I've recently taken up guitar again after an absence, I played for 10 years from 14-24. I am now 44, been playing again for about 2 years. I never really used my pinky when I was young, apart from chord basics. I am trying to learn more complicated stuff, but my pinky will not work properly. I have tried different exercises (variations on the spider, scales, pentatonic variations) but the main problem is while the other 3 fingers move like "little pistons" my pinky tends to reach out and "grab" the fret rather than plonking down nice and neatly, firmly but not too firmly. When I am on the high E-string doing a lead part or a quick trill, sometimes it misses the fretboard completely. I understand this is often referred to as pinky "fly away", but I think there's a few other problems as well. The callus is not forming on the tip but over on the outer edge of the finger. This seems wrong to me.

Any tips would be much appreciated, as I am ready to go back to my old blues "claw grip" and give up on playing "properly". Thank you.

  • Not to scare you but had exact same problem with my pinky taking up violin —couldn’t reach well —developed arthritis in the finger which has affected my grip strength which in turn has affected my shoulder . All other fingers fine but now stringed instruments out for me . Listen to your body —if you’re striking the pinky off-center —it can lead to arthritis.
    – Emma
    Jan 25, 2022 at 16:20

4 Answers 4


I went through a similar thing in the last year. Played for years with claw grip, never used left hand pinky (apart from chord extensions). We all know the answer for how to make the pinky work: practice. But the problem is, you can play fluently the "wrong" way, and it just feels awful to deliberately make yourself bad.

How I overcame this was: I forced myself to play the standard position major scale from the low E the "right" way. That is one finger per fret for the four frets involved, with the thumb behind the neck, not coming over the top. Every time I picked up my guitar I just ran through the scale a few times. It felt terrible at first.

But the important bit: then I went back to claw grip for blues scale jamming. I allowed my self to be "wrong", but fluent, for most things, but just threw in the "right" way a bit, every day.

It didn't take long before the pinky started to feel natural (couple of months, but only really putting in a few minutes a day of that dedicated scale practice).

Sort of related: I now can play comfortably in "classical" position, with the thumb behind the neck, and fingers straight up and down, as well as "blues" position, with the thumb over the top, and fingers angled. I used to think that I was "wrong" in blues position. That's really not true: watch some good guitarists closely, and most of them will switch between these two positions all the time. It isn't one or the other, it's both (probably obvious to everyone else, but it wasn't to me).

  • Thanks for taking the time to share your experience, Sean I hope someone finds it helpful. For myself, I'm not really playing much anymore. Arthritis has kicked in. Sep 18, 2019 at 14:10
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    Matt, you have my sympathy, that's awful to hear. I hope you have been able to find other ways to express your creative side.
    – Sean
    Sep 19, 2019 at 8:54

Ring and pinky are more attached to each other than the other fingers, so it's often an awkward situation. Sounding flippant, but not meaning to be, just go with the flow. If you can do most things without it, carry on. One Django did o.k. that way, so make the best of what you have, and develop that way. There is no one 'proper' way to play, we all adapt even if only slightly. Some adapt, and actually it gives them their own edge - not a bad thing.

As far as callouses are concerned - regular readers will know I don't believe in them. They're not necessary and often form due to bad fretting, playing and/or not good action on the part of the guitar used.

The oft chanted mantra of 'see a teacher, if only for a few lessons' is an obvious track to go down; personal scrutiny by an expert is always a good move!

  • OK, thanks. Trouble is, I can't do many of the things I need to do without using the pinky. I guess by "proper" I meant good form. Jun 12, 2017 at 13:18
  • A short scale guitar may help a little. Plus lots of exercises to encourage your pinky to be independent, but, as I said, if it won't, then it won't. Develop your style despite it.
    – Tim
    Jun 12, 2017 at 13:43
  • It's a bit disheartening tbh. So many players who can do all kinds of wizard moves. Idk when electric guitar became so competitive! Jun 12, 2017 at 14:53
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    I find that being philosophical stops me banging my head against the wall... we do what we can, and leave others to appear brilliant!
    – Tim
    Jun 12, 2017 at 15:20
  • You were right. It just won't. I've been doing the exercises suggested below plus some others and if anything it has gotten even worse. It's bad enough sitting down, but standing up I can't use the fourth at all. I'm too old and have left it too late. I'll just use 3. Jul 21, 2017 at 23:56

Strengthening your pinky will increase your response, tone and accuracy. Being able to use your pinky effectively will open up the instrument so much for you.

You said that you are able to incorporate the pinky in chord basics. Take a E form bar chord and practice playing a major chord (a major E form with the bar behind it) and change to the 7th chord by moving your pinky from the D string 2 frets above the bar to the B string 3 frets above the bar. Practice this with a steady even tempo.


Take the E form bar chord and add your pinky to the E string 3 frets above the bar and slide up 1 fret with your pinky to the major third. Again, a steady tempo - strum the chord on beat one and slide to the major 3rd on the next beat. Move your pinky back and repeat.

Slide to major 3rd

A similar chord exercise using the A form bar. Play an the A form bar chord and place your pinky on the E string for a high octave. This is a big stretch. Then play the 7th on the E string. (An easier way would to play the bottom 4 strings of the G form bar chord and switch between the octave and the 7th on the E string.) I would practice both sliding and fretting normally.


As in the common excersise where you asign each finger a fret and move up the fret board then to the next string. (Play the Index finger on the 1st fret of the E string, then the 2nd finger on the second fret then the ring finger on the 3rd fret and the pinky on the 4th. then move to the next string and repeat.) When you get to the last string, move up a fret and do the same thing backwards. (4,3,2,1 next string.. etc..)

Basic finger

Try this type of exercise using only the index and pinky. (I would probably add a 5th fret to stretch the pinky a bit.) On the way up through the strings use a 1st to 4th finger pattern (1,4,1,4,1,4,1,4 then next string) and on the way down use a 4th finger then 1st finger pattern. Move up a fret and repeat. Keep the tempo steady when moving to the next string as well as when you slide your hand position up a fret.

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The key to all of these exercises is keeping an even tempo. You need to go slow enough that the tone is nice and even nice and smooth.

I hope all of this makes sense. These exercises vary in difficulty and may be a good place to start. If you find one too frustrating try a different one and go back to the "tough one" later.

Most importantly, DON"T GIVE UP!!!! Give any exercise or technique a fair shake by practicing daily. Wait at least 2 weeks until you decide if any exercise is working for you or not and needs to be re-evaluated. I think you will be surprised. Good Luck!


The one octave major pentatonic scale with the following fingering is a useful one for 'remedial pinky'. Don't expect instant finesse, rather just use the pinky somewhat like a hook. You've probably been using the first and third fingers for a long time, to the exclusion of your pinky. Now it's time for 'Pinky's Revenge': excluding the third finger for a change.

6th string 2,4 then 5th string 1,4 then 4th string 1,4

Start the scale on A (6th string, 5th fret).

Once you get the scale fingering happening in A, slip it up the neck four frets to C and start shredding over a blues in A or just an A minor chord. You'll be making a little bit of music while you're letting Pinky off the chain.

  • Start shredding? Haha, you must be joking. Thanks mate. I'll try it. The pinky keeps missing the string tho Jun 16, 2017 at 16:19

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