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I have never played guitar or had any lessons in my life, and at the ripe old age of 40, I just decided I wanted to learn how to play.

So this week I just bought a Yamaha F310 as it seemed to be quite well rated for beginners. The potential problem I have is that, I am right handed, and the tip of my left index finder can't bend over at the last joint as I had an accident when I was younger, snapping the tendon that enables you to bend the tip over. This means my left index finger only bends at the middle joint, but from there up, it remains flat - cannot bend the tip over.

Is this likely to make the road ahead a tricky one for me? I've just been trying to play the A, D & E chords and am noticing that I'm having to really get my wrist underneath the neck so as to keep the flat part of that index finger off the surrounding strings and also angle my left index finger in from the end of the guitar direction, rather than from below (to lessen the chance of that flat finger touching strings below) - this in itself then feels like it hampers my hand position for the rest of the finger placements.

I don't know if this initial awkwardness is just general beginner awkwardness, or if perhaps it's slightly worse because of this finger.

I'm wondering, if it is likely to be a bit of an issue to play cleanly going forward, whether I should return the right-handed guitar, and before I get too used to learning that way, get a left-handed guitar so my dodgy index finger is only used for gripping the pick and strumming?

I presume it's no harder to learn left-handed vs right-handed (if you've never played an instrument before and don't yet have that muscle memory etc)?!

Any thoughts/advice would be much appreciated.

Thanks

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    In my experience I had a student who was left-handed and trying to play right-handed because he didn't have a left-handed guitar. He was a beginner and it was more difficult to learn. But if you are looking to play basic chords, it may be worth a try if the finger in cooperating. But don't give up. – r lo Feb 18 '16 at 19:42
  • You'll find it harder to achieve standard guitar technique if your LH can't do all the usual things. If you go left-handed some picking techniques may need modifing. Great things have been achieved by guitarists considerably more handicapped than you! But there's no virtue in overcoming obstacles that can be easily avoided. I suggest you give left-handed a try. – Laurence Payne Feb 18 '16 at 20:04
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    Just a word of encouragement: Django Reinhardt, one of the greatest Jazz guitarists of all time, had his left hand almost entirely disabled in a fire when he was young. He had little to know mobility in his ring and pinky fingers. It prompted him to create his own style, which is still emulated and admired today. – Ryan Kinal Feb 18 '16 at 21:55
  • As well as Django, look for Graham Oliver - a guitarist with metal band Saxon - he lost the end of his same finger decades ago and it didn't stop him... (I've heard him say he uses it fine for barre chords, and uses his other three fingers more to compensate). I think I would stay with the right hander for at least six months to give it a fair trial... You could always reverse the strings to "try out" leftie playing later (this affects setup and tuning accuracy though) – Andy Feb 19 '16 at 9:22
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Well that's an interesting dilemma. But you can overcome your limitation!

As you suggested you have two options:

Option one is to switch to lefty guitar so your right hand becomes your fretting hand. Option two is to learn to adapt your fingering to compensate for your handicap. Let's explore both options.

I don't see any reason why it would be any harder to learn to fret with your right hand to play a "left hand" guitar. Many left handed folks learn right handed guitar because they know right handed guitars are easier to come by and don't have to be special ordered and can be found used etc. So they learn to play right handed guitar from the beginning - which for them is like a right handed person learning left handed. I have never heard any complaints from the folks I have known who are left handed but play the guitars that right handed people play.

Either way you learn, you must train your brain to get your fingers to do very awkward and unnatural things and contort into strange shapes. I can't think of any reason why a right handed person would find this easier to do with the left hand and have often wondered who decided that right handed folks should use their left hand as the fretting hand to begin with.

The key may be in your ability to maintain a consistent strumming rhythm with your left hand and arm. If you can master some basic rhythmic in time strumming with your left hand, as easily as you can with your right hand, there is no reason you should expect the learning curve to be any different starting from ground zero - regardless of which hand you use for fretting. Of course, now is the time to make the change if you do go that route.

The other option is to learn to adapt. Certainly there will be some open chords that will be more difficult to play in the typical fashion if you can't bend the last knuckle in your index (first/trigger) finger. One that comes to mind is the C chord which is usually played with the index finger fretting the second string (b string - next to skinniest string) on the first fret.

One solution would be to learn to form most chords with your pinkie, ring finger and middle finger and leave off your index finger. Since the pinkie is usually the finger that most beginner's find to be the least controllable, most beginning guitar students tend to avoid using the pinkie in the beginning. But as you become more advanced, the pinkie becomes very important. So why not start developing it now.

Your inability to bend the fingertip knuckle will not impair your ability to play barre chords. And if you learn to play most open chords with the other three fingers, it will be easier for you to play barre chords which often require the use of the other three fingers. You will probably even find yourself making great use of the C shaped barre chords and D shaped Barre chords in addition to the more common E shaped and A shaped barre chords.

To play an A major chord in first position you can use a mini barre with your middle finger or ring finger - so you use just one finger to play it. I play a G chord with pinkie, ring and middle finger as a matter of course. I play an F chord as a barre chord with a straight index finger. I often play an E chord with my pinkie, ring and middle finger so I can simply slide that same shape up the fretboard to play other E shaped barre chords.

I think the most difficult challenge for you would be to try to play a C7 or G7 in open position without the ability to bend the finger tip knuckle of your first finger. So perhaps you might have to play those as barre chords on the occasions when you need to play a C7 or G7 in a song.

You will be able to make it work either way - if you have a strong enough desire! Remember that learning guitar takes a great deal of determination and commitment born out of a strong desire. That does not change whether you learn to fret with your left hand or right hand. And it does not change if you are forced to alter your fretting technique and fret some chords in a manner that some might call unconventional.

There are many examples of folks who have learned to play with only two fingers. I saw a YouTube vid of a guy playing with his toes. So if the desire is there, you will find a way to adapt.

I gave up guitar as a teenager because I broke my pinkie on my fretting hand and it grew back crooked and weaker. At the ripe old age of 40 I decided to try again - this time with more passion and desire and determination. I was able to overcome my limitation and learn to play quite well. I now get paid to play guitar and sing at local venues and private parties. I am so happy that I decided to give it another shot. There are a few chords I can't play like other folks but I have learned to substitute other chords or play a different fingering. It has not held me back.

Regardless of which direction you go from here - enjoy the journey. It will be worth the effort in the end.

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I say that you can find a way to make it work. I would define the knuckle in question as a locked finger to my students, and I am always telling them not to do it. It may get in the way on occasion but many students will do it not realizing that they weren't supposed to and manage to do pretty well. often they lock the other joint, but it is not a complete obsticle.

For your other fingers, the reasons not to lock your finger are ...

  • it reduces your speed in positioning and releasing a note.
  • it reduces your accuracy.
  • it reduces the leverage of your muscles.
  • it gives the muscle in question a vacation, making he other muscles on the team work harder for the same result.

I'm having to really get my wrist underneath the neck so as to keep the flat part of that index finger off the surrounding strings and also angle my left index finger in from the end of the guitar direction, rather than from below (to lessen the chance of that flat finger touching strings below) - this in itself then feels like it hampers my hand position for the rest of the finger placements.

I am not exactly sure what your wrist looks like from your description, but you are ahead of the game to realize that your wrist position effects your fingers and can cause part of the muting of strings unintentionally. Guitarists without your difficulty still will have this problem. The wrist should be away from the guitar, controlled but relaxed, and either straight or bent slightly forward. It may need to move from that good home position for certain chords.

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