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Do you Need Long Fingers to Play Guitar

When you’re new to the guitar your hand and finger size/length is a real concern. As someone with very small hands and short fingers I was convinced it would mean I could never play well.

So, do you need long fingers to play guitar? No, absolutely not. There are thousands of great guitarists with normal or short fingers. Whilst having smaller hands and fingers may make some big stretches and certain chords a bit harder you can still play virtually everything without any issues whatsoever. Your finger length doesn’t really come into it.

do you need long fingers to play guitar

But if you need more convincing then keep reading. We’ll take a closer look at how finger size affects plying the guitar, tips to laying with shorter fingers and some examples of guitarists with short fingers.

Do You Need Long Fingers to Play Guitar?

No, the length of your fingers is largely irrelevant. What matters is having the right technique, getting your hands and fingers used to playing the guitar (if you’re new to it then they won’t be) and putting in the hours of practice.

There’s no special trick you can do to make it easier. It just requires time and using your fingers in the correct way. Eventually you build the necessary strength and dexterity.

I’ve been playing the guitar for well over 10 years and have ridiculous short fingers and tiny hands (no jokes please!). My hands are so small I’m self conscious of shaking hands with most people as they’re so puny and child-like they get eaten up by everyone else’s meaty grasp.

And when I first started playing I was sure my hands would make it impossible. But here I am all these years later. I may not be the next Hendrix but I can still play half decently.

Just to put that into context here’s a picture of my hand and fingers with measurements:

small hand size for guitar diagram

The average male hand size is 7.6 inches when measured from the crease of the palm to the top of the longest finger. My hand is only 6.7 inches long, considerably shorter than the average male.

The average male middle finger is 3.7 inches, whereas mine is only 3 inches. So again considerably less.

The average female hand size is 6.8 inches so I’m actually slightly shorter than most women as well!

And there are lots of children and women/girls with smaller fingers and hands than me. And they can still shred just fine. So if you think you need long fingers to play the guitar you’re 100% wrong.

Does Finger Length Matter?

No, the length of your fingers doesn’t really matter. what’s far more important is technique.

Make sure that you’re wrist and arm are in the correct position. Ensure your thumb is placed behind the neck in line with your index finger. Don’t play with a death grip or thumb over the top of the neck.

Getting all of the fretting hand techniques right will go a long way to helping any problems you face with shorter fingers.

Also when you’re starting out your fingers and hand aren’t used to what you’re asking them to do. It takes time to train the muscles and tendons in the hand so they’re flexible enough to make those stretches.

Sadly it just takes time and practice. It’s not what anyone wants to hear but there’s no secret answer.

You just have to knuckle down and accept it’s going to be frustrating. With time you find your small fingers become less of a problem. You’ll be making stretches you didn’t think you’d ever be able to and aren’t accidentally muting other strings.

If you’re still worried about being limited by short fingers then take a look at Django Reinhardt. He’s widely considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time and only had 2 fingers on his fretting hand! Check him out:

And if you still don’t believe me take a look at these children playing:

It’s a bit creepy but look – they have tiny hands. If you’re reading this then I’m guessing your hands are bigger than theirs. So there’s no excuses!

Is there an ideal hand size to play guitar?

No, there is no ideal hand size for playing the guitar. There have been and are amazing guitarists with huge hands through to tiny hands. Prince and Angus Young were both very small with small hands and they’re 2 of the greatest of all time.

angus young small hands
Angus Young of AC/DC is one of the best guitarists ever and has small hands

Tips for Playing with Short Fingers

We have established that you can play the guitar with short fingers but that doesn’t mean they won’t cause any issues at all. I have very small hands and can’t play the low E string with my thumb over the top like lots of famous guitarists do.

It’s annoying but doesn’t stop me from playing anything. I just have to play barre chords the regular way and occasionally adapt other bits.

There are things you can do to reduce any issues that might arise from smaller fingers or hands though:

  • Get your Guitar Setup Properly – I can’t empathize this enough! So many of those struggling to play their guitar are amazed how much easier it is once it’s had a proper setup. It’s relatively cheap as well and will make a huge difference. So find a guitar tech, shop or luthier who can do a full setup.
  • Stretching Exercises – there are exercise you can do and practice to help your short fingers to stretch further. These exercises shouldn’t hurt though! That’s a big red flag and you should stop instantly if you’re getting a lot of pain. Here’s a few exercises that JustinGuitar has but there are lots on YouTube or Google if you search.
  • Try a Thinner Neck – if your hands are small and you have short fingers then a guitar with a thin neck may be more comfortable and easier to play. I was sure I was going to be a Les Paul guy but when I finally tried one I found the neck far too chunky. I could still play it but it was much more awkward than my Telecaster. And my Ibanez RG has the most comfortable and thinnest neck I own. In fact Ibanez’s in general have very thin necks. So try out some guitars with thinner necks like Ibanez’s and Jackson’s to see if they’re better suited to your smaller and shorter fingers.
  • Try a Short Scale Guitar – much like a thin neck a shorter scale guitar can make a big difference. Shorter scale guitars have the frets closer together which means if you have smaller hands or short fingers it’s easier to make those stretches or difficult chords. So maybe try a Fender Mustang, Jaguar or Duo Sonic if you want a short scale electric guitar or opt for a parlor acoustic like the Little Martin or Baby Taylor.
  • Use Lighter String Gauges – using lighter string gauges means your strings will be thinner. This makes it easier to hold the strings down and should reduce tension or problems with the length of your fingers. It’s easy to switch strings so even if you’re not sure you can try a lighter gauge out and see if it works for you or not.
  • Use a Capo – it might feel like cheating but a capo can make what would otherwise be an impossible to play song possible!
Squier by Fender Classic Vibe 60's Mustang Electric Guitar - Laurel - Sonic Blue
The Fender Classic Vibe 60’s Mustang is an affordable bit quality short scale guitar

What if your Fingers Won’t Stretch

Then you need to practice more! Honestly that’s the answer most of the time. That or you need to work on your technique.

Almost everyone struggled when they started out. Holding down the strings is hard, getting chords to ring clearly, not muting strings with your hands or fingers etc. all of it is tricky and takes time to master.

It’s the same for stretches and finger dexterity. You just have to keep going. If you’re really struggling then getting in-person lessons might help. Having someone to look at and identify any areas that are holding you back can be invaluable, especially when you’re self taught.

redd volkaert stubby fingers
Redd Volkaet has incredibly stubby fingers and yet that hasn’t held him back from being an amazing guitarists

But This Song is Impossible to Play

There may occasionally be a song or part of a song that it doesn’t matter how much you practice you just can’t stretch to. A good example of this is ‘Every Breath You Take’ by The Police.

It’s a great song with an iconic riff. But that riff requires an A barre chord shape with a nasty 5 fret stretch involving your little finger. Lots of people struggle with it regardless of hand or finger size.

But in most cases with difficult stretches or awkward fingerings there are little tricks or alternative ways to play them. Justin from JustinGuitar explains how he was able to play ‘Every Breath You Take’ after struggling with it originally in this video:

So if you find a song you’re really having issues with then search around for an alternative voicing, different positions for notes or way to play it.

Conclusion

The main take away from this is that you shouldn’t let short fingers stop you from playing the guitar. Yes, it may make certain songs or chords more difficult but there are enough examples to show that it doesn’t really make much difference at all.

Practice, persistence and correct technique are what’s really needed. If you spend enough time playing then I can guarantee you it will come eventually and you’ll look back a year or so from now and wonder why you were worried about your short fingers.

About Andy Fraser

I'm Andy and I've been crazy about music, and specifically the guitar, for longer than I can remember. It's this passion and enthusiasm about all things guitar that drove me to start this website. A place where I could talk about the gear, techniques and general awesomeness that is the best instrument. I began playing somewhat late compared to a lot of people. I was 15 years old as it had taken me a while to find the confidence to believe in myself and take that step to learn to play an instrument. It started my lifelong love of music and playing in general. Since then like so many before me I've become an addict and gone through more guitars, amps and gear than I care to remember. Guitar Inside Out is my way of sharing hat love and passion with the music community and hopefully inspiring and helping others to enjoy it as much as I do.

3 thoughts on “Do you Need Long Fingers to Play Guitar”

  1. It’s frustrating to see so many sites cite Django as a shining example of overcoming obstacles to “play guitar”. Why the quotes around “play guitar” you may ask? Well, because he zeroed in on a very specific style that worked for him. Show me a video of him playing rhythm guitar.

    Reply
    • I take your point, and it’s fair. In my defence what I was trying to illustrate was that even severe difficulties like Django’s – and his were pretty extreme – don’t have to stop you “playing guitar”. Yes, he had to adapt his style and I’m sure it limited what he could do, including rhythm guitar as you mentioned. But this article was about short fingers, or fingers not being long enough, and that’s what most people reading this will be worried about. Hopefully the Django example just puts their concerns into perspective.

      And of course a better example that should disprove the notion that small hands or short fingers stops you from playing, and playing whatever style you want, is the video of the kids contained within this post.

      Reply

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