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I recently started learning to play guitar. I cut my nails completely, so I can press the strings. Often I need to endlessly re-arrange my fingers because I'm muting nearby strings. I correct one finger with a lot of effort, but mute some other string. :(

I don't have big fingers or anything; it's just that there is this pointy meaty part (marked in red) on each finger that lays slightly on nearby string. No matter how much I move finger up or try to bend finger away from it, it very soon touches the string.

Will this change if I continue to practice?

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    I'd remark that this is substantially easier to get right on classical guitar than on steelstring. – leftaroundabout Jan 8 '17 at 19:40
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    Something I see in the picture unrelated to your question: make sure you play as close to the fretbar as possible (without touching it) instead of in the middle of the space. – OldBunny2800 Jan 8 '17 at 21:29
  • @OldBunny2800 I realized sound is clearer near the fret bar, as you said without touching it. What is a good practice when playing for example A or E major ? there is little space for three fingers to fit in there so each finger gets further from the fret bar. – JunJun Jan 8 '17 at 22:11
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    Use the 3 smallest fingers if you have to play all three notes with a finger each. Otherwise, try using a couple of fingers instead, over the three strings, all adjacent on an open A. Some players only use one finger for all three, and still have the top string sounding open. Almost what you are doing already, but using something bad to make something good! – Tim Jan 9 '17 at 8:45
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    @JunJun try to make the fingers as close together as possible. My teacher explains it as making them "hug". If this is hard, make sure your fingers are curved. – OldBunny2800 Jan 9 '17 at 13:07
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You're not going to mutate significantly. In time, you'll learn to place your fingers more precisely.

In some cases, this might mean placing the finger to one side rather than in the middle, because you might not need to worry about fouling the string on one side (e.g. if you're fretting it higher)

Another important thing is to put your fingers close to the fret you're playing. This allows you to press down less hard, which makes the fingers 'squish' less.

You'll also get better at feeling and hearing when you're accidentally muting a string, and be able to correct faster with less conscious thought - so your mistakes will matter less.

You'll also anticipate where you need to put your fingers further into the future, which will help you make fewer mistakes.

Sometimes I even have to 'cheat' a little by bending one string a little away from a potentially interfering finger! It takes a little time to get the co-ordination to do this.

Having said all that, you may well find that your fingers harden up a little, which may help you press a little less hard (which again avoids some of the squishing). It's probably only a tiny effect, but all these factors add up.

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    +1 for press down less hard, which is a big part of developing skill with the guitar. Not only will you be able to play more precisely, but you will also pull the strings less out of tune, and you will be able to play more effortlessly. – Bradd Szonye Jan 8 '17 at 21:03
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    "Sometimes I even have to 'cheat' a little by bending one string a little away from a potentially interfering finger!" At some point my ear developed enough that if I accidentally bend a string slightly and make the chord out of tune it bothers me, so this technique should be applied sparingly, if at all. – Todd Wilcox Jan 9 '17 at 2:28
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    @ToddWilcox true. Thinking about it a little more, It's probably something I do when I'm lining up for a string bend anyway, and hence a) pressing harder (and more likely to accidentally mute another string) and b) in a musical situation where I've already decided that coming off the note is OK. Not all that uncommon in bluesy soloing situations though! – topo morto Jan 9 '17 at 9:03
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To add to Todd and Topo's excellent answers - I will add my voice to assure you that it will get better over time with practice. I actually have short fat fingers and I have learned to compensate.

In addition to finger placement and angle of attack, the other thing you might need to adjust is your thumb position on the back of the neck. I find that to cleanly play certain chords without muting strings I am constantly readjusting my thumb position on the back of the neck. Every chord formation gets its own thumb position. It will eventually become very intuitive to include the thumb position for certain chords as part of the finger position for that formation.

For example, I know when I play an open E major chord I need to shift my thumb to the treble side of the back of the neck to get my fingers oriented perpendicular to the fretboard. So while my fingers are forming the correct position in mid air - my wrist is rotating so my thumb can slide closer to the treble side of the neck. When I play an open D major chord, my thumb is pointed straight up at the ceiling and the tip of my thumb is not even on the back of the neck. The C chord finds my thumb more parallel with the neck of the guitar.

Try different thumb positions and thumb orientations with the chords that are giving you trouble and you may find that a shift in thumb position or angle might make it easier to get your fingers where they need to be.

Good luck.

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    Excellent point mentioning the thumb and wrist.... and of course to get the wrist in the right place, you have to get your elbow in the right place, which can mean getting your strap and posture right.... more of your body goes into it than you might think! – topo morto Jan 8 '17 at 20:31
  • @topomorto yes it's a whole body experience. Unless you are one of the YouTube vid tutorial guitarist who play that guitar that is suspended statically in mid air ;-) – Rockin Cowboy Jan 8 '17 at 20:40
  • @topomorto Totally agree. That's why I have learned to use a strap - even if I am sitting on a stool during a live performance. Otherwise I will constantly be exerting at least a small degree of muscle tension resisting the guitar's proclivity to want to slide down my leg from the sheer force of gravity. – Rockin Cowboy Jan 10 '17 at 16:19
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It will change, but not because your fingers will change, because you'll get better at perfect finger placement. First, your minor finger corrections will come more and more quickly. Then, you'll start to put your fingers in the right place in the first place.

With daily practice, you should have much improved finger placement after 1-2 years. You don't have to wait that long to learn interesting techniques or challenging songs, it just means that at that time your playing will start to sound pretty good in a subtle way.

4

I'm skeptical about writing this as a full answer - this is mostly an addition to the excellent answers others have already posted.

As a young and amateur guitarist I had the same issues (obviously). What helped was... cutting my fingernails short.

With shorter fingernails I was able to place my fingers at a better angle without having the nail hit the fret board, and this also means less "squishing" and less accidental muting.

Since I'm a male having short fingernails doesn't concern me at all. That said, I have no idea how do female guitarists manage it (if they want to keep more "feminine" hands). ;)

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    Banjo player here, but short fingernails has also been very helpful for me. – Wayne Conrad Jan 9 '17 at 15:29
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Once I started playing banjo a great deal, my fingertips developed callouses that were significantly harder than my fingertips were before I started playing. With these callouses, my fingertips don't flatten out as much when pressing against a string. This does help to keep from muting adjacent strings.

This is not the only thing that helped. Short fingernails (as mentioned by @Shaamaan) helped. Good finger placement helped. Practice was the key to developing all of these things.

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