Playing Guitar With Small Hands (11 Actionable Tips)
Playing guitar with small hands is harder.
Plain and simple.
If you’re someone with small hands, then you’re clearly at a disadvantage when it comes to playing the guitar.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
One of the most common excuses I hear from people that discourage them from playing guitar is that their hands are too small.
But can your hands actually be too small to play the guitar?
As someone with naturally small hands, I can speak from experience when I say that it’s actually not THAT bad.
Sure, you may need to work harder in the beginning.
But with enough practice, you’ll adapt to the point where you don’t even see it as a disadvantage.
In this article, I’ll 11 actionable tips for playing guitar with small hands.
Can You Play Guitar With Small Hands?
First, just to reiterate.
Can you play guitar with small hands?
You absolutely can play guitar with small hands, both proficiently and beyond. With enough love and dedication to the instrument, the possibilities are in fact endless.
Much of becoming a great guitarist is making the affirmative conscious decision that you are going to become a great player no matter what it takes.
As long as you can think and dream bigger than the size of your hands, there is no limit to what you will be capable of achieving.
Are Your Hands Too Small for Guitar?
Unless you’re an infant, your hands are not too small for guitar.
I’ve seen kids as young as 4 years old start learning guitar.
So unless your hands are smaller than that of a 4 year old, your hands are NOT too small for guitar.
Check out this video of this 9 year old girl completely shredding on the guitar. I bet her hands are a lot smaller than yours and she seems to be doing just fine.
Amazingly no one’s hands, not even yours, are too small for guitar. There are several ways to comfortably ease and improve your playing even if you have the hands of a hobbit.
Luckily, you found this article where we will expand upon things you can do to work with what you already have and we will explain how you can also start playing easier from scratch.
Your small hands are going to be the strongest and fastest they’ve ever been soon.
How to Play Guitar With Small Hands
Practice Using Your Pinky
The most immediate tip for playing any guitar with small hands is knowing how to incorporate the pinky finger.
By learning to use your pinky finger you allow yourself more space and flexibility, while lessening the tension of your wrists and fingers.
One particular chord that helped me stretch my pinky in my early learning years is the G major chord and using the pinky to play the 3rd fret of the high E string (G note).
To also make this easier, make sure you are playing the lower G note (3rd fret of lower E string) with your middle finger and the B note (2nd fret of the A note) with your index finger.
Other exercises that are particularly helpful in strengthening the pinky include practicing the chromatic scale.
The reason the chromatic scale is a good exercise is because you will be playing every single music note in this given scale.
Fret not though (pun intended) it is not as difficult as it seems.
Here is an example you can refer to this video.
So as you can see, you will be able to learn all 12 notes that we use in music, while actually giving all 4 of your fingers a great exercise.
One extra tip you may incorporate here is keeping your fingers as close to the fretboard as possible, even when you’re not using them.
This will give you the ability to build speed and accuracy all while gaining strength and endurance in your pinky finger.
Another way you can gain strength and dexterity in your pinky finger is by doing hammer on and pull off exercises between your ring and pinky finger.
While you will find this to be the most challenging 2 fingers to work between, the payoff and benefits will be well worth the effort. Refer to this lesson and particularly at 3:00 to see it done
By gaining strength and dexterity in your pinky finger, you’ll have a more trained and tactful advantage over even a giants fingers.
Using a Guitar With a Short Scale Length
If you are able to go guitar shopping, then using a guitar with a shorter scale length is another shortcut to having an easier time playing with small hands.
The length of the scale is the distance of the nut to the bridge. If you are curious about the length of your guitar scale or another guitar you are interested in, you can measure from the nut to the 12th fret and multiply that number by 2.
Do this instead of just measuring the nut to bridge because the string saddles on the bridge fall in different places.
What you are really going for with a shorter scale length are the shorter frets, which are such a relief! Not only will it be easier to stretch your hand, it will be easier to bend notes, giving you more flavor and spice in your playing.
Another interesting thing to note here is that a shorter scale length results in shorter strings. Shorter strings require less tension and thus are easier to stay in tune.
Many players report being able to have longer practice sessions simply because these kinds of guitars are just easier to play overall. Just like you would be able to workout longer with lighter weights, so you are able to play a shorter scale length guitar longer.
The break these shorter scale length guitars give your small hands makes a big difference in how much easier long playing sessions become.
We have also found that shorter scale length guitars are lighter on the ears as well. These guitars tend to have a warmer mid range frequency. Thus they are able to easily cut through an acoustic jam, giving you the chance to shine and rip that shredder of a solo.
One last really cool thing about these shorter scale length guitars can be the shorter scale price. Take advantage of sellers targeting small handed and “beginner” level players (not you of course) to cut out that extra cost.
That is a lot of information we have here on shorter scale length guitars. But we know by staying conscious of a shorter scale length and shorter frets, you’ll be able to allow yourself a short handed person’s easy walk across the fretboard.
Use a ¾ Sized Guitar
Much like the shorter scale length guitar, we have what is called the ¾ guitar. Not only are they cute and convenient, these travel size or ¾ guitars will make fret mobility and shredding practices a much easier time altogether.
These loveable size guitars are incredibly light and easy to carry almost anywhere. There are even some that you can fold up and almost fit in your pocket.
When it comes to sound quality, many ¾ guitars are just as good as full stack guitars AND you will still have electric or acoustic electric options as well!
Many players, but particularly our short handed friends, report on being able to reach notes and frets far beyond what they typically would be able to using these kinds of guitars.
This always makes for a more enjoyable practice and playing experience.
Build Finger Dexterity
Having smaller hands, it is incredibly important to practice building finger dexterity. Naturally, your hands have a shorter reach, so it is absolutely crucial to work on stretching and building that broader reach we need.
Since your fingers are without length, we are going for strength.
Being aware that you need to strengthen your hands already gives you a head start to the game.
There are tons of ways we can work on building finger dexterity, no matter if you are a total beginner or if you are an expert level Yngwie Malmsteen style player.
Something we should touch on first here is the stretching of the fingers and hands. Just like you would stretch before any other exercise, stretching before you practice guitar can really help you maximize your full potential.
You can start by holding your hand out, with your hand facing upward, and gently pulling your fingers back toward you to get a deep stretch of the fingers.
Simple things like massaging your knuckles will give you more blood flow needed to get warmed up.
No matter what size your hands are, it is vitally important to practice building your finger strength and dexterity as often as possible.
This is especially true for our small handed army who are going to take over the guitar game out there.
The best exercises to build such strength go back to things like the chromatic scale and really any scale exercise where you can incorporate all 4 fingers.
Of course, you are also going to want to have fun and play things more musical than just the chromatic scale and other standard stock type of practices.
Check out your major and minor scale exercises and also learn the different modes. There are literally millions of resources and training videos out there, and we are here to guide and direct you to the best paths to take.
To get the best and most consistent feel, it is important to practice with a metronome. Usually you want to get a certain exercise down at a certain BPM for 3-5 minutes straight.
Then about every week or so, you can kick the BPM up around 5-10 notches or so and try hitting your exercise for 3-5 minutes.
A metronome is also very important because you will be able to track your improvement. It can be very easy to get discouraged and wonder if you are actually progressing in your playing.
Yet if you are tracking the BPM you started on, you will be able to see how far you’ve come. There are many apps with a good metronome, one of them being Soundbrenner. Also if you are looking for a cool app that will give you a drum play along, Loopz works very well.
Switch to a Lighter String Gauge
If you are a very green small handed newbie, one of the easier cheat codes to go with is a lighter gauge string. Almost every guitarist out there can confirm that lighter gauge strings are in fact much easier to play.
There is a chance your guitar will sound less full, but you will be providing yourself far more comfort and ease of playing.
You will find some of the techniques we’ve already touched on here easier to do, including bending the strings and doing hammer on and pull offs.
The kind of gauge you will want to go with is a good .009 – .042 range for electric and .010 and .047 for acoustic. One of the best brands to go with is Elixir Super Light Strings.
Lowering the Action on Your Guitar
Lowering the action on the guitar can be one of the most significant things done for players of every level and hands of every size. One step we highly recommend when purchasing a new guitar is getting a professional set up done.
This process entails bringing the strings closer to the fretboard so that your guitar needs only minimal effort to play while avoiding any unwanted buzzing.
You will be amazed at how bringing the strings even just a tiny bit closer to the fretboard can make a world of difference in playability. Many guitar shops actually have a luther on site so see if you are able to work out any kind of deal if you already happen to do business with them.
Position Your Thumb Properly
If you’re someone with small hands, then learning how to position your thumb properly is essential.
Having proper thumb placement will give your fingers much more leverage over the guitar neck, allowing you to stretch your fingers out as far as they can possibly go.
If you’re someone who tends to wrap your thumb around the guitar neck, then this a habit you want to break.
When you wrap your thumb around the neck of the guitar, it severely restricts your other fingers from stretching out.
This is a huge disadvantage, which is something you can’t afford if you already have small hands to begin with.
The best place to really be with your thumb is placing it flush with the neck, directly in the middle of it. This will allow you to apply maximum pressure to the strings, while being able to hop around the fret board as needed.
This will help with many things including being able to reach further on the fret board, enunciating the notes you are playing perfectly clearly, while maintaining the absolute best posture possible at all times.
All in all you want to make sure to remember to stay conscious of proper thumb placement. By doing so you save yourself from practicing bad habits and risking injury in the future.
Use a Guitar With a Thin Neck
A crucial tip to help expand your small handed capabilities playing is to utilize guitars with a thinner neck. Surprisingly you will find that many guitar necks out there vary widely in girth.
The secret to playing guitar with small hands is improving the playability of the guitar in any way you can.
Since you’ll naturally be stretching your fingers more and working harder to reach certain notes, people with smaller hands are more prone to hand fatigue.
Using a guitar with thin neck, like an Ibanez, is significantly easier to play that something with a thick neck, like a Les Paul.
As someone who is used to playing guitar with smaller hands, I can tell you that once I switched to playing thinner neck guitars from brands like Ibanez and Music Man, I’ve been able to significantly increase my session time without hand fatigue.
Incorporate Finger Tapping Techniques
Quite possibly the most impressive of ways to stretch out your playing capabilities is to incorporate tapping techniques.
The main problem when it comes to playing with small hands is that you have trouble reaching notes that are spaced out on the fret board.
Finger tapping completely alleviates this issue by incorporating hammer on’s and pull off’s with your other hand.
The use of your strumming hand to actually finger tap a note opens up the entire fret board and allows you to reach notes that would normally be too far away to hit with your primary fretting hand.
One example of someone who adapted to having small hands by incorporating finger tapping is Sara Longfield. If you watch her playing, you’ll notice that she almost exclusively uses finger tapping .
Many of the absolute greatest players from Eddie Van Halen to Andy James will show us how awe inducing this type of playing can be.
Of course, you want to be able to show off a bit and play awesome but try to not be ridiculous, until you get ridiculously good.
A general rule of thumb is you should be able to stretch your index finger to pinky finger to about 4 frets. For example, you should be able to play the A note on 5th fret of low E string with your index finger and stretch it to the C note on the 8th fret of the same string with your pinky finger.
Generally speaking unless you REALLY learn to stretch your fingers more, you should convert any stretches further than four frets to tapping.
Of course these are just general guidelines and sometimes rock n roll requires no rules too.
If you want to see the different levels of tapping, here is a link from a great player named Bernth.
We can’t wait to see the gains the small handed army makes by incorporating some tapping.
Mastering the Sliding Technique
This is another technique that is only going to give you more tools to use no matter what size your hands are.
However, it’s especially helpful if you’re playing guitar with small hands because it helps with overall maneuverability around the fret board.
Since players with smaller hands won’t be able to easily reach notes on the fret board, being able to accurately slide to the correct notes is essential.
Sliding and even incorporating the right kind of bends, even to simple phrases of notes, gives them much more character and flavor to the mix.
This is how many of the great blues players put so much “feel” into their playing, while playing overall simple phrases. If you are more on the intermediate/beginner side or even if you’ve played for years it will always be worth it revisiting the sliding technique.
Transpose a Song With a Capo
Small hands may give you good reason to experiment with the capo, even though all players could benefit. The capo is a great way to add unique voicings to a song that would have otherwise been in another key.
Don’t listen to those that say the capo is a cop out or other such nonsense. There are in fact many great players out there who do incorporate the capo on many occasions. You can even see Andy McKee use one from time to time, I don’t think you can find a better acoustic player than him.
What’s also nice about the capo is it gives you the ability to change keys all over the fretboard. This will come in handy making singing and accompanying easier while giving yourself an original voice on a given song.
By learning to use a capo effectively, you will have next to no limitations in learning thousands of different songs if you want to. As a beginner (or really any level of player), there can tend to be a lot of “grind” involved in the practice routine.
What is good about the capo is it will make many things easier and more encouraging so you are motivated to progress. Once again, it will always help to record yourself and practice with a metronome to track and record your progress.
Learn Alternate Fingerings for Chords and Notes
Learning alternate fingerings for chords and notes will always be a great tool to have in your arsenal.
This is mostly because it can also free up other fingers to do even more. One example to put things into context here is the A major chord for instance.
In addition, if you have small hands, then certain chords can be seriously difficult to play due to how far the frets are spaced out.
learning alternate fingers for your desired chord can help compensate for this because you’ll just be able to play the same chord in a different way that’s more comfortable for your fingers.
Build Calluses on Your Fingers
Building calluses on your fingers is one of the natural side effects of building a consistent and constructive practice routine.
While it may seem to be a painstaking process at first, you will soon reach a breakthrough where you can play with endless endurance.
When you’re first starting out, if you have small hands, you’ll likely need to use your pinky a lot. You won’t have the luxury of only using your first three fingers that are stronger.
Stretching to hit notes with your pinky finger WILL be painful at first.
However, once you develop calluses, it’ll make playing guitar significantly easier since you’ll be able to stretch out as far as possible without feeling the pain in your fingertips.
The best way to go about building the best routine is to simply commit to practicing, ideally at least an hour a day.
If you are going to be recording or performing consistently, you’ll probably want to bump that up to 2-3 hours a day if you’re really serious.
If you are in a band, a good rule of practice is if you miss a day of practice, YOU will notice. Miss two days of practice and your BAND will notice. Miss three days and your AUDIENCE will notice.
So as you can see it really is essential to get a daily routine down as much as possible. If you are not in a band, you want to still be practicing daily so that when you do come across a good group that you will be the obvious choice.
Do You Need Long Fingers to Play Guitar?
In short, you do NOT need to have long fingers, big hands, or any kind of supernatural powers to play guitar.
Sure, having long, Steve Vai like, fingers can definitely be an advantage.
But with some practice, you’ll eventually adapt and it’ll feel natural.
I have been playing guitar for 10+ years and now I don’t even see having small hands as a disadvantage anymore.
There are plenty of famous, renowned, and great original players that have or had smaller hands. A few names that immediately come to mind are Angus Young, Kurt Cobain, and Prince.
The three of them for instance have an average height of 5’2 and they were known to have much smaller hands.
Despite this shortcoming, they all came up with timeless original works of art. Wouldn’t you know it, much of the work of AC/DC and Nirvana is actually great material for beginner guitarists to learn.
The albums Back in Black by AC/DC and Nevermind by Nirvana are in fact highly recommended albums to learn if you are a new player with small hands.
It is not our physical limitations that hold us back, but truly only our mental limitations. If you can convert the passion you have for guitar into an actionable daily routine with us, the possibilities are again endless.
We hope you choose your dreams, take our advice, and decide you’re going to play guitar with the best of them.
Cheers and all the best, until we meet again ☺