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I've just got myself an acoustic guitar and I'm struggling with holding down chord shapes. I have webbed 2nd and 3rd fingers on my fretting (left) hand. This causes those fingers to follow each other, making it very difficult to play chord shapes. I wonder if anyone else has this problem and, if so, how they overcame the difficulty?
I would include a photo but I've just joined this site and can't see how you do that.

Firstly, I would like to thank all contributors for their advice. Secondly, I should point out that my chosen sub-sub topic label should have read ‘physicality’ not ‘physiology’! By the way, I expected a reference to Django Reinhardt, but I’m just a normal human being I’m afraid, and anyway, as I understand it, Django still used all his fingers for chord playing. I have considered the left handed suggestion, but have concluded that, having been a confirmed right hander for 68 years, that’s just going to be too difficult to try as a first option. Although I am a beginner, I have picked up a guitar now and again over the years, having been involved with rock bands since the early 60s, playing drums plus a couple of years playing bass guitar (badly). The open tuning and slide suggestion, however, is very appealing. I have now tuned my guitar to open G and got myself a slide. I can now make music! What a revelation! Thanks particularly for that advice.

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Welcome to Music Practice and Performance! This is a great first question. I don't pay guitar, so I can't answer your question, but there are a lot of guitar players here who probably can. If your want to learn how to upload pictures, read the end of this help article: music.stackexchange.com/help/formatting –  Kevin Aug 31 at 17:02
I think new users can't upload pictures. If you'll post a link to your photos in the comments, we can edit them into your question. –  neilfein Aug 31 at 18:24
Check out Django Reihardt for inspiration if nothing else. He had damaged ring and pinky fingers on the fretting hand, but managed pretty fine anyhow... –  Meaningful Username Sep 1 at 13:33

3 Answers 3

First, accept that you have a handicap and will never be able to play guitar 'normally'. Embrace it, don't try to play like everyone else, and you'll be a far better guitarist for it.

I would recommend learning to play with alternative tunings, especially open tunings or all 5ths. It will make many chord fingerings far more simple for getting started, and will make it easier to find your own 'voice' as opposed to falling into the same traps and patterns most guitarists do. You'll also have an easier time when you go basic chords to playing articulations, melody/lead lines etc with how notes are arranged with an open tuning.

Of course this is all pointless if all you want to do is sound like [x] in which case the previous suggestion about playing left-handed is the way to go. You don't even necessarily need to get a new guitar. Any half decent luthier can fix the nut and bridge on an acoustic so you can string it in reverse and play it left-handed (unless it's a cutaway or something crazy like fanned fret / multi-scale).

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Meh not really a good answer as it doesn't begin in empathy but is overtly blunt using potentially offensive language depending on the ops stance on their body. –  caseyr547 Sep 2 at 10:46
Being blunt is fine, but please don't be rude. –  NReilingh Sep 3 at 17:29

I think a simple solution would be to switch hands. Take a left handed guitar* and play like that. The two webbed fingers won't be an issue if you use them to hold a pick.

If you've never learned guitar before, it would be easier to learn to play a left handed guitar. If you had gotten used to playing the guitar, changing to a left handed guitar would be a lot harder.

If you stick to using the hand with the webbed fingers as your fretting hand, you are going to have limitations to your playing.

Like people mentioned in the comments, reversing the strings isn't really easy to do; if you go with this solution, you should go to someone who knows the trade to reverse to strings for you.

*Or you can reverse the strings in a right handed one

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This is a good thought, and it may be the simplest solution. But OP should be aware that while strumming and fingerpicking shouldn't be affected, playing fingerstyle or with fingerpicks could be a problem down the road. –  neilfein Aug 31 at 18:23
@neilfein if I compare fingerpicking problems and shaping chords problems, I'd say that it is much more vital to be able to shape chords rather than play fingerstyle –  Shevliaskovic Aug 31 at 18:24
Agreed, just pointing out that this doesn't completely solve the problem. –  neilfein Aug 31 at 18:25
Can't argue with that –  Shevliaskovic Aug 31 at 18:26
Changing to a left handed guitar (or set up) is something I've thought about, so that sounds like something I could try. Thanks Shevliaskovic. –  David Woods Sep 1 at 9:20

A chord typically consists of 3 notes: so theoretically you only need 3 fingers (and three strings) to play a chord. But most guitars have 6 strings, so other chord notes are played twice on multiple strings. It will probably not be possible for you to learn to play guitar the most common way. I would suggest to learn how you can decompose chords into individual notes (mostly root, third and fifth, for chords with a seventh, replace the fifth by the seventh) and where you can find them on the neck of a guitar. Just try to fret those three notes on any position that feels comfortable for you and then pluck those three strings with the thumb, index and middle finger of you right hand. Alternatively, you can even remove three strings from your guitar and learn to play with only the lowest (E A D) or highest (G B E) strings, or any other combination you like. Another option is to tune your guitar in an open tuning and learn to play with a slide.

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