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I'm having a really hard time trying to play the intro to Ballroom Blitz by Sweet on guitar.

The intro riff looks like this:

    D 9 11 12 11 9
    A 7  7  7  7 7

While I can definitely hit the first two, stretching for the 7/12 difference is incredibly difficult. Are there exercises or stretches I can do to make this easier, or is that considered a physically difficult stretch for smaller hands?

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    You can do stretching exercises, but please don't ever overdo them. I had quit playing for 3 months after doing stretching exercises to the point where I had a constant ache in my hand – Dave Halsall Apr 11 '16 at 13:18
  • To add to @DaveHalsall, If it hurts even the slightest little bit, then stop. There are not allot of nerves surrounding those tendons and muscles, from what I have been told. That implies that anything you feel in your hand muscles is something to take seriously. – amalgamate Apr 21 '16 at 20:23
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That is in fact a stretch but perhaps not impossible - even for small hands.

One thing you must be sure you are doing is correctly positioning your fretting hand on the neck for that type progression involving a maximum stretch. You will probably find it easier to make the stretch if you position your thumb near the center of the back of the neck and shift it closer to the body of the guitar so that when you are playing the 7th fret on the A string your thumb is actually under the 8th or 9th fret. This will cause your hand to pivot or rotate in the direction of the distant 12th fret and make it easier to reach with your pinkie (yes you will have to use your pinkie).

To help develop more flexibility you can do some simple stretching exercises that you can do before every practice session. Here is a good video on YouTube that has been highly rated and will give you some ideas about a safe stretching routine. Be sure you warm up the muscles in your hands before you stretch.

After doing some warm up exercises and going through your stretching routine, you should practice playing the intro riff. Until you improve your flexibility it might be all you can do to reach the 9 - 12 fret stretch. But it should become easier over time. It might take weeks of intentional stretching prior to every practice session before you see noticeable gains. Be patient.

Once you are able to make the stretch more comfortably - practice playing the riff - starting at a tempo that allows you to play it fluidly with the correct timing between notes. Gradually speed up the tempo as you master the riff at each successive speed.

The good news is, if you use a desire to play this riff on the A and D string as a goal, and work towards accomplishing it - your efforts will be rewarded with an ability to play many more riffs with similar stretches.

On the other hand, if after doing your best to increase your flexibility and ability to make the stretch - you still come up short (no pun intended), you might have to find a different place on the fretboard to play the riff where the stretch is not quite so great (as Dom suggested in his excellent answer).

But I believe you will be able to master the stretch - and in so doing - open up a world of other riffs you will be able to do.

Good luck improving your skills. It's a journey that never ends - enjoy the journey!

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  • There's a blank space where the video needs to be! – Tim Apr 11 '16 at 7:00
  • @Tim I see the video and clicked on it and it plays. Not sure what browser you are using. If anyone else is having problems seeing the video I hope they will let me know so I can see what the problem is. Unfortunately I can't duplicate the issue. – Rockin Cowboy Apr 11 '16 at 23:59
  • Magic - today it's on! – Tim Apr 12 '16 at 6:01
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In general on guitar you have a lot of options about where you can play something. Take advantage of being able to play the same thing on other strings. Instead of just using the A and D string like you are currently doing, you can do this:

    G -  8  9  8  -
    D 9  x  x  x  9
    A 7  7  7  7  7

You also have the option of instead of playing it on the A and D string play it on the E and A string instead where you would play:

    A 14 16 17 16 14
    E 12 12 12 12 12

This high on the neck the stretch is much easier. The tone however this high on the neck may not be what you want. Try both see what feels and sounds best.

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    This is right and good to know, but both of these options are probably not optimal in terms of sound and groove. It's certainly a good skill, being able to play that typical Rock'nRoll pattern as the OP has it in the tab; I thing that version is best in particular for playing with a lot of overdrive. – leftaroundabout Apr 11 '16 at 13:55
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I have three tips for you, and the third one works for most people with smaller hands:

  1. As a final goal, try to play that riff in the seventh position, as you've tabbed it out. All other theoretically possible options won't give you the right sound. This is an important standard riff that is worth to learn well.

  2. As an exercise, play the same riff a few frets higher where it feels more comfortable and work your way down to the seventh position. This may take some time.

  3. If you have small hands it will help to play the note b on the d-string (9th fret) with you second finger instead of with your third finger. In this way you will distribute the stretch between your index finger and your pinky. Your index finger should touch the high e-string around the 8th fret (not the 7th!), so slant your index finger instead of trying to keep it parallel to the frets. You can figure out the hand position that works best for you by just pressing the A-string with your index finger at the 7th fret, and the d-string with your pinky at the 12th fret. I'm pretty sure that your second finger will hover above the 9th fret, and your thumb will be more or less behind your second finger in the middle of the neck. If you put down the second finger on the 9th fret of the d-string you will finally be able to play that riff with fingers 1, 2, and 4.

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I don't have time for a long careful answer, but... If you do most of your "stretching" between your first and second finger you will find a larger reach than if you worried about making space between each finger.

Further, if you place your pinkie (fourth finger) in a comfortable position and reach back with your first finger (stretch with your first finger instead of your pinkie) you will find you are able to reach farther.

Note that with such a stretch your first finger will end up landing more on the side of your finger.

Spend some time practicing scales with extra space between the first and second finger to get used to (controlling) it.

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Why stretch? Instead use an alternating tuning. There is no realistic way a musician on stage would do something like that; it takes a lot of effort to do and sounds awful if it doesn't work. I used this tuning instead

E A D G B E

becomes

E A E G B E

The intro would be something like this:

D 9 11 12 11  9
A 7  7  7  7  7

becomes

E 7 9 10 9 7
A 7 7  7 7 7

The verses also have an even more exceptionally insane stretch such as

D 7 7 9 9 
A 5 5 5 5

becomes

E 5 5 7 7 
A 5 5 5 5

This makes the chords no more than double stops.

The pre-chorus might seem wonky at first but isn't asking something ridiculous:

D   7 
A 7 7 7 7
E 5 5 5 5

becomes

E   5
A 5 7 5
E 5 5 5

IMHO, This makes it seem a little easier to digest and play. And the string tones are close because they are played on the same string as it is tabbed.

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