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I've been playing the electric guitar for approximately a year and a half and previously had some years playing acoustic. I was watching other people (including newbies) playing guitar and noticed that if they use their index finger and then the pinky, the ring finger stays over the fretboard and doesn't touch any other string. When I do the same, my ring finger always moves in one direction with the pinky. Thus, when I want to press, let say, 8th fret with my pinky, the ring finger follows it and lands on the 7th fret. The single alternative for me to prevent these useless touches is folding it down. But this is not good as the "unfolding" takes more time than just landing.

As a result, my legatos may sound quiet, and the speed suffers, especially when playing descending scales. I'd like to know: is it normal behavior? If so, how can I avoid this? What I supposed to do for that? Could you, please, share some effective exercises (not necessarily related to the guitar)?

I attach a GIF for better understanding. FYI,I had no finger trauma.

enter image description here

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  • Check out this violin exercise for independent finger movement Dec 16, 2022 at 16:08
  • suggests placing your fingers on the table and very slowly and carefully lift and lower each in turn, and do it over and over again. I had exactly this issue and re-learning control is the only answer, physical limitations aside Dec 23, 2022 at 10:09

3 Answers 3

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As I understand what you're asking, your ring finger goes onto a fret lower than pinky, when playing pinky note. Then, when you take off that pinky, the ring finger is already there. For descending notes, I can't see how that's a problem. You're all set up for that lower note. I could see it being a problem for ascending, but that's not what you say.

Human anatomy means we can move our ring finger independently, but pinky movement also involves the ring finger moving. Just try it palm up. You can see that clenching pinky causes ring to move as well. In fact, playing legato, that needs to happen - ring needs to be already pressed in order to pull off with pinky.

An exercise that helps is to tap on a table with fingertips. Keep the heel of your hand on the table, and lift each finger in turn. There are multiple combinations of taps, so explore each one. No need to raise each much, as in guitar playing, just enough to allow the string to vibrate freely on the given fret. This, funnily enough seems to work in the opposite direction from what I described earlier.

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  • hi, thank you for you advises and explanation! You mentioned that it could be a problem for ascending scales. How about this: if I firstly press a string with my index finger, then, in turn, put the middle finger and the pinky on the same string, should the ring finger hover over the fret or stay on this string?
    – Lazouski
    Dec 16, 2022 at 12:08
  • @Lazouski - we quite often put an extra finger behind the fretted one, for instance, when bending notes. there's no problem at all with doing that.
    – Tim
    Dec 16, 2022 at 12:48
  • @Lazouski I'd go so far as to say it's preferable to put the "behind fingers" on the string. I.e. if you put down the pinky, put down the others behind it, unless one of them is about to play some other note and so is getting ready to move there. It may be different for violin, but that's how I teach violin: If you alternate between an open string and a pinky note, 0-4-0-4, then all four of your fingers are moving together. Dec 16, 2022 at 16:08
  • @Tim sorry for a late response. You said often - but you are still able to control whether the ring finger is lying on the fret or it is above it, aren’t you?
    – Lazouski
    Dec 25, 2022 at 13:27
  • In a word, yes. But any finger needs only to be raised a couple of mm above the string to stop causing any problem. No need to wave it around!
    – Tim
    Dec 25, 2022 at 14:12
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You should be able to use all fingers independently enough that you can touch any one down without the others (even if they move a bit) - so practice doing exactly that, touching one finger at a time, as slow as you need to do it right, then accelerate only once this is successful.

If you can't press your pinky down at all without your ring finger touching you may have a physical challenge. If that is the case, don't panic - there are very famous guitarists who have lost fingertips or whole fingers, or who have played very well using limited mobility.

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    Go on - mention Django!
    – Tim
    Dec 16, 2022 at 11:40
  • Or Tony Iommi :-)
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Dec 16, 2022 at 14:22
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This is quite possibly a muscle memory issue, perhaps learned unknowingly from bad technique early on that hasn't been corrected.

My advice, correct the technique (perhaps playing various scales) at excruciatingly slow speeds until you get the desired results. Then, gradually speed up a little at a time, over and over, until your fingers move in the desired way at your 'normal' speed.

This could take you some time, and a lot of practice and patience, as assuming I'm correct you're unlearning what your brain has been taught to do subconsciously. Ask any instrument tutor, and they'll all tell you that the longer bad technique goes unchecked, the harder it is to correct.

I'm 3 years post-surgery for Dupuytren's Contracture in both hands, plus I got Reactive Arthritis from COVID about 9 months ago and I can STILL do what you're describing with my fretting hand. Unless you have some undiagnosed issue (might be worth a trip to a hand therapist to rule that out if that's affordable?) I can't see how it could be anything else.

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