Learners with Smaller Hands - Share Challenges and Technique Tips

Starting a topic based on a conversation begun by Stacy @artax_2 and Bob @grabhorn over here. The hope is for learners with smaller hands to share issues faced, solutions attempted, and hopefully lessons learned. It would be great if this could turn into an on-going thread focused on just this topic that others can easily refer to in the future.

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I have average size hands for a male who’s 5’8"(172cm). My wife on the other hand is 5’4"(162cm) with petite hands. So when we went shopping for a guitar for her she decided on a Ibanez AEG70 shallow body, thin neck profile and OM body shape.
Acoustic Guitars
The first mistake most beginners make no matter how big or small they are is they buy a dreadnought size guitar with a 1 3/4" neck width. Way to big for a smaller beginner. Buy a small body(thin body) short scale to learn on.
Trust me the body and neck profile make a big difference in playability.

Electric Guitars
The first mistake most beginners do is buy a guitar that looks pretty and is cheap and comes with an amp without actually playing it. Yes you need to hold it and see if it actually feels comfortable. How do you know without knowing how to play? Try every guitar in the shop that you can afford. One will speak to you.

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Thanks Rick @stitch, this is excellent advice to put at the top of this thread! My experience with acoustic body shapes tracks with your wife’s. I found that neck profile/shape is important for hand comfort as well, especially as a beginner. The challenge for us beginners, of course, is that we have so little experience that can be difficult to feel these differences.

The other thing I’ve found is that I’m much more comfortable playing standing up. It’s not always easier exactly, but my posture is better and I can adjust how I hold the the guitar to position the neck differently - and thereby adjust how I fret chords. This is true with both acoustic and electric. Others may have a different experience, of course.

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Agreed with a slim guitar, @stitch 's wife, I too am only 5’4". My hand span is about 8", so no very big really.

Out of the Guitars I have here I do enjoy the slim body Guitars the most. Thats the Squire Strat but the neck is a little bit big, then my ES-339 but mostly my Heritage. The Heritage by far is the easiest to play, it has a very low action with medium jumbo frets. This makes it easier to fret chords so I use that the most.

Even so… In grade 2, learning the A min pentatonic scale has its issues. Try as I might using my little finger on the E string requires a stretch and some pressure. I can’t always do it without some buzz and any speed is just not happening because of that one note. The rest though are fine.

Rachel.

After the right guitar,

and than this module and practice practice etc, :blush:

Hope this helps

Greetings

Hi there! :wave: My hands are not big…and they’re not small either…
Finding a guitar you feel comfortable with might be the first step as others have said.

My technique tip (that I’m finding out only now by the way) is to practice my chord changes focusing on adding a little bit of an angle to my wrist when my fingers can’t reach comfortably the frets…most chord changes don’t need it…it’s just a little tiny bit of movement with the wrist and in some cases the chord change becomes immediately smooth. What I’m trying to do is through repetition to be aware where that little wrist support is needed so that I’ll be able to apply it while playing without thinking.

Please take this with an abundant pinch of salt…I’ll be able to tell you if it’s working in a few weeks …I’m not even sure this is technically correct…but I do my fingergym regularly, my fingers stretch seems good enough and I do need a practical solution to my struggles!

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Hi, I am 1,57m (that’s about 5’2’'). I have relatively long fingers compared to my length, but obviously, compared to the rest of the population, I have small hands. I have a full scale tele with a slim neck, which works. But I also have an acoustic Takamine gx18 (the Takamine version of the Taylor GS Mini), which has a shorter scale and a pretty slim neck, and that shorter scale also works wonders for playability when you’re my (lack of) size.

I’m 5’6” but for a male have very small hands, only a 7.5” span!
But with practice and patience you can do what you need to do for most things.

That’s a 5 fret stretch, and I can do 4 frets (just about) from the 3rd fret. Practice to get there for me was doing chromatic scales starting at the 5th fret and working down to the first fret.

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Yes, I wish I had known more about guitar sizes before I spent my first year learning on dreadnought that was too large and uncomfortable for me to play. Last fall I shopped around and purchased an Alvarez AF60, which is an “orchestra model” size - smaller body size (especially depth) and slim neck which make it a pleasure to use with my smallish hands and midget pinkie. Live and learn…

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I wonder if sales staff routinely offer dreadnoughts to new people. I know it was offered to me the first time looking for a guitar.! Wisely I opted for my AJ :metal:

I notice in the photo you’re doing what I also have to do, which is bend the wrist and seemingly getting your entire hand in front of the neck. It seems to me like isn’t optimal, but is that normal for small handed people? Is it normal for average hand sized people as well? I’m literally interested and just have no one to ask the question to.

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My first guitar was bought for me as a surprise gift. Bless my dad’s heart, he’s a wonderful man. He’s poked around on guitar all of his life, self taught. He has normal to small sized man hands, and he’d be the first to tell you hand size doesn’t matter. He bought me a dreadnought, a gorgeous satin finish, but it was cheap ($120). I tried to learn on it, but gave it up the effort, not because of hands but because of time. When I took guitar up again, I devoted enough time to realize its pretty big, and not the best to reach around every night to practice with. My GS Mini is much more comfortable.

My first electric guitar was purchased by me after I was doing Justin’s course, and realized the dreadnought was too big body-wise. I had no idea about nut width, radius, shape, anything like that. Without being able to play anything but a few chords, I did find one that felt better in my hand, an LTD H-1001. My wonderful dad also gave me a Squier Bullet which has a neck that is shaped good for my hand. I also bought a guitar solely on looks. It felt good in my hand but I still couldn’t play anything. A Schecter Banshee Extreme. After learning about all the neck options I realized the Squier and LTD both have a nice narrow nut of 42mm and thin necks, and the Schecter has even narrower nut width of 41.3mm and a super thin neck. I just find it amazing that even though I knew very little about guitars, I could find TWO that were thin necks, just by feel.

So this post is to say- either try guitars in person, or at least look at the specs!

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I almost decided against taking on guitar as I thought my small hand size would be prohibitive. What I have since observed:

1.) Thickness of the neck is more of a concern than width.

2.) Getting the thumb much lower down the neck (more under the middle finger) helps a lot.

3.) It is possible to get a far better stretch if the 5th finger is placed first and then stretched back to the index finger. The natural tendency is to do the opposite, ie land first with the first finger and then reach. Try it and you’ll see.

4.) As I’ve progressed slowly along, I just make little “jumps” and don’t worry about keeping my fingers firmly planted as in playing scales or arpeggios. Think about a bass or a cello; nobody can cover that kind of distance without lifting. It’s like going to a different area code there.

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Simon Candy has a great lesson on finger spanning (opposed to stretching) for stretchy chords, that equally applies to early day open chords. Folk can search for it.

But a well fitting guitar is the best place to start, says the man who bought 3 Dreads before he recently got a Parlour. :scream:

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I have modest sized hands. 5’6” tall, chronic shoulder problems and just over 7.5” hand span. My fingers are not fat.

I have tend to think too much about these things, so… I have thoughts to share.

I am very left handed playing righty. Advantage is strong coordinated fretting hand. A hidden disadvantage is my left hand is quite a bit less flexible than my right and more arthritic. D’oh!

Position, position, position. Between my hands and my dang shoulders, I do prefer smaller body and shorter scale guitars, even 12 fret (to the body) as the neck length is a lot shorter.

Most of all, I play any guitar in the classical position as the elevated neck that is closer to the body and angled steeply allows more ergonomic hand and shoulder placement. I do not understand how anyone plays in the “cowboy” position (waist of guitar on right thigh, head over left knee, neck almost parallel to the floor).

That said, I prefer wider neck guitars. My classical guitar has a 52mm nut, my acoustic a 46mm nut. I feel so cramped playing my electric (a rare thing indeed) at 42mm. Even my previous acoustic at 44mm was too narrow. (I am not really sure how neck profile plays into this, I am sure it does).

There definitely are some chord shapes or chord fingering choices that are difficult for me, but there are so many different ways to manage that, I view it as a puzzle rather than an impediment. An example of this is in a classical piece, to allow certain strings to ring long enough, an F chord is played without a barre using the index finger first fret 6th string and middle finger first fret 2nd string (not playing 5th string as that is impossible in this case). I simply cannot do this at all, but, I can if I swap my first and middle finger positions. If I couldn’t, I would just need to learn to make the chord transition faster to minimize the loss of the ringing tone and accept the limitation.

There are a lot of tiny people playing classical guitar with wide necks.

What I wish is that I could separate the tips of my middle and ring finger better. I don’t know how much it will change over time, but I hope I can eventually span a couple of additional millimeters, that would help so much.

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I measured my hand, in inches.

  • Pinky = 2, middle = 3, first finger = 2.75.
  • Palm = 3 wide x 3.5 tall.
  • My widest stretch between pinky and thumb (with effort) is 8, but a relaxed open palm distance is 7.
  • Tip of first finger down into the curve to the tip of the thumb is 7.
  • With palm facing up and fingers bent at all knuckles as if a neck was in it, there is only 2.5 inches between my first fingertip and my pinky finger tip when trying to stretch as much as I can.
  • Maybe this will stretch out further with time, I don’t know.

I feel like I have a combination of issues- reach (small palm and fingers), and probably lack of strength (because of lack of reach) resulting in a bent wrist to get leverage with the third and fourth fingers on the thickest strings.

  • To increase reach, my natural inclination is to bend wrist, I don’t know if that is bad or OK, or simply because I am still a beginner and bad at everything (I fight it but sometimes it happens)

  • My thought is that the strength applied to the strings is supposed to come from the fingers only, if so, I guess I need to do some serious finger push ups. But even if I strenghthened up, there’d sometimes be mutes.

  • Mostly it is a struggle with the third and fourth fingers on the thickest strings

  • If I simply press harder with the fingertips, it hurts (for buzzing notes)

  • Barre chords and power chords definitely bend the wrist to get the reach, but I see plenty of players bend the wrist doing them.

And I have a few questions for other players:

  • When you have the neck sitting in your hand, palm parallel with the floor, with thumb on the neck, do you have the neck nestled up into the curve of the thumb?

  • Is the majority of your flat palm extending outward past the plane of the neck, or behind the plane of the neck? Or half and half?

  • Do you have lots of reach with your fingers where you can curl them up and still reach the thick strings? I don’t! In my hand, the neck takes up a lot of space, and the fingers are short enough where they have to be straight to reach the thick strings.

  • How do we reach the thick strings without bending the wrist!?

  • Is this only an issue with chording- where maybe when I get to more technical playing, the straight fingers will be fine, and muting will be an advantage?

It’s just been on my mind for 2 whole years, seems like this issue of reach vs strength will be a problem for me forever.

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Hi Stacey, no it’s not really optimal but as it’s not something that I commonly have to do it’s OK, if I had to play like that all of the time it wouldn’t be sustainable. If I had something to learn that involved that sort of stretch often then I would probably try to play it in a different position if possible; if not I would look at playing it in a different key to see if it would be better.

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I am working on a concept that suggests this is a misconception.

If the strength only comes from our fingers we are not using our bodies properly.

If we think of moving from our center (physically and spiritually), these movements become more grounded and firm. This might be the “hara” for lack of a better term.

“In Chinese and Japanese martial arts, hara is also known as the lower Dantian or “Sea of Qi”. It’s considered the body’s vital center and center of gravity, and the source of vital energy or Yuan Qi. Many martial arts styles, including Aikido, emphasize the importance of “moving from the hara”, or moving from the center of one’s being.”

Even the moment of our fingers on the fretboard can be applied in this way, such that you imagine pressing the string not with a squeeze or pinch of the fingers, but rather a pull to one’s center of energy. Not directly towards it, but with the intent.

Additionally, as in martial training, such movements are not “to the target” (fretboard) but “through the target” such as past the fretboard and into our hand with the intent of follow through to the center.

I saw a brief segment of a lesson on slurs (a free ad by Tonebase) which discussed this. In only a few tries the impact of my hammer ons and stability of my pull offs have improved a bit. Not because I am stronger, but because my intent is more directed. Now all I need is aim…

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Hi Stacy! I wanted to respond to a few of your questions for other players. As you know, I’m also a beginner, so I don’t pretend to have “the answers”. If anyone has any advice on what I’m doing, please don’t be shy in sharing it!

For reference: my palm is about the same size as yours, my fingers about 1/16 inch shorter, my widest stretch thumb to pinky about 7.5 inches.
My acoustic guitar as 1.75 inch nut, my electric is 1.63 inches.

When you say “thumb on the neck”, do you mean behind the neck? If so, no, the neck does not settle into that curve of the thumb. I think you can see this in the photos below. The only time I come close to nestling the neck is when I reach around to mute the low E, for example playing open D or A. Even then, I try to avoid it. EDIT TO ADD: Haha, I was just practicing a picking song I’ve been working on and found myself cradling the neck in that thumb area. In this case, I’m fingering string 1 fret 3 with my pinky, and string 2 fret 3 with my ring finger. The neck naturally falls into that cradle, AND I notice I naturally mute string 6 with my thumb. Not sure why. I think the takeaway is, though, that how we hold the neck is dynamic, depending on what we’re doing now, and what we’re doing next.

Also: I rarely find my palm is parallel to the floor. I’m guessing that’s happening because you hold the guitar neck parallel to the floor? I did that for a long time, and found that it forced my wrist to bend too much. I now use a strap when sitting or standing so I don’t fall into that habit. I also slouch less (sitting) when I angle the neck up a bit. Not as much as classical position. In the past couple of weeks I’ve been playing standing a lot, and really enjoying it…I find I’m not fighting the guitar body so much.

I’m not sure I understand what you’re describing, but I can say the position of my palm relative to the neck changes depending on the chord.

Here are two photos of a G chord. Some fingers curl, others not so much! Also, my wrist is bent, but not much. Finally I think you can see the neck is nowhere near the curve of my thumb. (I’d include more photos, but find it really difficult to take photos of myself fretting chords.)


G chord side

I find that moving my elbow around helps. If my wrist is too bent, I think I move my elbow away from my body.

I think as we progress, we’ll have better hand/finger control, and things will fall into place.

You also mentioned something about strength. At the beginning, Justin really focused on strengthening that thumb muscle in preparation for the F chord. I’m thinking we’ve both accomplished that by now! Like most beginners, I have had (and still have) a tendency to use a death grip on the neck. I’m now trying to lighten my touch, only depressing the strings as much as needed for them to ring true. Believe me, I have a LONG way to go. Ironically, I tend to press harder as I fatigue. I also press harder when learning a new song, or trying to speed up tempo. I guess it’s all part of the journey.

This is how I’m working through the small hand challenge. I still have many issues, not least of which is accidentally muting the high E when trying to thumb mute the low E.

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My grip is very similar, I bend the fingers more and wrist less. All my palm knuckles are the same distance from the neck.

@judi, what is the width of that Guitars neck at the nut please.