Learners with Smaller Hands - Share Challenges and Technique Tips

My two pennies:
Watch Simon Candy’s video and then come back here and discuss what you can and can’t do.

I’ve always held the neck in a way that feels natural BUT…it also feels a bit limiting. Watching said video - I can understand why.

Good share Toby @TheMadman_tobyjenner

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I agree. The Simon Candy video helped me improve.

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Thank you sir, as usual if just one person benefit from something I chose share, with folks who are asking the same question I did years ago, then I’ll take that.

Glad it helped.

:sunglasses:

Thanks for the reminder. I just watched it and there was a lot of useful stuff in there, especially the part about getting a wider spread by fanning the fingers out (by changing the angle of the hand).

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I’ve been reading this thread for a while, went to comment a couple of times but didn’t … anyway, here goes.

Depending on how you define it, I have small hands, with inflexible fingers. And a really short pinky. I’m 5’10", so not short, but my fingers are about the same length as my wife, who’s around 5’4". It can really be frustrating watching people with “guitar fingers” - you know, those super long, super dextrous fingers, easily play stuff all over the neck. I will never be able to do that.

I couldn’t even properly fret the Enter Sandman riff Justin shows in grade 2 initially. It took me months - literally months - of daily hand stretching, often twice daily, just to fret it.

The reality is on this instrument, your physiology determines some of what you can play. I can think of three key areas around this, in no particular order:

#1 Flexibility - fingerspan, how far you can reach with your fingers. Needed to fret chords & riffs. Matters a lot with reaching over to use the thumb! Varies a bit between fingers.

#2 Dexterity/Finger Independence - Can you move fingers independently? Important for chord decorations, riffs & lead.

#3 Hand strength - Good luck playing a lot of barre chords on an acoustic without it! Also needed for bends.

I think people focus more on #1 and #2, and not enough on #3. I’m fortunate in that I haven’t lacked in hand strength even though I’ve struggled with the other two. But… it doesn’t really make sense to focus on what others can and can’t do. Really, all you can do is work on changing your own physiology - get more flexible, get better finger independence, and get stronger hands. Focus on what changes you need to make to improve your playing rather than comparing to the person with giant hands and long fingers that can get all the mechanics down with zero stretching.

Justin has exercises for all this stuff btw, and mostly the way you get your body to improve in anything physical is to do it daily and push past the limit of discomfort but not into injury (just like gym, progressive overload).

The other thing that can make a big difference is changing the instrument. Yes! Why not? Barre chords too hard? Use lighter strings. Span too far to reach? Get a shorter scale guitar so the frets are closer together.

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Hand position and its effect on reach is a topic hard to teach via text. @TheMadman_tobyjenner did the only sensible thing and linked a video. For my own part I have nothing more to say on the topic. Best of luck to all of you who struggle!!

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Hand position is relevant to us all, not just those with small hands. I recognise that the thread is specifically about the struggles of those with small hands and I’m not really in that category. My hands are certainly not big but probably a bit bigger than what’s being reported here.
However, this thread has made me think. I haven’t played guitar for almost a month because of personal life stuff, but I’m wanting to get back to it, and I’m thinking I need to start over. I don’t mean go back to Grade1 but to look at my hand position and try to correct the bad habits that I’ve formed.

I’m going to take the Simon Candy vid as my starting point and try to apply the things I see there to my playing.
I know it will take a lot of concentrated effort to make it second nature but….it’s me that has to do it. Nobody else can do it for me!

Feeling inspired :guitar:

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Hiya all

I too have small hands, as an adult my thumb was thinner than my dad’s pinky and shorter too.

My dad had very large hands tbh.

Still, I have short fingers. It makes things complicated to reach the bass strings, but only with the pinky. The other fingers are OK.

I play electrics with thin necks.

I remarked already, as confirmed by Justin in the video shared by @Richard_close2u, that keeping the thumb fixed at around 90 degrees was painful if at all possible. I have to move it, angle it, rotate it.

For example the closer to the body the harder it becomes to do the spider exercises because the hand and the thumb have to keep their orientation relatively to the neck and that makes the wrist reach uncomfortable angles.

I have to rotate the thumb to avoid some pain.

I understand that with practice it will get better, however there are physical constraints and limits that I don’t see how to overcome.

That’s where I think we have to adapt and find ways, maybe using a position not approved by the “academy” or a weird bending of the wrist because without it we just can’t.

Someone already explained that physical limitations should really rarely forbid someone to play the guitar.

I share this opinion with my limited experience.

It doesn’t mean it will be easy.

That’s also why, in my humble opinion, “keep trying” is the best option.

As well as “ask for help” here, what works for one may or may not work for another person, but who knows ? It’s usually just a few minutes of trying.

Just my opinion.

Peace & Love friends

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As I mentioned in my first post above, I don’t consider myself “small-handed,” so I didn’t come into this with that as my focus. For me, it’s a broader issue of an ergonomics jigsaw puzzle and trying to suss out what needs improvement and how to get there. I also said later that I was concerned that “smaller hands” being in the title might limit the scope or direct the conversation in ways that could make it less productive. I had no idea.

Richard @Richard_close2u, once again, I can’t thank you enough for the time and effort you put into your detailed analysis and discussion of the forms demonstrated here and the resources you pointed to. Please know that your efforts were not in vain.

Toby @TheMadman_tobyjenner, thank you for both references to the Simon Candy lesson. I’d have watched it sooner if not for a jam-packed summer of activity. I watched it very carefully last night and spent my half-hour of practice focused on doing my very best to adhere to his recommendations. It was physically painful - immediately and sharply - at the back of the wrist and the lower forearm. For the first time, the thought crossed my mind that I might not be able to do this. I kept at it, very gently exploring where the sensation changed from comfort to pain, and I have some ideas. There’s still some discomfort this morning, but I’ll revisit it again tonight. I don’t give up easily.

I fractured my (left/fretting) wrist very badly in 1983. It was bent 30 degrees from where it should have been. It healed quickly and completely but it is almost certainly not exactly where it was before the break. I’d be very surprised if there were not also soft tissue damage to ligaments, tendons, etc. In the 41 years since then, I’ve been extremely physically active with landscaping and other activities, and I worked primarily at a computer keyboard for about 30 years. I have four “trigger fingers” - the middle and ring fingers on both hands. Arthritis is also creeping in. My hands have been used and probably abused. Also of potential consequence, I’ve had two frozen shoulders and brain surgery in which part of my C1 vertebra was removed.

This may make me sound like a health trainwreck, but I’m actually in very good physical shape. I’m 60 years old, still doing the gardening/landscaping that I love and I backpacked 60km/37mi in mountainous terrain last week and will again in a few weeks. I retired last year, I love music, and I’m stubborn. I will find a way to play guitar to the best of my ability, whatever that may mean.

Back to SImon Candy… I realized that I’ve been doing most of what he advises most of the time, and increasingly more often as I continue to monitor and nudge myself toward “good form.” Even the “fanning” of the fingers that he described is something I stumbled into apparently as a matter of necessity. But it has a price. If (without a guitar) I extend my hand forward, palm up, fingers straight, thumb horizontal and then “fan” my fingers, I feel a pretty firm tension in the pinky and ring fingers’ flexor tendons at my wrist as one would expect. If I then add flexion of my thumb to simulate the hand’s shape as if it were on the guitar’s neck, that tension increases and is joined by tension in the thumb flexor tendon. It’s not uncomfortable but would become so if I held it that way for several minutes.

From there, if I flex my wrist as Darrell @DarrellW is here (which I think looks perfect)…
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…the back of my wrist hurts in a pretty sharp way. That’s all without any force being applied to fret strings.

Adjustments that I’ve found alleviate that pain significantly are either:

  1. Pointing the thumb more to the side (i.e. toward the headstock), or
  2. Bringing the thumb more toward the low E string instead of on the midline of the neck, which reduces the flexion of the wrist.

Since our instinct is to make adjustments to avoid hurting ourselves, I find that I’ll do one or the other of these two things from time to time - even though I know they’re taking me away from the form I’m striving to achieve. BUT. I find that I’m doing them less often than I used to. Unfortunately, I’m also having more pain in my wrist and forearm, which significantly reduces the time I can spend doing all of this as well as my enjoyment of it.

Can I get beyond this pain and achieve the desired form with continued experimentation, stretching, strengthening, and practicing? I sure hope so. That’s my plan. At the same time, Justin, people in this community, and countless others out there say, “If it hurts, stop.” For me, part of the challenge is to find that balance. Somewhere along the way, I may have to decide to compromise ideal form for functionality and comfort. But I’m not there yet.

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Among parameters that may effect fretting, such as scale length and nut width, has anyone any insight to how neck profile impacts reach and comfort?

I feel like this is an important guitar specification that seems largely ignored.

I don’t even know what profiles my two acoustic and one electric guitar have, nor the ones I have passed over in the past.

I guess, if you can barre a cord without a thumb, maybe there isn’t much impact beyond preference, but a beefy baseball bat neck may not be optimal for the smaller handed, for example.

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@Jamolay It’s not deep insight, but way back in the 5th entry in this topic (how could you have missed it? :rofl:) I commented:

I suspect that as a guitarist gains experience and improves skills, they are more easily able to adapt to new neck shapes. And similarly to different body sizes. And playing positions. And string guages. And strap lengths. And chairs and stools. They will have preferences - probably even strong ones - but also a much wider range of what is “playable”. Along the journey, though, for us beginners most everything feels somehow “wrong” at some point, in some way! Which is why we long to commiserate on challenges and share technique tips with others who are having or have recently worked through those experiences. While keeping a keen ear open to best practices as presented by veteran players.

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I’m far away from giving advice on this, but I own four guitars with different neck profiles. One acoustic with a “Fender neck” which is supposed to be a “smaller” neck, a Cort with a wider neck than the Fender, I guess some kind of C Shape, a Vintage Strat with a “soft C”, a Hagstrom with a “slim D” = small. I switch between them without any troubles, but I can feel the differences for sure. My hands are relatively big, so I’m no t falling into the small handed category, but yes, I can confirm, the profile might have impact on what you can reach more easily. I, for myself, tend to prefer the smaller neck shapes. I tried a few LP Style guitars in stores with a wider neck (not nut width) and never felt very comfortable. As a small handed person, I would take a smaller neck into account and compare the different neck profiles.
Just to mention: I follow the thread with great interest, but didn’t comment, because I don’t qualify as a small handed person. But be assured, being a big handed person, with a finger twisted, caused by an old injury, my fretting hand development and adjusting is an ongoing process too. Just to say: all of you small handed players, you are not alone, others, like me, are also struggling sometimes to find a comfortable hand position. I can really understand your pain. For me, it’s getting better with small steps and ongoing self assessment. So let’s explore!

Thank you, James. I just watched this again (probably my 4th time), and there are so many good reminders in it. I think the most important one for me is that there’s really a lot of flexibility to position and orientation of the thumb depending on what you’re doing and what works for you.
:pray:

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