I want to fret one string and use the adjacent string as an open string, but there is no way on earth that my finger can NOT touch the open string. I think I'm a pretty normal adult.

I've seen people discuss this from every point of view and it is always (that I can find) about fretting one string nicely (trimming nails, posture, position, etc.) and never about not touching the adjacent string which needs to be open. I don't have a problem fretting, or intentionally muting the adjacent string. The problem is that I always touch the adjacent open string. Just take any finger and fret any string (pressing straight down) and tell you can do it without touching the adjacent string.

I'm using a classical, which has a wider neck. I have not had it setup, but it seems pretty good in that respect. It's not expensive but the neck is straight, the frets are flat and even. What else can I look at? I'm not taking lessons due to Covid and an answer of "lessons will sort this out" is fine.

(I'm new here and any comments on style are welcome.)

This seems like the answer: https://www.theguitarlesson.com/guitar-lesson-blog/beginner-guitar-lessons/help-fat-fingers-muting-guitar-strings/

EDIT: It is the answer. All other answers I have seen just say "keep practising and you'll get it", but none of them say how you can "get it" when a single finger cannot physically fit on a fret without interfering with an adjacent open string. The linked article talks about that and makes it clear the answer is "keep practising" but also says why.

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    There are three answers to this question -- where you initially posted -- perhaps you could better explain why those aren't sufficient for what you're asking...? – Aaron Feb 12 at 2:08
  • Re 2: The link did provide an answer but I do not know if it is correct, so I'm hoping to get some answers either way - yes, I will get better, or no, I have a problem that no one else has. Thx – robinottawa Feb 12 at 3:27
  • Re 1: No, I saw that one and the answers are not on point for the question, which, yes, is the same as mine. Thx – robinottawa Feb 12 at 3:29
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    This is really just a matter of technique and practice. There’s no secret and no short cut. And you’re not unusual in having this trouble. – Todd Wilcox Feb 12 at 4:02
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    If possible, a picture will help to reveal the exact problem. – Tim Feb 12 at 7:38

It's all about proper posture & technique. Practice is important, but only if you practice the right thing. Here is quick summary

  1. Most important: wrist position. Shove out the wrist as far away from as possible and make sure the wrist is bent inwards as far as you can and then some more. The palm of your hand should be above the fret board as much as possible and NOT below the neck. Initially, that's NOT a comfortable position so some stretching can help and it needs practice.
  2. The whole idea here is that the finger tip comes directly from the top and is angled 90 degrees to the fretboard. Any other angle will make you touch the other strings. And yes, the nails on your fretting hand must be super short, otherwise, they get in the way and will angle the finger tip.
  3. Correct guitar position: higher is generally better. Angling the neck upwards can also help. Note that there isn't a single best neck angle, so being able to manipulate this while you are playing is helpful to. All of this is in support of #1: proper wrist position & finger tip angle.

Here is the tricky part: You should ALWAYS control what you are doing with the "other" strings. Open strings will ring and accidentally touching an unfretted string can make unwanted noises. In most cases you WANT them actively muted, but sometimes it's nice to pick up the resonance of an open string to enrich a cord or fretted note and sometimes you must have it unmuted since you will be plucking the open string.

So you need to build a "vocabulary" of fretting techniques that controls not only what you fret, but also what you don't fret. The same three fretted notes can sound quite differently depending on what you do with the unused strings, which also means you need more than one way to play this.


Without a picture, I'll try to narrow things down.

Start with the position of the guitar. The lower the whole guitar is against your body, the worse the problem will become. Sitting or standing, to alleviate your problem, hold it as high as possible. That means your hand can wrap under the neck more easily.

If it's on a strap, it is where it is. Sitting, move it left and right until your whole arm is away from your own body. Tilting the neck upwards will often help. And don't turn the guitar so you can see the fretboard better! That only exacerbates your problem.

Fingers: usually, especially in your scenario, the fingertips are what press the strings against the fingerboard. Not the pads (fingerprints). Nails don't need to be cut right back, as long as they don't get in the way. 1 or 2 mm is fine. Always press the strings as close to the fretwire as possible. That means not pressing as hard - and may be your problem. The harder you press, the more the finger squashes out - onto adjacent strings.

When possible, use the smallest fingers. For example, on an open A chord, middle, ring and pinky take up less room than index, middle and ring.On fretting a single note, same applies, on the proviso the finger used is practical.

Goes without saying that someone (a teacher?) watching what you, do will solve the problem much better, and you could do as I do, have a Zoom or Whatsapp lesson safely. And practising carefully and slowly getting each finger in place will always benefit. It may also be an idea to use, on particular chords, one finger for two strings, two fingers for three strings. I often, on a barre A shape, use one finger on three strings - without getting in the way of the other barred strings. Not easy initially, but works well eventually.

  • Thanks for this. It answers my question too, but I selected another because I thought it added a little more info that I was looking for. This is my first post here and I don't want to insult anyone by not acknowledging their time and help. Thanks! – robinottawa Feb 14 at 1:15

It’s impossible to judge without seeing the guitar, but maybe your action is way too high. The further your string needs to move to contact the fret, the deeper your finger needs to go beneath the plane of your open strings, and the more difficult it then becomes to avoid touching those open strings. Take it in for an inspection by a luthier, and leave it with them for any adjustments that they might prescribe.

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    Thanks for this comment about the action height. I will get that checked as soon as I can. Before that, while in lock-down, I am trying to round up a good mm ruler that I understand can be used for a rough evaluation. – robinottawa Feb 14 at 1:34

Maybe you have unusually large fingers. So choose a guitar that has a wider fret-board. But guitarists come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, most of them get around this problem, either by technique or by adjusting the action of the guitar.

You have a classical guitar and say it seems set up well enough. 99% certain it's a technique problem then. You may not be able to get to a teacher but there are pictures, videos, Zoom... You could start by adding a brief video of you playing to the question.


Many classical guitarists fret the strings on part of the finger tip that is closer to the nail. My father did this and developed calluses that sloped back from the tip towards the nail. This is a little extreme but his playing was exceptional in his youth. I tend to be right on the tip and I only go a little off in extreme cases, but not as a regular practice. I have what I call "finger nipples", please pardon the risque terminology. But the pad of my fingers really point out and can easily touch the vibrating strings. You may not want to hear it but the other answers are on point by saying it's a matter of posture and practice. It takes time and won't happen instantly, but you will find your way around the instrument and these issues tend to work themselves out in time.

  • Thank you for your answer. (And nipples are not risqué to me. Just a part of the body. :) – robinottawa Feb 14 at 1:35

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