Trouble shooting finger problems.

I expect this lesson will expand over time...

None of the following is to be taken as medical advice. Consult your doctor if you experience extended pain, physical trauma, etc.

As previously stated in the lesson on placing fingers down on the fretboard (nov.1), while we don't refer to a type of correct technique such that other technique is incorrect or wrong, we do acknowledge that certain habits will produce unwanted sounds, get in the way of what we are trying to do, or make things harder on ourselves.

Many of these problems can be corrected by realigning the fingers, changing finger pressure, etc. Some problems can't, they're problems with the guitar itself. We'll focus on only finger related problems now.

Problems in caps, followed by possible causes, and/or advice.



A couple of possible causes.

1.) You're new to guitar, or have never kept a consistent practice for even a short period of time.

sol'n - develop caluses. By patiently and consistently practicing up to the point of pain (not beyond) daily, a patch of dead skin (called a calus) will develop at the end of your fretting fingers. This will greatly lesson the pain and allow you to play for longer amounts of time (see lesson on TAB for daily exercises).

2.) Too much tension in the strings. They're too hard to press down.

sol'n - switch to a lighter gauge of strings. I suggest beginners stick with light gauge strings until you can comfortably switch chords at a reasonable pace, without stopping (no pause between chords).

3.) Strings are too high (too far from fretboard) to press down.

- this is a problem with the instrument and not you. Take it to a luthier to have the "action" set (have them check/correct the intonation while they're at it).



cause - uneven finger strength generally due to a lack of conditioning of weaker fingers (usually the ring and pinky fingers).

advice - practice, practice, practice. When you notice a string is muted due to a lack of finger pressure, consciously press that finger down harder so that the note sounds.

sol'n - beyond the advice given, you can do simple strength building exercises. I've previously given trilling exercises. Here --->

I suggest doing them at the end of your practice time, as they are designed to induce fatigue.


advice: not everything written within 5 or 6 frets can be fretted all at once. So ask yourself the following questions:

1.) Are there more than one note represented on a single string?

- not everything drawn in a chord-block type diagram is actually a chord. We sometimes use block diagrams to draw scales, arpeggios, and zones of the fretboard to be cut up into various voicings.

2.) Does the chord diagram extend beyond a reasonable range (5-6 frets)?

- It is possible that a capo might be in use. Consider the chord Bm9=727722. Not possible to play with one hand, but if a capo is covering the 2nd fret, then this can be played.

3.) Is there more than one note in the lowest fret of the chord?

- You may be able to use a barre to fret these notes (or a capo if there are no lower notes on those strings throughout the song.

ex. A=577655 has 6 notes, the three occuring on the 5th fret could be played with a barre.

4.) Any two notes in the same fret next to each other?

- You could play them with the same finger.

ex. C/G=332310 can be played with one finger playing the 6th and 5th strings at the same time. It helps to have fat fingers.

5.) Any note on the 6th string not playable by using a barre?

- You might be able to play it with your thumb.

ex. E/G#=422454. You could barre the 2nd fret (maybe also the 4th, strings 1-3), and play the 6th string with your thumb. Playing notes with your thumb has a tendency to lock down your hand though, restricting movement.

6.) Sometimes it's possible to barre notes on more than one fret.

ex. C11=X32331. Here you can use a "curved barre" for the notes on the 1rst and 4th strings.

7.) Sometimes chords just can't be played with only one hand.

ex. Aoadd9=56789 10



This is more of a problem with classical guitars, or guitars with wide necks. Often the problem is due to poor positioning of the thumb. Let's distinguish between stretching/reaching across the neck (say within 3 frets), and up and down the neck (more than 4 frets).

G7=320001 is a chord that many beginners have problems with (so is G=320003). Often the problem is that the thumb is in an inconvienent position for the chord being played. Typically, placing the thumb in the middle of the neck will give your hand and fingers the reach necessary to form the chord. Hand, finger, and neck sizes vary, so at times you may have to place your thumb somewhere else, but in general placing your thumb in the middle of the neck will give your fingers the room to stretch across the neck.


D2=X579XX requires a certain amount of finger independence to play (this would be played with the 1rst, 3rd, and 4th fingers. There is a fairly good stretch between the ring and pinky fingers). Generally consistant effort and practice will help develop the flexibility and finger independence necessary to play such things, but there are stretching exercises that can be done to improve flexibility.

Here's one:

Finger Flanging

Play (as ascending and descending scales) the following patterns:

|O|O|     |O|-|O|     |O|-|-|O|
|O|O|     |O|-|O|     |O|-|-|O|
|O|O|     |O|-|O|     |O|-|-|O|
|O|O|     |O|-|O|     |O|-|-|O|
|O|O|     |O|-|O|     |O|-|-|O|
|O|O|     |O|-|O|     |O|-|-|O|

|O|-|-|-|O|     |O|-|-|-|-|O|
|O|-|-|-|O|     |O|-|-|-|-|O|
|O|-|-|-|O|     |O|-|-|-|-|O|
|O|-|-|-|O|     |O|-|-|-|-|O|
|O|-|-|-|O|     |O|-|-|-|-|O|
|O|-|-|-|O|     |O|-|-|-|-|O|

*note: do not overstretch your fingers. If something causes pain, stop. Serious joint and tendon conditions can develop from abusing your fingers (such as sprains, arthritis, tendonitis, carpal tunnel, etc.)



Play each note seperatly. Listen for specific problems, which string it is on, etc.


Buzz could be caused by either a problem with the instrument, or from poor technique. Instrument problems could be due to imperfections in the setup of the nut, bridge or a specific fretbar.

Finger causes are generally due to a finger touching a string that it is not supposed to be touching. The finger could be touching a nail or the fleshy side of the finger.

Sol'ns -

1.) Make sure that non-fretting fingers (on fretting hand), are not touching the strings.

2.) Make sure that unless otherwise desired (for barres, muted strings, etc.) that it is the tips of the fingers holding down the strings.

3.) Make sure fingers are curved and that the joints aren't flattened.

4.) Make sure there is a space between the palm, and neck (side of fretboard). There should be a pocket of air between your hand and the neck (especially right next to the 1rst string), so that the hand does not interfere with the strings.


5.) If the neck is too small for your fingers, you might look into getting a new guitar with a wider neck. (This is unbelievably rare though. Most people don't have fingers that are too fat for a normal sized instrument. They just don't take the time to develop good technique).



Play each note seperatly. Listen for specific problem, and then correct it.

Muffled/muddy/muted notes can be caused by other fingers touching the strings higher (twords the bridge) then where the note is fretted (or open). If so, adjust fingers (as above - finger tips, curved fingers, etc.)

Muted/damped strings can be caused by not having enough finger pressure (not pushing down hard enough). Try pushing harder and see if the note gets clearer.

And a note might not sound properly if the finger is either directly on top of a fret bar, or if the finger isn't high enough up in th fret. try to keep your fingers somewhere in the fret between halfway and the fretbar closer to the bridge.



As a general rule: if it hurts, stop. It's not supposed to hurt.

Check out the alignment of the guitar in relation to your body. Is the guitar in a parallel plane with your torso? Some students cause themselves grief because the head of the guitar is several inches farther away from them than the body. Try pulling the guitar more into you. See if that helps.

Check the alignment of the forearm, and wrist to the guitar. They should be basically perpendicular (to the neck). The elbow should be relaxed and allowed to hang loose. It should not be sticking out, or stuck in a cramped position.

Make sure that your thumb is in a position that works for you (see above), typically "riding the ridge".

Check the alignment of your fingers. The fingers should be basically parallel to the fretbars, with fingers curved. Having them at (too large) an angle to the fretbars can cramp up your hand.

If all else fails, you might try playing the same voicing of the chord in a different part of the neck, or changing the voicing (maybe omiting a note or two).

Well, that's it for now. This file will include more in the future.

Next lesson is on the minor seventh chord.

Christopher Roberts

How do I change all those numbers to letters (for notes, chords, etc.)? Here's a transposition chart

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Last updated December 24, 2002.
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