At first impression, the guitar looks like it’s all fun and games, right? Well, the instrument is most certainly engaging and fun. But as soon as you get into it, the fingers of your fretting hand start to hurt. And that’s especially the case with your pinky. So instead of becoming the instant rockstar that you thought you’d be, you first cry out saying “Why does my pinky hurt when I play guitar?!”
Well, there’s the good news and there’s the bad news.
The good news is that pretty much every guitar player has struggled with this, even your favorite heroes. The bad news is that it just has to hurt. And it will last for quite some time. In fact, at one point, you’ll just have to roll with it and get used to the pain.
Sure, you can avoid using the pinky finger. But there’s hardly any chance you’ll become a great guitar player if you do.
Basically, the simplest answer is that your pinky is the weakest finger in the bunch. And, at the same time, it’s supposed to do almost all of the same things that the other three are doing.
But on the other hand, I’ve figured that this whole thing needs a more thorough analysis. To all those who are struggling with the issue – you don’t need to worry anymore. This brief guide will, hopefully, help you out with the issue. Believe it or not, there are actually ways to reduce the pain.
Table of Contents
Proper Fretting Hand Technique
But you still have to be patient. So let’s go from the beginning and look at the fretting hand technique. Sure, you might blame your guitar, high string action, the weather, or anything else. But if your pinky hurts all the time for long periods, then you’re most likely doing something wrong.
The Fretting Hand Fingers
First, let’s examine the fretting hand. In almost all proper guitar notation and even tabs, you’ll sometimes notice numbers above the notes or the tabs. And these numbers are only 1, 2, 3, and 4, with a potential letter “T.” Well, these indicate proper utilization of fingers on your fretting hand.
And here’s how the nomenclature goes:
- 1 is your index finger
- 2 is your middle finger
- 3 is your ring finger
- 4 is your poor little pinky that always hurts
- The letter “T” is for the thumb, but it’s rarely ever used
Okay, now you know about the finger nomenclature. Although it seems weird or arbitrary, it serves its purpose. This is especially the case for beginners or those who are getting into a new style of playing. Sometimes, using a particular fingering can save you a lot of headaches, and, of course, finger and hand pains.
As for the thumb, usually marked as “T,” you’ll rarely ever use it. On the other hand, it can help you in some specific situations when going from one chord to another. Although associated with chords, some guitarists also implemented it for riffs. One such example is Ritchie Blackmore on Deep Purple’s “Burn.”
Fretting Hand Positioning
Now, proper fretting hand positioning is usually the biggest culprit here. Aside from the yet untrained hand, that is. So here, we’re going to discuss:
- Thumb and palm placement
- Finger curvature
- Pressing the frets
Thumb and Palm Placement
So, the first thing to start with is the thumb. Place it on the back of the neck, where it should stand opposite to your index and middle fingers. The thumb always faced upwards, roughly perpendicular to the neck.
There are some cases where the thumb can be placed parallel with the neck. But if you’re a beginner, practice placing the thumb perpendicularly, or facing upwards. You’ll create unnecessary tension and you’ll soon feel your hand going sore.
The thumb and its muscles can hurt due to improper form, or just a lack of stamina. However, improper thumb positioning can indirectly impact the other parts of the hand. Ultimately, the pain in your pinky can be a consequence of improper thumb placement.
Additionally, the thumb should have its firm grip at the central axis of the neck. Depending on what strings you’re pressing, the center should move slightly up or down. For instance, if you’re playing only on the 5th and 6th string, the thumb should be below the neck’s central axis. And if you’re playing on the first three strings, or are bending the first four strings, then it can go above the axis.
Advice from a virtuoso like Paul Gilbert comes in handy here. Although a famous “shredder,” he advises that you sometimes have to even put the thumb above the neck and grab the neck. However, although such positioning has its uses, if you’re a beginner, keep the thumb on the backside of the neck. This will come over time when you start learning more about lead playing.
With this said, you should always avoid pressing the back of the neck with your palm. Some settings, like the “thumb-over” thing, may require you to have some of your palm touching the neck. However, proper hand placement is all about holding it with your thumb and fingers. It’s okay if your palm touches it lightly, but you shouldn’t ever keep it as a basis of your firm grip. You’ll just unnecessarily waste all of your energy on it.
Going over to your fingers, they should always be properly curled when you’re putting them on the strings. This is the best way to have a firm and proper grip over them while not touching any frets and strings that you’re not supposed to.
The whole point here is that you press the strings with the tips of your fingers. This is the only safe-proof and precise way to keep things in check. Fingers that aren’t curved will potentially give you a lot of trouble.
Pressing the Frets
Finally, you should know how to press the frets. Whenever possible, you should press the string right behind the fret. If it’s too far away, you’ll have to apply more pressure to it. And when you apply more pressure, you’re making unnecessary strain to your fretting hand.
So Why Does My Pinky Hurt When I Play Guitar?
So let’s get down to the bottom of it: why does my pinky hurt when I play guitar? Well, it’s a culmination of the following things:
- Improper fretting hand placement
- Applying too much pressure
- Pressing the string too far from the fret
- Lack of stamina in your fretting hand
Your pinky is kind of a “weak link” here. It feels as if it’s easier if you exclude it altogether. But it’s only a matter of time until you’ll have to use it.
It’s Simple: Your Fretting Hand Needs to Get Stronger
By applying the techniques that we discussed, you’ll have a much easier time playing your instrument. However, at the end of the day, it’s mostly all about acquiring proper hand stamina.
Playing guitar actually involves a lot of physical work. And just like working out and lifting weights, your fretting hand needs to get stronger. But it takes a lot of time. You’ll notice that your pinky, or the rest of the hand, will still hurt when applying proper techniques. Sure, it will take more time for them to get sore, but they’ll still hurt.
The only solution here is to have patience. Yes, it might seem annoying and unnecessarily tiresome, but that’s the only way to go. The more you practice with proper technique, the easier it will get. If you’re feeling like it’s taking too much time, don’t worry – every guitar player has dealt with this. If it hurts too much, try to practice 15 to 30 minutes at a time and then take a 5 to 10-minute break in between.
There are also some warmup and stretching exercises that you can do. Warm up and stretch every individual finger before every practice session. Some even resort to using pinch and grip strengtheners, but they might be counterproductive if you overuse them.
Like it or not, it all comes down to patience and practice in the end. So just keep practicing, don’t stress out too much about it, and be patient.
Check Your String Action
Another thing that might be causing this issue is an improperly set guitar or just a horribly made guitar. When strings are too far away from the frets, it will take more effort to press and keep them down. This can put additional strain on all of your fingers, especially the pinky.
If you’re an absolute beginner, I’d advise that you take your guitar to a luthier and have it set up. Additionally, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to consult with your teacher, or anyone with more experience, before buying your first guitar. Some cheaper brands could come with warped necks, which can give you trouble from the start.
String action setup includes truss rod and bridge adjustment. But that’s a whole different story that should be covered in a separate guide.