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I have been playing guitar for about 8 months now. I would say I'm progressing decently well, but my guitar teacher has one complaint against me: I don't use all my fingers of my fretting hand.

The fact is that I have REALLY long fingers. So for maneuvers a normal fingered person would have to use all fingers, I can manage equally well with just my index and middle finger. Only sometimes do I have to use my ring finger, and almost never my pinky.

My guitar teacher says that thought it's ok that i can play well with mainly two fingers, but not learning how to use all fingers will negatively affect me in the long run.

My question is: is my habit acceptable? Or will it really pull me back in the long run? Because I have to force myself to use my other two fingers which means playing becomes REALLY uncomfortable, though some other websites and sources say that "play how you feel comfortable".

All recommendations will be appreciated by me.

EDIT:

Sorry, my internet connection was down so I couldn't view or reply any answers and comments. I think I need to get a little more specific. In chords SURELY I can't play with just two fingers, but say, while playing solos. I'm not too good in soloing, but am practicing to solo. In such cases I find it more comfortable to use two fingers rather than all 4.

In response to Graham, one of the answerers, I might have only 8 months experience, but I'm a faster than average learner, so I feel OK in trying to do basic solos.

Thanks to all those who have answered and helped.

  • 13
    Ask your teacher to teach you things that require three or more fretting fingers to play. There are many. – Ed Plunkett Mar 20 '17 at 19:28
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    The advice in music.stackexchange.com/questions/51974/… is about practicing the thing which is hard, instead of looking for a way to avoid the hard thing. Every guitar player has something they have to work through before it becomes easy enough to not avoid. – Beanluc Mar 20 '17 at 21:11
  • How would you play 4 different fret positions with only 2 fingers? What about a position with a barre and then multiple other frets on 2 (or 3 or 4) different strings at the same time? You are dramatically limited as to what level of music you can play if you only use 2 fingers, regardless of how long they are. As a starting point, just try to play your current practice pieces faster. You'll quickly see that it's quite difficult to move just those 2 fingers fast and accurately enough to keep up with the metronome. – Michael McGriff Mar 20 '17 at 21:31
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    How would you propose playing the "Hendrix chord" with two fingers? e.g. strings 1-6 fretted 0,8,7,6,7,0. No matter how much you can do with two fingers, there are plenty of things e.g. Sweep picking that would be much harder (or more limited) if you haven't got good individual articulation of all of your fingers. Best to practice now and make it easier for yourself later. – mcottle Mar 21 '17 at 8:47
  • You should investigate paul gilberts playing to see how good long fingers can be. – Neil Meyer Mar 24 '17 at 7:18

10 Answers 10

26

There are so many things that I play all the time that I can't figure out how to play with two fingers at all that I wonder if you are mainly playing very specific music.

You will want to be able to use all of your fingers, and you will want them all to be strong but not too strong, and flexible but not too flexible, and you will want them all to have muscle memory.

The majority of (non-open) chord shapes require all four fingers, and trying to play single notes with fewer than four fingers is very limiting.

I learned guitar for several years while hardly ever using my pinky (fourth finger). Then I decided I really had to take advantage of all the fingers I was born with and forced myself to learn scales, etc. with my pinky. I wish I'd started on that sooner. Don't be like me - get all the fingers into the game.

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    I'm not a guitar player but I started learning guitar first and anything I tried included all four fingers. All scales are based on four finger movements. – SovereignSun Mar 21 '17 at 17:53
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Once you get past the very early stages of learning, the technical business of practicing guitar is largely about minimising tension and effort, and finding the most efficient movements which accomplish the sounds you want to make.

Deciding to ignore half of your available fingers seems to me like a fairly drastic step in the opposite direction from where you need to be.

It might seem like hard work using your ring and pinky fingers, but that's not just you - everybody finds them harder to tame. The sooner you put in the effort, the sooner you'll reap the benefits, which will include but not be limited to:

  • playing a lot more chords and voicings, including barres that require more than one spare finger
  • choosing the appropriate fingers to play a chord based on the context, eg the next or previous chords in the progression, and any passing notes
  • playing accompaniment and melody at the same time
  • greater stamina, particularly in long/fast passages, due to the overall left hand effort being distributed across twice as many fingers

Django Reinhardt has inevitably been mentioned already. His lesson is not that you only need two fingers to play guitar, it's that good guitarists make the best of whatever fingers they have.

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Well, one could always bring up Django Reinhardt, who used to play incredible stuff with only two fingers. So, you most definitely don't need to use all fingers to be a good guitarist, especially when you're mostly into pure melody stuff.

But I would fully agree with your teacher: it's just stupid to not use all fingers that you have available. Four fingers are necessary for full chords, and with a bit of practice, melodies are also much easier (especially WRT tempo, but also for expressive bending and proper muting) if you use all four fingers.

5

"Play how you feel comfortable" is good advice for ergonomics. It's really, really bad advice for technique though.

For example, almost all guitar players start with their wrist bent backwards and the palm of the left hand supporting the neck. It feels natural - and it's the single worst thing you can do for enabling your fingers to reach round the fretboard.

If you're used to playing with only two fingers, then playing with all four fingers will inevitably feel awkward or unnatural. There's a big difference between "comfort" that just feels awkward, and "comfort" which relates to muscle pain. And don't forget that if you're not used to using those fingers, they are inevitably going to be weaker. However good your technique is, there's a certain minimum level of strength/endurance required, and unless you have a heavy manual job or do rock-climbing or something, it's very likely that those two fingers aren't up to that level yet.

I do have to question what your teacher is teaching you though, if you claim to be able to do everything with two fingers. The vast majority of chords need more than two fingers. Interesting string-crossing picking patterns such as the backing for "Every breath you take" need several strings held at once. Many scales require three notes fretted per string using a standard fingering method, for the examination boards I'm aware of. And there are vanishing few classical pieces which don't require more than two notes held at once. The only thing you can reliably do with two fingers is soloing, and if you're only 8 months into learning the instrument then I seriously doubt you're in a position to know the instrument well enough for much of that. This sounds suspect to me.

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    I'd rather say, “play how you feel comfortable right now” is bad advice. After sufficient practising, the correct technique will feel comfortable. – leftaroundabout Mar 22 '17 at 10:01
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    "Play how you feel comfortable" is also bad advice for ergonomics. You generally feel comfortable doing things whatever way you've become used to doing them. I wonder how many people reading this are sitting up straight with their screens raised to eye level, and how many are comfortably hunched over their desks or comfortably sprawled over their sofas? – Bacs Mar 22 '17 at 10:51
  • @leftaroundabout Certainly it should. OTOH there are known problems with some techniques (e.g. Segovia's right hand position) which current knowledge of biomechanics should help us avoid, but not all teachers have taken the time to find out about them. If you've got tingling in your hands/arms/shoulders, you're doing something very wrong. If it's just sore muscles then suck it up buttercup. :) – Graham Mar 22 '17 at 10:54
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To all of the above answers, I would just add this. If your fingers are long, as mine also are, it might well be that you can comfortably reach intervals, especially in the lower positions, with fewer fingers than other people. That might mean, for particular passages, that you can play them using fewer fingers. But as the others say here, there are many passages where you need as many fingers as you have to play fluently.

Thus, though your most comfortable fingering for a given passage might use fewer fingers than many other players, most of the time you will need all your fingers to play as well as you can.

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I'm guessing that you're talking about your left hand fingering, as finger length rarely, if ever, plays a part in the right hand.

Good guitar fingerings of difficult passages are figured out by experience (using something that worked in the past and applying it to the current passage) and trial and error (when the default doesn't work). A good sign that a fingering doesn't work for a given passage is that you constantly mess up at that point. A good fingering should feel fluid and sound good.

The index and middle fingers are certainly the most acrobatic fingers and it can seem that they will replace all the other fingers. This is why it's important to record yourself practicing and evaluate your playing with intense scrutiny. When you come across a passage that doesn't sound good or you mess up all the time, it's time to look at the fingering and figure out if another finger other than the two that you are using will do a better job.

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I side with your music teacher, there is a whole different side to practice that it seems you may not have been exposed to yet. When you begin to learn different mode shapes and chords you will have to retrain yourself to begin incorporating your other fingers. This will cause you "double" work as you will be unlearning a bad habit so you can learn proper fretting. Also, these newly incorporated fingers will have less dexterity and strength that your dominant fingers. I highly suggest finding a major scale pattern and playing low on the fretboard (more comfortable spacing for longer fingers) and begin working out use of all four fingers across the strings. Comfort will come...

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Find something that is ridiculously impractical to play using only two fingers, learn it (using proper finger positions), and then play it incessantly. Do this with a few songs you like and before you know it your ring and pinky fingers will be nearly as strong as your index and middle.

You don't want to skip out on your weak fingers, or else they will always be your weak fingers. The sooner you start strengthening them, the sooner they will become strong fingers. If you think you can play well with just two fingers, it would stand to reason that you would be twice as good with twice as many fingers. Okay, maybe not exactly like that, but you see what I'm saying.

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You will limit yourself by using less fingers.

You may be perfectly comfortable playing with fewer fingers, but you will be limiting your future potential and setting a wall where there doesn't need to be one. If you really have a large reach then you can do so much more than learn simple melodies and repeat songs.

Outside of what you can currently do, and what other answers mention about practicing and making things easier, that is a big reason to learn to use all of your fingers. You don't want to be 10 years down the road wondering "what if".

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You should practice using all of your fingers ON BOTH HANDS. You should practice with and without a plectrum (pick). You should practice all conceivable ways to use your fingers to make a particular chord. You should practice the same chord in as many fretboard LOCATIONS as your guitar allows. You should practice reading music, reading tablature, and playing by ear. You should practice the things you are bad at MORE than the things you are good at. You should practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice.

  • And once you've finished doing all that... practice. – anonymous2 Mar 21 '17 at 18:29
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    I think you mean plectrum. – PJTraill Mar 24 '17 at 1:04

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