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I'm a new guitarist. I just bought my first acoustic guitar two weeks ago, but I have some problems with my fingers.

My pinky is curved, my ring fingertip and middle fingertip are separated (bones not straight), and I have some problem with my nerves and my fingers shake a bit.

It's so hard for me to separate my fingers and it's also hard to put them close together while they're on the fret board. My fingers usually get flattened when I play the lowest string.

Is there any advice for how I can play despite these problems?

  • What kind of guitar? what kinds of practice exercises have you been using? – hpaulj Nov 1 '15 at 1:22
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    Don't decide that your limitations will prevent you from learning to play guitar. It may be a bit more challenging for you, but learning guitar is challenging for everyone. I broke my pinkie on my fretting hand and gave up trying to play after it grew back crooked. 30 years later I tried again and learned to overcome the limitation and now play quite well. If you have a strong enough desire to learn to play guitar, you can overcome just about any limitation. Search YouTube for vids of a guitarist with no fingers. He plays with his toes! Many more vids of guitarist with only 2 fingers! – Rockin Cowboy Nov 1 '15 at 6:32
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While it's true that some great players have long skinny fingers and seem to control each one completely independently with infinite precision, many others have had to work with less optimal biological toolsets. Exhibit A would definitely be Django Reinhardt, whose left hand was severely burned in a fire in such a way that he only had full use of two fingers.

My advice would be first of all, try learning to play something really simple like a basic shuffle blues pattern using the open E, A, and D strings, something that uses two strings (this seems to describe how to do it). This will get you started just making some music and getting used to the feel of strings, frets, etc. Don't worry about playing it right, just try to make some noises that sound good to you. Also, realize that the "right way" of holding and playing the guitar is really only right for some median subset of the population, so if you're outside that, you can still make great music with the instrument. I used to know a great left-handed guitarist who was most comfortable playing right-handed instruments upside-down, and I've seen people play the instrument keyboard style, on their lap. If you find your fingers just won't get used to "conventional" playing, you could try experimenting with different types of slide styles and or alternate tunings.

More importantly, from what you've described (and assuming you haven't already), it sounds like you could talk to your doctor about seeing an occupational therapist. Such a person would be best positioned to help you to develop your skills to the best of your ability.

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Advice on this site sometimes involves getting a teacher. In your case, it's good advice. Maybe not long term, but just a couple or a few lessons. A good teacher will be able to see your 'problems' and turn them into positives for you, far better than answers here. Rockin Cowboy is spot on. Do not let the problems get in your way. Others with much worse have overcome them. Good luck - it's worth the effort, and it's an effort for everyone!

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Consider some alternatives:

Alternate Tunings: I read somewhere that Dolly Parton plays guitar with one finger to prevent breaking a nail. There are many guitarists that play with alternate tunings, and in some cases it can make the guitar easier to play. This will create limitations, but it can also be rewarding.

Slide: Similarly you could take up slide guitar. With all guitar playing you do need a certain control of your hand. and slide playing is no exception. The demands of slide playing are different however, and it is possible that you may find the learning curve to be less steep. Besides, slide is super cool.

Change the type of guitar you use: Try a different type of guitar. Classical gutars have their own set of difficulties, for example, but you may find it easier to get a good sound from one. You see, the string tension is less and the strings are farther apart.

Getting a teacher: I second @Tim's idea of getting a teacher. It is possible that you are doing something that exacerbates your difficulties such as locking your finger, or clamping down too hard with your thumb.

  • So, now, we need two fingers to play slide guitar! Of course the second finger needs to damp, just like pedal steel playing. We're in danger of getting too serious on this site. I've mentioned it before... – Tim Nov 2 '15 at 17:55
  • @Tim I think this is a way kinder gentler realm than that of Stack Overflow. Serious is good, it is intolerance that is bad. It is fine that there are some slide players that do not mute their strings, but it is good to know that a more refined option exists. – amalgamate Nov 2 '15 at 18:09
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All good answers above. But remember what John Hartford once said: "Style is based on limitations." I have had a successful run of performing music despite a number of physical limitations that prevent me from becoming the next Eddie Van Halen. People, including musicians, often really, really like my guitar style despite--or because of?--my limitations.

And remember Django Rheinhart. He invented a whole style of music even though he only had on his left hand an operating thumb and two fingers.Here's an example.

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