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Six months ago I started to play the guitar. I like it very much. It became one of these things that I regret not started earlier in my life (I am 25 years old)! By now I can say I am not a complete beginner anymore. I practice whenever I can (about 7 hours per week).

One thing that bothers me a lot is that I seem to be unable to spread my index finger and ring finger far enough to play power chords like the F5:

F5 power chord

When I play this chord with not investing much effort it looks like this:

enter image description here

By no effort I mean that my hand and my upper body are relaxed and under no tension. My left arm is leaned onto my body. The guitar is resting comfortably on my leap and is slightly pointing away from me.

When I try hard to play the chord perfectly, so the fingers are in a 90 degrees angle to the strings, it looks like this:

enter image description here

As you can see it is slightly better. But to achieve this I have to put much more effort in my body tension. I have to position the guitar a little bit outside my lap so I can achieve a 90 degrees angle between my arm and the guitar neck. Also I have to move my left arm a little bit away, so it is not leaned against my body anymore.

I met other guitar players and explained my problem to them. They seemed totally unaware of this so it makes me think that I might be one of few "anatomically disadvantaged" guitar players. Is anybody experiencing (or has experienced) this problem?

Update

I want to thank all of the answerers for encouraging me. It really boosted my will to play guitar even more. Additionally I lowered my strings on my guitar, because they were way to far from the fretboard. Now it is even easier to play this chord. It does not sound nasty because I don't need that much force anymore.

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    I never have a 90 degree angle between my arm and the guitar neck. In fact, I avoid such an angle because it causes me terrible icky pain and makes it so I can't play at all. The most comfortable way to finger a chord that sounds good is the right way to play it. I don't know where or how you got the notion that there should be a 90 degree angle between your arm and the neck, but I recommend you don't listen to that source of incorrect information again. I've played for 24 years and my hand looks very much like your top photo when I play this chord. – Todd Wilcox Jan 30 '17 at 13:56
  • Thanks for your comment. Actually when I play the guitar like you see in the first picture, it sounds not good at all and very dirty, because I cannot put enough pressure with my ring finger onto the string. I don't think it is a problem about too low pressure. It is just that I cannot put that much pressure onto the string when I do not have a 90 degrees angle between strings and fingers. – arminb Jan 30 '17 at 13:58
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    Ahh, now we are getting somewhere. See the daylight between the neck and the part of your palm behind your pinky finger? I don't have that. I bring my hand up until it's touching the bottom of the neck more completely. Don't swing your elbow out to make chords sound good, that way lies injury. Do give yourself more than six months to learn to play a clean, comfortable F chord at the first fret. This is the hardest power chord to play on the whole neck, it should take quite a while before your fingers learn perfect placement. – Todd Wilcox Jan 30 '17 at 14:02
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    Btw, I started at 19 and it's the best thing in my life. Stick with it, it's never too late! – Todd Wilcox Jan 30 '17 at 14:03
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    You don't have a problem. In your second picture you are doing the right things - you just need to learn how to use less pressure. – Doktor Mayhem Jan 30 '17 at 23:39

11 Answers 11

8

Don't try to have a 90° angle, it's bad for ergonomics and could cause injury.

For this chord based on your first photo, I think you actually want to try to work your ring finger closer to the third fret. Your index finger looks just right. You might try angling your hand even more (not less), and try bringing your palm up closer to the bottom of the neck.

This is how I play the F power chord:

enter image description here

The main reason why I like to have my palm against the back of the neck is to make it so I can just squeeze with my fingers without having to put as much tension on my arm. Normally I don't bend my wrist this much, but I have to in order to get my fingers up high enough.

I do keep my fingernails pretty short to prevent the adjacent strings from rattling against them and so they don't impede my fretting in any way.

And give yourself plenty of time to learn precise finger positioning. Your hand looks really good (in the top photo) for someone who has been playing for only six months. Be patient and don't go for uncomfortable hand positions. And if you really want to progress quickly and safely, get a teacher.

BTW, for many years when I played power chords on the low E string, I fretted the low E with my thumb over the top, like this:

enter image description here

The knuckle of my thumb is actually fretting the low F on the E string. Even though my pinky is in the fretting position for the three note power chord, I'm just muting with it there.

Notice my wrist is higher up and not bent.

  • Thanks for the nice words! So you say it will get better after a while of (a lot more) practicing? I enjoy it much, this issue won't stop me from going on and trying harder. – arminb Jan 30 '17 at 14:23
10

You shouldn't need to aim for 90 degrees, and you shouldn't need much effort or pressure at all.

When I play that, I use only a little pressure, and my wrist is entirely relaxed. My little finger and index finger also are relaxed and floating.

Unlike Todd's guidance, though, my hand does not touch the neck at all - it's free floating, just resting between thumb and fingers, which makes moving really easy.

enter image description here

  • Nice double neck. – Todd Wilcox Jan 30 '17 at 23:43
  • It's only an epiphone but it's a nice one. It's my usual composing one by my desk (as the others are all up on the wall) – Doktor Mayhem Jan 30 '17 at 23:44
  • Bit awkward hanging double necks... – Tim Jan 31 '17 at 12:23
5

It looks as if your hand is normal. Stretching to extended chord shapes does take a lot of practice. Try putting your thumb nearer the center of the back of the neck, you appear to be 'grasping' the neck rather too much.

4

Firstly, try to free your left arm from your body. It'll be better in the future, as keeping the elbow in restricts whole arm movement.

Secondly, when a power chord is played, it's either two or three strings. If you prefer two, then you need no more than two fingers! But- why not use index and pinky? You could even put down the ring finger next to pinky, for support, because it won't affect the sound. Then, later, when you're feeling a bit more advanced, you'd be able to reach the same fret on 4th string for the root octave, which thickens things up a little. Practise power chords further up the neck, where the frets are a little closer, thus less stretchy.

Thirdly, watch a video or two of one Django, who had far less stretch than even the most stretch-challenged of us. Your worries may disappear!

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    I personally disagree with the "why not use index and pinky" part of your answer. Avoiding things you're not comfortable with by circumventing them seems to be a bad idea to me. I'd rather start at higher frets and slowly work my way down the fretboard, as you suggested :) – Michael Kunst Jan 30 '17 at 17:44
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    Yes I also think it is not a good idea to substitue ring with pinky. I want to learn it the right way. At one point maybe I will get to a situation, where I need all three fingers together (or even all four). So I think it's better to learn it how it is supposed. To be flexible and "prepared" for more difficult future tasks. – arminb Jan 30 '17 at 17:49
  • The pinky is usually shorter and weaker than the ring finger. That would probably be worse for fretting the A string for power chords. While I don't think the left arm needs to be held close to the body, it should hang in a relaxed manner from the shoulder. The fretting elbow should not move outward like a bird wing because that is caused by tension and it causes more tension. Tension makes playing slower and less comfortable, and could lead to injury. – Todd Wilcox Jan 30 '17 at 18:32
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    @arminb - There is no supposed. I have taught for 40+ yrs, and each student finds their own best way, with my help. Most of my students get onto 3 and 4 finger chords within a couple of months, regardless of finger length. Another option of course, is to D tune the bottom string, which seems pretty popular, and then, one can use any old fingers one wishes. – Tim Jan 30 '17 at 19:09
  • @ToddWilcox - Have to disagree with you. Ring and pinky work well together, and this double idea is good.Yes, pinky's weak, but if one needs strength to fret notes, there's something wrong! By moving the elbow out slightly, the pressure on ring/pinky is increased slightly, saving the finger/hand doing the squeezing. Playing power chords often doesn't need a lot of l.h. speed : movement is usually lateral anyway, involving whole arm movement. – Tim Jan 31 '17 at 12:21
2

Nobody else has mentioned it yet but there are a couple other factors you may want to consider in addition to wrist angle before deciding your fingers simply won't spread appropriately for the given chord you are trying to hit.

  • Muted Strings - I'm looking at your first picture and I think your hand placement is slightly wrong which could contribute to your inability to easily stretch your pointer and ring finger. You appear to be holding the F5 as if you your first 4 strings are going to be openly ringing. But take notice of the Xs in the chord diagram: 1-3-X-X-X-X. Those Xs actually mark the strings as muted, which means that you should be able to strum all 6 strings of your guitar and only hear the first fret of your low-E and the 3rd fret of your A string. All of the other strings will give you a low "whump" sound as you lay your pointer finger across them without actually holding them to the fret board. This "laying down of your pointer" finger will relax your hand somewhat and may allow you to more easily spread your fingers apart as necessary.
  • Guitar Neck Size - I can't tell exactly from the picture but the dark ebony could represent an Electric Gibson neck (which have necks that are thicker than some other brands like Fender). Keep in mind that not all guitars are created equal. Classical guitars have very thick necks which force a very specific hand technique which requires that the neck be tilted upward somewhat. Some electrics on the other have thinner or thicker necks depending on the style of the guitar. Depending on the size of your hand you may find certain guitars more comfortable than others and certain chords easier or harder. If you have a specific chord which is giving you trouble, you may try going to a guitar shop and experimenting with some other guitar styles to see if they all give you trouble or if it is just a specific characteristic of the guitar you are using.
  • Setup of the Guitar - Similar to the neck issue above, depending on how close your strings have been setup to your fretboard, you may be exerting more force than is ideal in order to press your strings down to play notes. When you play a guitar where the strings are too far away from the fretboard, the tendency will be to place your thumb more squarely on the back of the neck which could be somewhat uncomfortable on your hand. Stretching your pointer and ring finger apart when you have unnecessary strain elsewhere could absolutely contribute to the difficulty you are describing.
  • Thanks for comment! Really appreciate it. This is my first guitar. It is an acoustic Squier by Fender. Indeed the strings are kind of far away from the fretboard. But what are the benefits of building guitars this way? If it is easier to press strings with low gap between fretboard and strings, why not build all guitars this way? Or is this simply a quality criteria (The better the guitar the lower the gap)? – arminb Jan 31 '17 at 14:02
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    @arminb If the strings are too high then it's actually a setup issue as opposed to design issue. Acoustics are a little more tricky to setup so you'll want to take it to a luthier or your local guitar shop and have them set it up. Basically they'll check the truss rod in the neck to determine if you have inappropriate warping and then if necessary they'll file down the nut on the bridge so the strings lay flatter against the fret board. All guitars need to be reset over time so I'd budget having your guitar set up professionally every couple of years at minimum. – DanK Jan 31 '17 at 15:02
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    armin - you don't necessarily want your strings too close to the fretboard. I have different setups on different guitars specifically to have different tonal qualities and playing styles. – Doktor Mayhem Jan 31 '17 at 22:54
1

I have another suggestion, basically to help you develop your ability to stretch.

Whatever hand position you settle on, try playing this chord form higher up the neck. So try playing a C power chord at the eighth fret (for example) instead of an F at the first fret. You might find it a bit easier up there mainly because the frets are closer together. If playing a chord formation higher up (closer to the bridge) is easier, you can start working your way down (toward the nut) gradually to the F chord and this will slowly increase your ability to stretch in the lower frets.

I don't use these formations so often but, for what its worth, my hand position looks close to Dr. Mayhem's above. I find the F position is probably the most difficult on my guitar - it's easier to play the formation higher up.

1

Everyone has different geometry and so not everyone suits the recommended positions. I have large hands but short fingers and so I stretch my fingers out on both hands every day, several time a day, to make the most of what I have, and to keep flexibility. It does make a difference. Also placing your fingers on a table (hover your palm) and practising moving each finger (especially ring fingers), very slowly and deliberately, up and down off the table without moving the others, will make chords and switching chords easier. I stress, slowly and very deliberately, with control.

It will become easier in time, honestly. Playing things higher up the neck (as suggested above) does work but make sure you keep pushing gently to move back down the neck to lower frets or you will get stuck there at the dusty end

1

The more you play the more comfortable you'll get. Your style will adapt to your strengths. Django had his left hand maimed in an accident and played beautifully.

0

I have played for over 50 years and have been constantly plagued by the size and shape of my hand. The first issue I confronted was the difference between playing seated (especially if you hold the guitar up high and close to you) and playing standing. Playing seated one tends to hold the guitar higher and closer to your body this actually facilitates the positioning of your fingers however, it is totally different from playing standing, which necessitates a different positioning of the hand. Next I encountered the difference that scale length makes. With Fender having a longer scale length I have found that Gibson's shorter scale makes it easier to reach more frets. If you really want to experience nirvana try a Gibson Byrdland which has an even smaller scale length. All guitars have different neck widths and depths these have a dramatic impact on your playing ability. A fat neck such as 50's era Gibson's is almost unplayable for folks with small hands. Next up is hand and finger stretching. I highly recommend two dvd's from Lick Library "Guitar Aerobics Beginner" and "Guitar Aerobics Advanced" they introduced me to warm up and practice exercises that forced me to stretch my fingers beyond anything I was previously used to and introduced me to correct hand positioning. To sum up finger stretching and correct hand placement selecting the best neck size for you will do wonders.

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Bring the neck in closer to you and hunch/lean forward over the neck and guitar. I have the same problem as you have. I play the Greek Bouzouki now by trying different positions that suited me. The Greek Bouzouki has a big sound bowl which makes it harder to hold and balance. I was determined to play and now I can. You have to be determined although the bouzouki has a narrower fret board and its a tetrchord 4 course not a trixachordo 3 course(narrower fret board). I can play the guitar well to make my own recorded backing. Have fun.

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just practise chromatic scale starting with lower 6th string to 1st string (4 note per string) . And then go back from 1st string to 6th string. This exercise helps me the most.

protected by Dom Feb 2 '17 at 15:30

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