“My hands just aren’t as big as they should be…can I still learn to play the guitar?”
It’s a pretty common question from people considering taking the plunge and trying to learn how to play. It’s understandable why some may think that! Even some of the more seasoned players may struggle with playing specific chord fingerings, let alone full out barre chords that may go across the entire neck or solos that have superhuman finger stretches to reach that last high note.
But in the grand scheme of things, does having small hands really matter? We say – and say it pretty firmly – that the answer is ‘NO’!!
Sure, having hands and fingers with smaller proportions can present some challenges. The key is figuring out how to view those challenges as opportunities to get better and not as roadblocks to your guitar-playing success. Having the right mindset and point of view can be useful tools to possess!
Let’s take a quick look at a few things to keep in mind why (hand) size doesn’t matter when learning how to play the guitar as best you can.
Age DOES Matter
There is no one ‘right age’ to learn how to play the guitar. Some people start later in life. It may be safe to say that for every adult that throws their hat in the ring, there are just as many kids and youngsters that start as well. Yeah. At these tender ages, kids may lose focus and get bored, but they may also develop a lifelong passion.
Lower age numbers typically – almost always, actually – mean one thing: small hands and body proportions. It’s important to remember that kids will grow, and eventually, they will be just the right size. Don’t let a young age be a hindrance – take this time as a chance to learn the basics and do the best that you can with whatever physical abilities you may have.
“The most important part of my religion is to play guitar.” Lou Reed
If you’re on the older side of the equation – but do not have hands as big as others – then you may find yourself using some compensation techniques to get the job done. If your mindset is in the right place, having smaller proportions will create a drive in your inner self to innovate.
A good example is the acoustic intro to ‘Little Guitars’ by Van Halen (if you’ve never heard it, do yourself a favor and check it out). The short piece – played on a nylon string – has a strong flamenco vibe, and there’s a section with some fast tremolo picking while also playing a melodic bass line. Eddie didn’t have the skill sets to pull off what he heard in his head (if you can believe that), so he innovated. By trem picking open E, B, and G strings, he could hammer on the bassline melody simultaneously, producing an awe-inspiring result.
Was it ‘technically correct’ from a classical guitar standpoint? Nope, it wasn’t. The point here is that Eddie ran into a roadblock. Instead of letting it stop him from writing the piece as he wanted, he had the inspiration to figure out a method that did fit in his toolbox. And the results…as they say. are history!
The same can be said for having short fingers or hands that are too small to properly wrap around a guitar neck. That may mean that you may have to resort to playing a partial one instead of playing that full barre chord. Instead of having a seven fret finger spread when soloing, yours may be where you may have to change positions more often.
Challenges can breed innovation! If you can’t execute a particular technique because your hands are too small, work towards finding a solution that accommodates whatever physical limitation you may have.
Short Scale Guitars
Yes, kids do grow up. And yes, adults with smaller hands can figure out ways to do what they need to do. There is another option – playing short-scale guitars.
As the name implies, a short-scale guitar has a scale length (the distance from the nut to the bridge) smaller than what you will find on a full-size guitar. This leads to having shorter distances between each of the frets, which can be a dream come true for any youth or adult that may be struggling. That tricky chord progression you’ve been attacking may suddenly become a whole lot easier.
Another benefit of playing these types of instruments is that they tend to have smaller proportions altogether. Since the scale is shorter, the body tends to be not as big as well. While it’s true that we are primarily focused on ‘small hands’ in this article, having a guitar body that is too big and awkward can make having more petite body dimensions even more of a battle to fight.
The simple answer (in our opinion) is that having small hands should not be viewed as something that should stop you from learning how to play the guitar. There’s no doubt that difficulties may present themselves, though – and here’s is where those that are driven to succeed will succeed.
Whether you are a child first starting on a short-scale instrument (with the intent of moving up to a full-size guitar as you grow), or if you are an older person that may not have the body measurements that other adults may have (and are trying to play a full-size ax from the beginning), you need to have one simple thing: the drive and the passion for learning how to play the guitar in the best way you possibly can.
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