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I have never played guitar but I want to start. I love how you can make sounds that you can almost feel. I'm just worried that not being able to bend my left index finger on my fretting hand will be a hindrance.

My interest isn't playing chords; I know I'll learn them at first, but I'm really interested in a shredding style of playing and playing rock songs (Sweet Child O Mine to be exact). I know it will take months, maybe even years, to get good enough to play it but that's my goal.

Will my finger be a real problem in this? I don't want to play left handed but at the same time I feel it will be easier to use my right hand to hit all the fast notes in solos. I hope I'm asking this in the right place if not I'm sorry I just really want to learn to play my favorite songs and be able to play with and for my friends and family.

I should add I can still put pressure on strings fine; I just can't bend the second knuckle because I cut my finger with a knife when I was a kid and I must have cut through the tendon or something along those lines.

  • why don't you want to play lefty? – b3ko Aug 6 '18 at 14:14
  • Just because its easier to find right handed guitars and I know people that play them is all it's not that I don't want too I would just much rather play right handed – jayme belonge Aug 6 '18 at 14:44
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    You may just have to alter how you play to accommodate your condition. Look at Tony Iommi and Django Reinhardt. – ggcg Aug 7 '18 at 2:35
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    I was once attacked by pickpocketters with a knife, my index fingertip wouldn't bend anymore, but I'm still able to play the guitar... I'm kinda unable to make some open chords though, but it makes me practice my riffs and solos a lot more, so go for it – gl_prout Aug 7 '18 at 10:46
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    I can only partly bend my left 4th finger, because the knuckle is missing, and it's never been an issue for me. Not sure how that compares to not being able to bend it at all, though. – Chris Neve Aug 7 '18 at 11:53
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My first words will be to encourage you!

DO PLAY THE GUITAR!

First of all, it has been scientifically proven that playing any kind of melodic instrument is healthy: it develops dexterity, arms / hands synchronisation mind to limb synchronisation...
A bit of music theory also develops the intelect, keeps the mind sharp for long.

Who knows what good it might do to your "not bending" index? Maybe none? Maybe it will improve?

Talk to a doctor about it

If you have a serious hand injury, maybe you should talk to a doctor about it (or to a physiotherapist or... you get the idea).

Remember two things:

  • Playing the guitar should not be painful or harmful
  • Playing 5 minutes everyday will take you further than you can imagine!

If you do experience pain, simply put the guitar away and come back to it later.

If you experience pain in your wrist, elbow or shoulder, chances are, this pain has nothing to do with you not bending index, but rather with lack of technical experience. Therefore, you should consider...

Take some classes

With a nice, understanding teacher. One that will take his time with you!

AND MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL

Do keep in mind that some of the most extraordinary, amaising, creative, influencial guitar players have build a awe striking style around a deficiency on their fretting hand:

  • Django Reinhardt had 2 fingers burt and was considered a giant of gipsy jazz guitar
  • Tony Iommy (Black Sabbath) had the tips of 2 fingers cut in a press and he is considered one of the father of heavy metal

These are the only examples I have in mind. If you think of somebody else, please write them in the comment section.

Bottom line is: unless you have a serious medical advice against playing the guitar, you should be unstoppable!

Work your own style and you'll do great!

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    I deliberately omitted to mention blind musicians like Steve Wonder or Ray Charles, or other guitar giants like Jason Becker who was stroke by ALS because their cases are a bit distant to yours. Anyway, the message from all these incredible people is: nothing should (can) stop you from making music. – avi.elkharrat Aug 6 '18 at 11:27
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    i believe Richie Haven was born with a hand problem. he played (at least when he was young) with his fretting hand coming over the top of the neck, played in open tuning, and played mostly barre chords. as he got older he was able to expand on this a bit and has written some great songs and was a great performer. – b3ko Aug 6 '18 at 14:14
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    And he set the world on fire at Woodstock! – avi.elkharrat Aug 6 '18 at 14:21
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    Thanks avi I'm going to give it a go I have cystic fibrosis so I spend 2 weeks in the hospital every 6 weeks I spend ALOT of time on YouTube. Iv learned the rubix cube and all sorts of stuff with all the time I have in here so time to learn and practice is no problem at all. I am going to start playing and who knows maybe a year down the road I'll be shredding lol! – jayme belonge Aug 6 '18 at 14:48
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    @jaymebelonge, so happy to hear this! Please keep me updated! – avi.elkharrat Aug 7 '18 at 8:44
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You shouldn't expect to be able to shred without the basics (chords, scales, simple warm-up exercises, etc.), even if you could bend your finger.

That being said, while it will be a hindrance and you might never be as dexterous as someone like Paul Gilbert or Steve Vai, it is absolutely plausible that you will be able to develop techniques to get around this. There are professional guitarists with entire fingers missing (or finger tips, à la Tommi Iommi).

  • Thank you James, I said in my post I dont expect to shred as soon as I start but that is my end goal! – jayme belonge Aug 6 '18 at 14:49
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Don't let a minor impairment stop you! Django Reinhardt, who is regarded as one of the greatest musicians of the twentieth century, had two paralysed fingers on his left hand.

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It will definitely be a hindrance, but shouldn't stop you if you are persistent. Something that will probably help a lot is taking some note of proper left hand form for classical guitarists. Googling should get you hours of content, but a major difference between classical and modern guitar positioning is the thumb (which in turn, controls the positioning of the wrist).

Most regular guitar plays will have their thumb near the low e string (the one closer to their eyes). This causes their hand to wrap around the neck and requires a lot of bending of the fingers. Classical guitar necks are much wider, so if you try to play on one with your hand in that positioning, you won't be able to reach all the strings to play a chord. Those players will instead have their thumb near the high e string instead. This gives their fingers a more vertical positioning, which gives them a much more dynamic range of motion (I can stretch my fingers across the first 4 frets in the prior position, and 5-6 in the latter). But what this will give you is the opportunity to keep your index finger a lot straighter in most situations. Also, it'll help you keep your wrist loose, which is in my opinion the biggest problem that beginners don't know they are facing.

Also, definitely make sure to work your middle and pinky fingers a lot. Most amateur players spend a lot of effort training the index and ring fingers because those feel most natural, and many never use their pinkies at all outside chords when necessary. You would definitely want to offload some of the work from your index finger to the others.

Finally, certain styles of guitar will require more or less effort, and certain techniques (e.g. tremolo, arpeggiation, tapping, stops, etc) can help speed up your playing without adding finger dexterity issues. The right hand is just as important as the left!

P.S. I know that arpeggiation is not a real word, just go with it.

P.S. Arpeggiation is totally a real word and I can English goodly.

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Although I'm new here, I've only had 4 years of lessons/playing 4 years - this much I know. I started playing after age 55 - I have advanced arthritis, and less than ideal hands (short fingers / most don't want to bend). I found a teacher that has taught me the basics, 50 chords, scales, rhythms, power chords, etc and every week is still exciting. He advises on substituting something here or there, but overall I'm able to play just fine (mostly as a rhythm player still) - looking to improve and be the lead :-) player, so really - you can do it!! Don't worry about what you think you don't have, and if you are able, consider maybe getting some lessons so you can figure out together good basics and habits that work for you. Also, it has really helped my hands to move better!! Best to you as you start playing!!

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Why don't you just try it for a few weeks/months. If you can't play music because of your finger then you can drop it later, but at least try. No one on here really understands your finger bending issue better than you do. And hey - if you really wanna learn it then maybe your finger will start to bend, or maybe you'll figure something else out as you play. I would just say start with the basics and take it from there. by the way I started learning to play guitar a few weeks/months ago and I'm learning each day, and every couple of days I see improvement. just hang in there and keep going hard towards your goals!

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I'm a banjo player, and my limitation is different than yours, but I think my experience may help. I learned to play banjo with a physical limitation that caused me great trouble at first. Due to very small hands, I was unable to play certain chords, even after years of stretching and practice. Some things that are commonly done, I still cannot do. But I have learned to play.

What let me continue to learn to play despite this limitation is to combine these attitudes. I think these apply to anyone with a limitation. And to some extent, maybe to anyone at all:

  • As long as I'm getting better in some way, it's OK.

  • I don't have to be able to do everything the book says.

  • I don't have to be able to do what everyone else can do.

  • But that doesn't mean I shouldn't try hard to do it the usual way. My limitation is not an excuse to not even try.

  • But that doesn't mean I should get bull-headedly stuck on something I can't do yet. Sometimes it's best to move on and come back to a technique later.

  • I should be creative and learn other ways to play it when my limitation prevents me from playing the usual way. For me, that could mean using partial chords instead of full chords, or playing an inversion up the neck, or playing melody instead of chords, or almost anything. For you, the creative workarounds will be something else. There's no limit to how creative you can be when working around limitations, and there are no musical police who will arrest you for doing it "wrong."

  • If I do invent my own way to do it, I should try the usual way again after some time. Sometimes the limitation is less evident after lots of playing and practice. Not always, but try it from time to time and find out.

  • Play lots. Play at least a little every day.

  • Growth happens most in the hard parts, so don't get mad when it gets hard.

  • But have fun. Learning to play has moment of great joy. Savor the journey.


Barry Abernathy is the banjo player who inspired me to stop whining about my hand size and get on with it. With a hand deformity that would seem impossible to overcome, he plays professionally and very capably. He "cheats" every which way he can to get the music out. That's the creativity I'm talking about.

Watch Barry play here (youtube)

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