Fretting hand finger control

So I’m still evaluating my fretting hand. I am not entirely happy with it.

Some chords feel really good, but others still are a bit of a mess. I think Strat styles are too long for me (which is awesome considering that I’ve got three of them now). It makes my hand orient the neck at an angle versus perpendicular. It helps if I tilt the neck and position the body further to my right, but that isn’t the most comfortable, go-to playing position that I find. And I tried playing standing up- OMG it was way worse in terms of positioning than sitting down! Bent my wrist a lot more and I had even less control in my fingers!

I have been practicing on an SG style Ibanez that I borrowed from my dad and it’s slightly more comfortable for my frame. However, the neck width is still the same as the Strats (pretty thin) and I’m still struggling a bit with finger control in some chords.

The C chord is a real stretch for my three fingers and I have to go almost like violin grip angle. My first finger will bend completely up, my middle finger will be ok, but my third finger will be stretched completely out and I don’t always get it over to the side of the fretwire like I want to do. And I find myself bending the wrist to get the thick E muted properly. I’m just not happy with this.

The A chords and D chords. Ugh! I am playing around with thumb muting the top string. In order to barely graze the top string with any thumb meat, I have to give up all space under the neck, and when I do that, the fingers (especially in D chords) are really bent up tight, and the neck goes deep into my palm and it feels hard to have control over fingers like that. I don’t know what to do there, except stop thumb muting but I really want my playing to not have sympathetic vibrations, I think that’s what they’re called. So I don’t know what to do there, either. Am I going to have to mute with the strumming hand instead?

And just in general, my chord changes feel a little clunky even when they’re in time with the song. my OMC are all above 60. Some are better than others in song play, but I’ve been going just over a year, I’d like to think I’d be better than this by now! I’m honestly liking barre chords more than As, Ds, and C right now, who’d have thunk it!?

ETA: Am I the only one who finds myself slightly bending strings when trying to exert control over fingers, making the chords sound out of tune?


Maybe try posting a video of what you’re struggling with? Ideally a song, or excerpt from a song, so it’s while playing. It’s harder to analyse just in text.

Learning to adapt chords and playing to your strengths and weaknesses is a real thing. Thinner fingers have some advantages and some disadvantages.

Maybe a photo of how you play it? Are you doing finger stretching exercises (on the guitar) as well?

If I’m playing 3 finger A, I end up muting the high E if I try to mute the low E. 1 finger A is easier to mute the low E with. D though, that’s going to depend on hand size. Initially I couldn’t mute the low E, now I can mute it or fret a bass note. I would guess my hands are larger than yours though (although I do not have big hands - my wife’s fingers are as long as mine).

I would continue to try to mute with the fretting hand. Strumming hand muting is different and wouldn’t work for a big strumming song (or at least you’d use it for a different sound). In order to mute the bass notes with these chords you do need to grip the neck deeper with the palm of your hand. It’s a different finger grip.

I get that. Some barres are more comfortable than opens once you get proficient at them.

I think you really need to record yourself playing. Even if you don’t post it! It gives another angle to analyse what you’re doing, and then compare with what you see others doing on YouTube (e.g. Justin).

Hah, yes, sometimes. If a chord is at the limits of my hand flexibility this happens. When fretting a chord, I think your hand should be relaxed - once you’ve learnt it, as often during the learning process it’s tense. Working on hand flexibility helps this a lot.

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I don’t bother thumb-muting a D chord. I can easily miss the low-E string because I’m only aiming for the four thinnest strings. I only thumb-mute when the bass note is on the A string and there’s more chance of catching the low-E when strumming.


I second what JK said- are you able to post either a pic or a video showing your chord grip? I think it may be easier to help If we can visually see where your struggle is.

Same as @jacksprat I also don’t bother muting with the D Chord since I am able to aim for the 4 thinnest strings. Since you are having trouble fretting the chords during songs, maybe don’t worry as much about thumb muting and revisit it again once you are able to comfortably play the chords?

Don’t be so hard on yourself! Guitar is hard! Many, many people quit in their first year of playing and you are still sticking with it. A year seems like a long time, but I know others that have been playing for many years and still categorize themselves as beginners. Everyone learns at their own pace. I have been playing for almost 2 years now and while I am very proud of everything I have learned, I know I still have a long way to go before I get to the skill level I would like to be at. And that’s ok! It just takes time and the ability to stick with it even when it feels too hard.

I’m with you on that one! I actually prefer songs with Barre chords over open chords most of the time.


Huh, interesting - @Jenndye429 and @jacksprat not muting the bass on E. I pretty always do these days without thinking.

There are so many ways to play guitar.

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Hey Stacy,

Firstly, I’d suggest ditching the thumb muting for now. Its messing with your baseline chord formation. Sounds like you have some more core, fundamental stuff to get sorted before worrying about that.
Thumb muting will likely happen in time, as you get settled with all the open chords. You may even find you dont ever really use it at all. The strumming hand can take care of alot of that in many contexts. Either way, take the focus off it.

I would be concentrating on clean, relaxed chord formation, and hitting only the strings you want. Some short, repeated, highly focused drills would be good here.

I also sensed alot of tension in your post, which most likely means alot of tension in your playing. Tension is an absolute killer - of form, accuracy, speed, tone etc, etc.
Dont be afraid to tell yourself to relax. You’ve got this.
And don’t be afraid to tell your brain exactly what to do. Its highly capable, but needs direct, specific instructions for direct, specific results.
All the best.

Cheers, Shane


I think a lot of this might just be peaks and troughs of learning Stacy, particularly with the stage you are at right now. Justin even discussed this towards / at the end of grade 2 about the dangers and possibility of falling into a rut. Don’t get me wrong, I am not disputing the challenges you’ve called out with specific chords but more in reference to your comment about things feeling clunky during song playing. So advice one would be allow yourself a little more leeway.

On thumb muting, to my shame :wink: I took maybe 9 months as G2 consolidation and it’s only now that I am starting to deploy thumb muting, on a very limited basis. I’ve got pretty big hands I think and your challenges on both A and D I can relate to, everything can feel so cramped particularly 3 finger A. I did raise similar question about it a while ago and was given the advice to not sweat it and just allow it to develop slowly, and it has but has needed a lot of conscious adjustment to my hand positioning. Thumb muting is by no means a be all and end all skill.

For C, I’d refer you to here, @Richard_close2u has given an awesome and comprehensive answer to a number of recent questions on playing C and, obviously(!), can put things way better than I could ever dream of!!!

I feel you too with barre chords, for some reason (big hands again!) I get on quite well with them too and enjoy songs with them in!!

You’re doing great, ride the rollercoaster!! :slight_smile:


LOL, yes I find this to at times. Usually more when I have been playing the acoustic and it requires a little more finger pressure than my electric so when I swap back I find I can end up bending a string slightly especially the 6th.

Indeed! :slight_smile:

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Lots of great advice have already been given and I only wanted to contribute a couple of things to think about.

I know that’s what Justin has recommended but I don’t see why anyone needs to obsess about that number. It means nothing, to me at least. I would work towards having the chords sounding nice. If a song requires a chord change that I can’t do, I practise this particular one for a while. Or just the chord progression of the song, changing from one chord to the next through all the chords, like in a loop.

For the A chord, 1 finger version, yes, maybe.
For the D chord, I’d find it more useful to aim for the D string rather than thumb muting the low E at the point (mentioned in other comments and I agree). That’s why the slash chords like the D/F# aren’t taught until the end of Grade 2 I guess. But generally, targeting a string is a skill in its own right in my opinion.

I believe that in a song situation where you’d be strumming the chords multiple times in a bar, there would hardly be any time for any sympathetic vibrations to manifest themselves before the next chord is strummed. Unless you’re hitting strings that aren’t supposed to be in the chord. But again, that’s my opinion.

Like it was mentioned, photographs would help. However, I would be tempted to say that the hand is connected to the forearm and the forearm is connected to the arm. They are designed to work as a system. So perhaps, a tiny little adjustment to the arm and forearm, can open up the angle that the hand can have which in turn frees up the fingers. What I’m trying to say is that, for me, the chords are not just finger positioning while the rest of the limb is like anchored; it’s a bit more, as my whole arm-forearm-hand have to adjust slightly in order to finger a chord comfortably and clear.
But as I’ve been saying, all these just work for me. Food for thought. :blush:

Unless you are truly tiny and short armed, I suspect this is something you can learn to manage.

Remember, any standard guitar has a scale length, which measures the distance grime the nut to the bridge. Most standard guitars are 25” plus/minus up to 3/4”, with anything over 25” being long scale and anything under 25” being short scale.

Without getting a special petite guitar, like 7/8 size or 3/4 size, the playing length of any guitar you get will almost always) be between 24.5” and 25.5” (more or less). So this small change really minimally affects the reach required to play in the first position (near the nut). What it does is make the frets a touch closer together and reduces tension a little the shorter scale you go.

So what is my point? If the strat doesn’t feel right (too long), most other guitars will feel similar and the real problem is that you need to find the most appropriate way for YOU to hold the guitar.

This may require some deep thought into what you need and want and reassessing what you currently believe about how to hold a guitar.

You have expressed that it feel “too long”, you don’t like it way over “to the right” and you are “tired of standing”. Those are great insights you can work with.

How would I handle this, having gone through a pretty prolonged period of dissatisfaction with how I held and physically managed guitar playing?

Well, first I would get a good chair, sit down and move the guitar neck around in all ways possible (right/left, up,down, forward/back, tilt angle) until I found where I like my left hand.

Once I felt good about that, look at the guitar body and see where it is. Then find some way to hold it there while you play. Straps are versatile for this (but I hate straps), there are lifts available for electric guitars, pads, non-slip cloths and on and on.

Most likely there will be compromises like not quite the perfect left hand position or (likely IMO) a repositioning of where the right hand plays most easily.

Anyway, my guess is you will be able to come to a reasonable accommodation to feel more comfortable without having to buy 3 new guitars.

My answer was a modern classical style to hold the guitar. I use lifts and even have a lift for the electric (but am not playing electric), so this style is a little easier to accomplish with acoustic/classical. But look at many electric players. A lot of them hold the guitar very upright, like classical players, often with a strap. I have a work colleague who is an electric heavy metal player and sits with one of his 30 electric guitars, body between the legs and headstock up near the ear like I hold my classical.

Find what works for you!


Heck, no, I sometimes find myself pushing the low E right off the side of the fret board. That ain’t gonna work!

I second what @sclay said and definitely check out the link to the C chord that @Notter posted. I was on that thread and now the C chord is one of my better ones! Never saw that coming.


Thank you everyone for the input, it is all helpful, from reminding myself to be patient to trying new things.

I’ll add some photographs here to see if I can better describe whats going on.

  1. This is my current, most common C grip. Notice the awful, awful wrist angle and the entire stretch of the 3rd finger. Maybe common, maybe not, I don’t know. But also notice the space under the neck which I try to preserve.

  2. It results in this angle crossing the plane of the neck. Sort of violin angle? If I bring the thumb to be directly behind my middle finger, it creates tension in the wrist so I just don’t do it. Seems like for the reach I need in the third finger, pointing the thumb towards the headstock or at least positioned behind the first finger, feels better in the wrist.

  3. If I straighten my wrist in the C grip like this photo, I lose most, if not all of, the space under the neck and then some control in the fingers feels like it starts to go away. Perhaps I learned the C chord (and many other chords) wrong- with a bad wrist angle.

  4. It results in this wrist angle relative to the neck, which is a little different. Feels more of a violin grip than before.

  5. And again, the space underneath is going away and under the first finger, there will be effectively no space and I find the neck ends up resting on the pad of the upper palm underneath the bottom of the first finger.

  6. The A chord, no real issues here that I know of, but please point any out that I am unaware of. Maybe thumb is a little high, but lowering it results in the bent wrist again.

  7. But as soon as I try to mute the E string, my wrist has to tilt upwards a little (not much), and all the space underneath goes away (maybe that’s ok), but the grip becomes tense (especially halfway into a song) and my hand tires, and I’ll find it not as easy to change chords…its just like a bit of muscle control gets lost when fingers are this cramped together, squeezing (even only squeezing as much as needed, no gorilla grip here), they’ll get a little warm and start to feel sweaty, when the neck is crammed into the palm.

  8. Same thing with the D chords (Dm and D7 to a lesser degree), just cramped up in small space, tight grip, barely can reach the E string to graze it to mute, and then it a little loss of control in the fingers, not feeling as relaxed in the grip as when Im not muting the E.


Opinions from more experienced players or teachers welcome but I sense a bat habit here. Muting is not only for accidentally hitting, unmuted strings can and do start vibrating on their own, especially when other strings play certain harmonies. I think touching all strings not currently being played at all times is what Justin teaches in his muting video.

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I don’t see anything wrong with 3, 4 and 5, other that I’d curl the middle finger a bit more so that you press the string with the tip of the finger.
But I’m not a teacher so perhaps don’t take what I say as a gospel :stuck_out_tongue:

For your point 7, it’ll be easier to thumb-mute the low E if you play the barre version of the A, with your index finger.

For your point 8, I had to actually play the chord and observe what I do… which is touching the low E with my thumb… I hadn’t noticed so far… :confused: I think that started happening only recently.

Edited because I realised something I said was wrong. Sorry.

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Stacy, what stands out to me in your photos is that there seems to be an awful lot of tension in your shoulder. As has been pointed out the hand is connected to the arm, which is connected to the shoulder… I broke my left wrist just over a year ago, and now can’t bend it that much. I’ve changed my grip on the guitar by tilting the neck upwards some ( as a consequence I have to play with a strap on the guitar, even when I’m sitting) and dropping my elbow. Think trying to have your forearm vertical. This affords me greater access to the fretboard with my fingers, while keeping the wrist straight. I think if you tried the same thing (changing the tilt of the guitar, not breaking your wrist) you might find that helps keep everything nice and relaxed

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@artax_2 Here is a video of me, going from how you fret the C chord to how I would fret it (I do the thumb muting so showing that version here):

Thanks for posting photos. Comments on yours, plus some tips and some photos of my own to show how I do it.

My thoughts (numbered by photo):

  1. This looks too front-on, to me the C is a sideways chord with the fingers bent sideways. Looks like your ring finger is stretching sidways
  2. Not sure what violin angle is. You should do what feels good for your wrist.
  3. This is perhaps better but slightly too far sideways, particularly your middle finger.
  4. Looks good from the top.
  5. Space going away underneath is good. As long as you can get the strings to ring out.
  6. A looks fine, as long as it feels and plays fine.
  7. To mute the E string, yes you do need to make the space behind the neck go away.
  8. D, your hand looks like it’s hanging low on the neck, your hand should be around the neck. With thumb there or not. If muting, your thumb wraps around the neck.

I think the biggest thing I observed in your photos is that you’re operating at uncomfortable wrist angles. I think this may be caused from where you’re putting the guitar neck. The neck should be as far away from your body as you need it to be for your forearm to be straight and comfortable. I tend to play with it angled away from me.

Also when muting, thing about your hand and fingers wrapping around the neck, rather than leaving space between hand and neck.

Some photos from me. Not a pro player but I find these chords comfortable. C chord. Main thing to note here is my wrist is straight and hand wrapped around the neck (for muting - if you’re trying to mute). Fingers sideways.

D chord with muting. Similar thing.


looking at your first picture of the C chord, I wonder if you’re trying too hard to get your ring finger right up against the fret? That grip looks very uncomfortable. I know that’s the optimum place for it to go, but we all have to work with our limitations.

When I play a C chord on my strat my ring finger is sitting half way between the two frets and it still rings cleanly (I’m lazy!). Of course, your guitar’s setup, string gauge and finger strength will all effect how close to the fret you need to be to get a clean note. Perhaps experiment and see whether you can move your ring finger back from the fret and still get a clean note?

I just tried a C chord on my acoustic and was able to get a clean sounding chord with my ring finger behind the halfway point of the frets. I have 10 gauge strings on the acoustic.

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