has been to adopt the "thumb over" approach.

    I agree there are some chords that I find next to impossible to play without using a barre e.g. F#m7, but if I can avoid them I will.
  • Kevin PeatKevin Peat Posts: 3,203Member
    edited October 2017
    "The thing I find annoying about playing barre chords is that they feel much easier to play when sitting down. When standing up, it seems that I have to twist my wrist so much that it feels unnatural and borderline painful"

    Have you tried wearing a bigger onesie ?

    I find the giraff version more roomy than the tiger btw.
  • nicholaspaulnicholaspaul Posts: 989Member
    There’s a giraffe? Close the door!

    I think that no matter how long your fingers are, there would be things you couldn’t reach. My hands are average, but there are quite a few drop 2 chords I can’t reach. I don’t care, I just play the notes I can. I regularly adjust transcriptions to suit what I can reach and what is comfortable. I don’t like stretching from, say, 5th to 9th fret on the low E string, so I don’t.

    We aren’t expected to play everything, just what we can. We all have limitations.
  • Screaming DaveScreaming Dave Posts: 781Member
    I have very small hands, but I can stretch my span so my thumb and pinky are at 180 degrees to each other, and I'm an absolute demon player. Well, I say that ......
  • Bob IsaacBob Isaac Posts: 81Member
    We all need fingers like Chuck Berry had.
    2009: Roy Orbison Epiphone 12-String FT-112
    2012: Washburn WJ130EK
    2014: Masterbilt AJ-500RCE | Faith Neptune HiGloss | Faith Neptune Honeyed Sycamore
    2015: Epi EJ-200SCE
    2016: Masterbilt AJ-45ME | Masterbilt EF-500RCCE | Masterbilt DR-500MCE | Masterbilt Century DeLuxe Classic
    2017: Faith Blood Moon Neptune
  • Kevin PeatKevin Peat Posts: 3,203Member
    Certainly not since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke !
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