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Size DOES matter..but flexibility rules!

02 Apr 02 - 09:28 AM (#681458)
Subject: Size DOES matter..but flexibility rules!
From: Rick Fielding

Since Marion brought this old chestnut back ourfriendtheB7th I thought a related thread might be fun.

Now here's the have small hands and tiny fingers. You've heard all the crap about Segovia's fingers being only a half inch long and wider than a Polish sausage....but so what? You can't do those finger-benders that Fielding is always throwing out on the forum as if they were as easy as picking your nose.

Well here's a few tricks. Not one of these is new to Mudcat, but there are hundreds of new folks here since the last time I started a 'finger-stretcher' thread.

Learn how to "Arch" your fingers. Forget the "thumb" chords that I talk about constantly and concentrate on "lifting" the hand a bit in order to come down more vertically on the strings.

Decide just how much you ARE willing to sacrifice in order to play better....and if that means buying a smaller bodied guitar with a really slim it.

Accept your limitations...I simply CAN'T bend my index or middle fingers "back" the other way, so playing an "A" chord with one finger is out of the question. Next best thing? Play it with your middle finger covering the 4th and 3rd strings and your ring finger covering thw 2nd string. That still gives you TWO free fingers to 'decorate ' your chord with.

Learn "idiot theory" (my term). It won't take you more than a couple of days to memorize what notes in the scale (and their equivalent number) make up a major chord, minor, Seventh, Ninth, Sixth, and minor seventh. Trust me, this is not like sitting in front of the red book trying to decypher something Mozart wrote while still in the womb! All it will do is make you understand what someone's talking about when they say that a chord has 1, 3, 5, 7, and 2, in it.

Get yourself a wider "span". Put your left hand index and middle fingers into the "Churchill V for victory" configeration...force the "V" into the back of your neck (No, NO! your guitar neck!) and slide it up and down a few times til you can really feel it. Do it with the middle and ring, and then with the ring and little finger. In a couple of days you WILL notice a difference. My Mum taught me this. Her hand was smaller than mine but she could easily reach from C to D on a piano, while I could barely make an octave.

Look at the ANGLE of the guitar against your body. After a few years I could play while lying on my back with the guitar upside down....but this caused me to lose many a folk job. The more vertical you have the guitar, the better you'll be able to "arch" the fingers and make some of those stretches.

Steal from ALL styles...Classical, folk, rock, etc.



02 Apr 02 - 09:37 AM (#681464)
Subject: RE: Size DOES matter..but flexibility rules!
From: UB Ed

The thing I have found most frustrating regarding proper form is the concept (and practice) of the thumb being in the middle of the back of the neck. No matter what, I always find my thumb popping up next to the lower strings.

Some think this is an issue, others not.

The span exercises are an excellent suggestion.


02 Apr 02 - 11:51 AM (#681562)
Subject: RE: Size DOES matter..but flexibility rules!
From: Marion

A couple more ideas for learning chords that are physically difficult:

- put on a capo, and try the chord again. The capo will lower the action and make the frets closer together, so it's not as much of a stretch sideways. (But if you capo too far up, the neck starts getting significantly wider, so you have to find a balance). Then when you can play it with a capo, try it without.

- try putting down the fingers of a chord in slow steps, making sure each finger is placed as well as possible, with enough pressure to do the job but no more. Vary the order in which you assemble the chord - sometimes "anchoring" the top strings first, sometimes the bottom.

- my current strategy: I put medium strings on my guitar, which made certain chords and hammer-ons much more difficult at first but is beginning to feel normal. And my plan is to put on lights next time I change strings, so that everything will suddenly be very easy. I'll let you know if this works.


Oh, and if you're going to play your guitar in bed, don't use a white pick. It'll get lost in the sheets.

02 Apr 02 - 12:00 PM (#681570)
Subject: RE: Size DOES matter..but flexibility rules!
From: Steve Latimer

The streching exercise that Rick mentioned doesn't even require a guitar. I was taught to separate my fingers as Rick described and then use my thigh in the same manner that Rick suggested using the guitar neck. You can do this at home, at work or in bed while looking for your pick.

02 Apr 02 - 12:23 PM (#681586)
Subject: RE: Size DOES matter..but flexibility rules!
From: little john cameron

Ah discovered the best plan wis tae hire a lead player an' then ah jist hae tae wave mah airms aboot an' pretend ah'm playin.If ye screw up yer face a lot then folk are distractit an' dinnae notice yer hauns.ljc

02 Apr 02 - 01:21 PM (#681631)
Subject: RE: Size DOES matter..but flexibility rules!
From: Liz the Squeak

And do you also have tips for the Vulcan nerve pinch?

I'm blessed with a large span, but I really have trouble stretching in an awkward way to get the holes on the bass recorder covered.... so I do know the problem....


02 Apr 02 - 01:59 PM (#681667)
Subject: RE: Size DOES matter..but flexibility rules!
From: Rick Fielding

Marion's capo suggestion is excellent. Justa Picker also does that constantly.

If you're a finger picker playing syncopated stuff, you'll WANT your thumb by the bass strings for those F and D chords...but keep it flexible so that if you go for a barre chord you can quickly slide it back to the middle of the neck.


02 Apr 02 - 02:24 PM (#681689)
Subject: RE: Size DOES matter..but flexibility rules!
From: C-flat

My fingers are considered by many to be more suited for a building site than a fretboard,(to give you some idea, my wedding ring measured 3 sizes OFF the ring gauge!) Over the years I have learned to adapt my playing to accomodate my oversized digits. Often when a certain troublesome chord is called for it's worth thinking about which notes are actually being used in the chord and re-shaping your hand to suit rather than struggling to hold the whole chord unecessarily. When you watch classical or jazz players you rarely see them simply holding down a chord, just the notes they want to hear,and as you advance, your hand is freed-up to add other notes. I take a lot of stick (particularly from the other guys in the band) about my fingers but with the right application....

02 Apr 02 - 05:06 PM (#681807)
Subject: RE: Size DOES matter..but flexibility rules!
From: Herga Kitty

I really do have small hands and tiny (cocktail sausage) fingers.

I did learn to play instruments (piano - could just stretch the octave, Chopin got away with it but I could never have done; oboe - could barely cover the holes) but not well, or well enough that anyone would want to listen least of all me).

The usual answer is percussion (except I get cramp as well as blisters playing spoons).

Hammered dulcimer (which I played for a few years) is fine if (like me) you have small hands, but a bugger if (like me) you're astigmatic and have to work out where all the strings are.


02 Apr 02 - 06:33 PM (#681851)
Subject: RE: Size DOES matter..but flexibility rules!
From: Genie

Rick, Thanks for the tips on stretching, etc. FWIW, Segovia started playing [full-sized?] guitar at about the age of 3. I'm sure that stretching and joint bending exercises are especially effective if you start them at a vey young age. Better late than never, though--right?

As for hitting the strings vertically, that's about the only way I usually can hit them, since I have no backward bend in the first or second joint of any of my fingers [except a smidgin' on the pinky]. [That's why I have to cut my left hand fingernails off practically to the quick, to keep them from getting in the way.]

The wrap-around thumb used to work for me on some chords, until I developed arthritis in the first joint on that thumb and can't do it any more.

I have an old Martin 00018, which has a very small neck, and I use extra light strings. Both these things help. Do you know of any good guitars with thinner necks?

Also, are there some open tunings that are especially advantageous to folks with small hands?

As the arthritis in my left hand increases, I think more and more about swithching to dobro-style playing, with the guitar face up, so I can chord overhand. Seems like this might make some stretches easier. But it means re-learning all the muscle memory that I've been storing up over the last 40 years.

Necessity, of course, is a real mother. I didn't start to get comfortable with barre chords until I accidentally sliced the end of my left index finger off a few years ago and could not play "C" any other way for a while. Now I slide the basic F [barre] up and down the neck with ease. Similarly, since I often find some full chords hard to to, I've taken to substituting melody runs in those situations. Thus, chording problems have facilitated my progress in playing instrumental melody riffs.


02 Apr 02 - 08:51 PM (#681948)
Subject: RE: Size DOES matter..but flexibility rules!
From: Rick Fielding

Tunings? Heck yah, Genie. Open D,(DADE#AD) DADGAD...for can do a LOT with them with very simple chords.


02 Apr 02 - 09:26 PM (#681969)
Subject: RE: Size DOES matter..but flexibility rules!
From: Jeri

I'll bet he meant (DADF#AD).

02 Apr 02 - 09:40 PM (#681978)
Subject: RE: Size DOES matter..but flexibility rules!
From: pict

unless he meant DADFAD.

02 Apr 02 - 09:41 PM (#681979)
Subject: RE: Size DOES matter..but flexibility rules!
From: Genie

Do tunings like DADGAD and open D, etc., work well with jazz-type chords, too, or only for folk, c/w, etc.?

02 Apr 02 - 10:52 PM (#682004)
Subject: RE: Size DOES matter..but flexibility rules!
From: Marion

Herga Kitty, why don't you take up the fiddle? First position on a fiddle (and you can almost anything folkie in first position) has a much smaller area to stretch around than a guitar or piano. And it's much cooler than some silly percussion instrument! And there are only four strings to locate, and since they're in an awkward position to look at anyway you soon learn to find them by feel rather than sight.


02 Apr 02 - 11:25 PM (#682022)
Subject: RE: Size DOES matter..but flexibility rules!
From: Margo

I just KNEW it was a Rick Fielding thread....

I have little hands and I play an old Martin 000 too. I wouldn't want anything bigger. My guitar angle has improved since I started using a strap. I don't worry about the guitar travelling down my leg. Putting my thumb behind the neck is invaluable to me, but mostly up the neck. But the fingers coming down vertically on the strings is vital. It has helped me improve very much since I've concentrated on doing that. Same for Banjo. Margo a go-go

04 Apr 02 - 02:26 PM (#682989)
Subject: RE: Size DOES matter..but flexibility rules!
From: Peter T.

You can do jazz chords in open D, but it requires a lot of thinking. I use open D all the time, and I seem to want to play weird jazzy songs. Some of them are natural, with Em7s and other suspensions just available by default. One problem recently run across (solved by bar chords mostly) is to keep the open chords from sounding too sophisticated!!yours, Peter T.

04 Apr 02 - 03:43 PM (#683060)
Subject: RE: Size DOES matter..but flexibility rules!
From: Herga Kitty

Marion - thanks. I'd never considered a bowed instrument (not even a psaltery!). Now that I live on my own, and don't have to worry about driving someone else demented while I practise, perhaps I should have a rethink. Although I suspect sticking to singing might be the wisest move.


20 Nov 02 - 02:45 AM (#830446)
Subject: RE: Size DOES matter..but flexibility rules!
From: Marion

In terms of our hands' abilities to make chords: we've talked about size and flexibility/dexterity, but the other factor that needs to be considered is strength.

I was at a picking workshop recently and the guy suggested getting a rubber glove (i.e., the yellow gloves used for housework, not latex medical gloves) that's too small, cutting off the fingertips, and wearing it while doing scales and exercises with a view to building up strength. Interesting idea. Has anyone tried this? He claimed it was common among rock guitarists.

Also, while it's clearly valuable to be able to do two jobs with one finger, there's also something to be said for using two fingers to do one job if strength is an issue. For example, with the thumbed Bb that Rick describes in the first post of this thread, I've found that I can make it work by doing the partial barre with middle and ring finger both pushing down. Bends are also a lot easier if you have an extra finger helping.


15 Jan 03 - 05:25 AM (#867230)
Subject: RE: Size DOES matter..but flexibility rules!
From: winterchild

hey guys;

this is a great thread!
Does anyone know if Herga Kitty ever did take up the fiddle?