How to Play Guitar with Small Hands

Published Categorized as How To/Tips, Other How To/Tips, Other Lessons and Tips

If you were gifted by birth with small hands or short fingers, then it is obviously vital that you learn how to play guitar with small hands, filtering all of your learning through this very important lens. When doing so, filtering this learning through this need, then it becomes wholly clear just how much is affected by such a circumstance.

Learning how to play guitar with small hands first requires the purchasing of an instrument that is going to best suit a guitarist with small hands or short fingers. No doubt some guitars will feel awkward and / or uncomfortable to play with small hands or short fingers, so it is of the utmost importance for someone of this situation to go out and feel a guitar out for themselves rather than simply buying one online.

Once the right guitar has been acquired there are several other things that one will need to consider, including things that get this guitar fighting fit and ready to accommodate the owner. There are also several things that said owner will certainly want to be doing with themselves to ensure proper comfort and communion with their instrument.

So, without further ado, let’s get you comfortable and communicating with your instrument!

Table of Contents

Are Your Hands too Small? How Small is too Small?

As with all facets of anxiety, it can be difficult to take control of it from the inside, it seems slippery and unfit to grasp with any firmness, evading any attempt we might make to grapple with it. The same is very much true for the worry that our hands might be too small to learn how to play the guitar.

This is something that almost every aspiring guitarist grapples with, at least at the beginning, the anxiety and worry finding comfortable root in the usual nerves of someone just starting out at something. The (what we feel as) unusual pain in our hands, the discomfort of the ends of our finger tips rubbing the strings the wrong way, feeling it impossible to stretch our hands all the way to certain chords; it’s all so overwhelming and hard to tackle head on logically.

Since this is something that almost every aspiring guitarist grapples with initially, it might be more true to consider it as simply part of the process of learning the guitar, rather than a need to learn how to play guitar with small hands. That doesn’t sound good at all, like the double edged sword of a prognosis that’s slightly better than one you were expecting to hear from your doctor, but it is good news.

These problems, afflicting many as they do, are more than likely simply a symptom of learning guitar in beginning, stretching one’s fingers to extents like never before. The real issue isn’t the size of your hands (although size matters to a point), the real issue is that guitar requires you to stretch your hands in unusual ways.

If you’re experiencing pain or find it awkward to reach while your playing, part of the problem is due to the size of your hands. But the main issue is training your hands to stretch properly.

Small Hands vs Full Sized Guitars

It can be easy to think, owing to our perceived lack of size in the hand department, that purchasing guitars less than full size guitars are our only option to playing as we would like to, as we feel we are owed by our continued efforts poured into learning and loving guitar and guitar based music.

Owing to, among many other reasons, the guitar’s massive popularity since its inception into the popular cultural phenomenon of rock and roll, there are countless variations on the theme of guitar. This means that even the sizing of guitars, categorised often as full size, 3/4 size, 1/2 size etc, can’t reliably be trusted.

In much the same way as a woman buying clothes from different shops will have to take the sizing for each with a pinch of salt, making express use of the changing rooms whenever committing to a purchase, so, too, should the prospective guitarist attempting to buy a guitar try out as many guitars as possible.

Even the concept of a full size guitar varies considerably between brands, styles, and models, meaning that there are even full size guitars out there on which it would be perfectly suitable to learn how to play guitar with small hands.

The size of each individual aspect will often change considerably between styles, shapes, brands, and models, though it is arguably most important to consider the size of the body and the size of the neck.

The former will be of more concern for the comfort of simply sitting with the guitar, whether you have a small body to go with those small hands or not. The latter will dictate many other elements, like the spacing between the frets etc, which have a major impact on whether it can be used to learn how to play guitar with small hands.

How the Guitar Neck can affect those with Small Hands

Not all necks have the same size, even if they are said to occupy an otherwise ‘full size’ guitar. This difference in size can have a number of knock on effects on the quality of almost every other aspect of the neck, everything that is attached to it. This includes but is not limited to:

It is commonly accepted that a shorter neck, thus, will mean that there are smaller gaps between the frets and, for a person with smaller hands and shorter fingers, this can be a real selling point.

This is often the reason why this demographic of guitar enthusiasts tends to purchase reduced size guitars, though, as we have already elucidated, this isn’t entirely necessary considering the fact that full size guitar can occupy such a range of sizes.

Full size guitars with smaller necks, such as Fender Mustangs etc, are more than up to the job of being the guitar upon which people learn how to play guitar with small hands, and can often be a cheaper way for those in the market for such a guitar to acquire one that they really want.

But the length isn’t the most important point when looking at the neck. The most important point when you have small hands is the width and radius of the neck. Some guitars have a thick and chunky neck, which makes it hard for small hands to wrap around.

Each will feel completely different to play and generally speaking, you’ll find it much easier to reach the fretboard on guitars with a thin neck. A thin neck makes it easier for small hands to reach the strings and may feel more comfortable to play.

How the Guitar Body can affect those with Small Hands

The size and adjoining shape of the body of the guitar play a key role in how comfortable a prospective guitarist will be when playing said guitar.

A massive dreadnought style acoustic guitar will be no good to a small child learning how to play: they won’t even be able to reach the neck properly, and it will likely dig into their own bodies! A thinner, more streamlined, and often ergonomically moulded electric guitar will be a far better choice, especially as they are often shaped with contours for the comfort of the human body’s own contours.

The size of the body in the equation of learning how to play guitar with small hands can certainly seem inconsequential at first, but as with most things in acquiring something, especially a new instrument, each detail is important.

A bigger, thicker, more wieldy guitar, will quite simply get in the way of your small hands or short fingers, preventing you full access to the fretboard with your fretting hand, and halting your control of the plucking of the strings with your picking hand. A thinner, more streamlined, and more ergonomic guitar, on the other hand, will be more likely to accommodate those with smaller hands and shorter fingers, even if only for being built in such antithetical way to that of the larger dreadnought acoustic guitar.

While these kinds of acoustic guitars are more often than not lighter in weight than an electric guitar, purely for their being hollowed out to resonate sound more loudly on their own, they can also, in their bulkiness for volume’s sake, be bulky at the expense of accuracy.

For those with small hands, shorter fingers, and smaller bodies, it can even prevent them from bowing their head of the precipice of the body of the guitar, halting their efforts to see more accurately what their hands are doing, their fretting hand on the fretboard, their picking hand floating above the strings at the sound hole, both lacking the guidance of the eyes to lead the way somewhat.

How To Play Guitar With Small Hands

Why You Should Consider a Full Sized Guitar

It can be easy to feel like our only option for learning how to play guitar with small hands is immediately to buy a guitar of reduced size, by however many degrees. However, if I may bend your ear for another moment, I will outline why you might want to reconsider this often knee jerk decision.

It is certainly true that a full size guitar won’t be of use to every body, though in my own experience, it is likely to suit most people with smaller hands or shorter fingers. Unless you are looking to purchase a guitar for a very small child / toddler, then there’s nothing stopping you or anyone learning on a full size guitar.

It can initially feel impossible, sure, but the hands and mind will accommodate themselves to it and learn their way around it. If a 7-year-old’s hands are capable of playing an open chord (they are), your hands will be more than capable of doing the same with the proper training.

The important point to keep in mind is that your hands are fully capable of playing on a full-size guitar – even if it doesn’t feel possible right now. Your hands are never too small to play guitar and you don’t need a reduced-size guitar to play. Some people may prefer a reduced-size guitar, but even those people are capable of playing a full-sized guitar with some proper training.

If you can play on a full size guitar you can theoretically play on any type of guitar, any shape and style open to you at a guitar store. There will be some guitars that will feel too big for you, but once you train your fingers to feel comfortable on a full-sized neck, you’ll have the freedom to play almost anything.

Playing reduced size guitars means you will always be limited to those guitars, often disappointed because a brand doesn’t manufacture a guitar that you really like the look of in a reduced size capable of accommodating for you.

Why You Should Consider a Reduced Size Guitar

As the guitar name quite obviously indicates, a reduced size guitar reduces the scale length of the guitar, diminishing the length of the neck, and, in theory, making it easy to learn how to play guitar with small hands.

This has a knock on effect, as previously discussed, where the shorter neck will cause other aspects immediately related to it to be modified in turn. A shorter neck on a reduced size guitar will more often than not mean that the frets will be made closer together, the gaps between them smaller and more able to accommodate smaller hands and shorter fingers.

The not often expected side effect of this is that the body of the guitar is also reduced in size, sometimes with drastic effects that even someone who isn’t otherwise a guitarist enthusiast would be able to glean.

More often than not, when somebody complains that a guitar is too big for their hands, the real issue is usually the guitar’s body. Reduced-scale guitars feel better because of the smaller neck, but also because the body is smaller. So if you pick up a 3/4 size guitar or a travel guitar and think it’s perfect for your small hands or shorter fingers, the chances are that it’s just the size of the body that makes it feel more comfortable.

These types of travel guitars are one of the best choices for those who feel that a full sized guitar is just too big. You get a more comfortable guitar body that lets you easily reach the strings while not needing to compromise on the width of the neck.

While buying this type of guitar merely because you have small hands is a little extreme without other considerations, it does show how important body size can be on a guitar and to a prospective learner. It should be clear how easily accessible the strings are when the body of the guitar has been mostly removed.

How to Stretch Your Fingers for Guitar

No matter whether your hands are small or large, whether your fingers are long or short, sooner or later you will need to stretch your fingers, to get them used to moving around the fretboard and the neck, no matter how small or large they may be by comparison.

Any exercise is good! Practising for a certain length of time each time is bound to have you where you want to be in no time. Current advice posits that those who are only intending to practise at an amateur level do so for about twenty minutes a day. The regularity is the key factor here, the routine of it instilling the most important learning within the brain without much if any fully conscious effort.

Even those with larger hands struggle to play basic chords, at least initially, so it is vital for anyone to learn to play guitar as though they were learning how to play guitar with small hands. Starting with the basics, repeating them incessantly until the hands are not only fully comfortable with the shapes and the stretch of the fingers but also accustomed to the various routes of the manoeuvres through muscle memory, is a sure fire way to get you where you want and / or need to go.

If you haven’t done these type of exercises before, then do spend some time diligently working on them before you decide you need a smaller, reduced size guitar to cater to your smaller hands and / or shorter fingers. With a week or two of practicing these exercises, your hand will be able to stretch far further than they can right now, guaranteed.

Dealing With Pain in Your Hands

It is totally and completely normal to feel pain in your hands when you are making your first steps in learning how to play guitar with small hands or with large hands. It would, in fact be strange if you didn’t; perhaps an indicator of some secret super strength lurking in the background of your muscles.

For that’s what they are: muscles. Whether in your fingers or otherwise, they are growing used to pressing down on the strings and stretching themselves out, much like a new exercise would put strain on other muscles in your body.

Everybody experiences some pain or discomfort when they first try to learn chords or play notes on the guitar for the first time. Having small hands can increase the discomfort because you need to press down harder than somebody with larger and stronger hands.

  • Take regular breaks to give your hands time to recover after each time your practise and exercise your fingers. Much like you would if you were going to the gym, the muscles in your fingers need time to recover and rebuild, otherwise they will simply shred away.
  • Practise your finger exercises and chord shapes diligently for a set amount of time each day, making sure to wholly respect your boundaries, both physically and mentally. This regular exercise, coupled with regular breaks, will provide the tension and release necessary for building both physical comfort and mental acuity and familiarity with your instrument.
  • Use a lighter touch than you might otherwise. It is no secret that beginners tend to press down too hard, lacking the deftness of touch that those more experienced are often able to perform. It certainly feels like you need to press down hard and give it all you’ve got, but the sooner you learn that you can use a far lighter touch the better. Growing pains will magically disappear as soon as you are able to meet in the middle between clarity of a note’s tone and the pressure required to make it sound properly.
  • Using a capo on the neck can greatly reduce the amount of pressure you need to apply onto the strings. This is an oft utilised method for those experiencing those infamous growing pains associated with first picking up a guitar and giving it a go, and thus could be utilised in your own ventures of this kind.

The key point to remember is that everybody feels some discomfort in the beginning, and that discomfort will stop. Pace yourself and don’t give up, for you will get through it.

Final Tones

So, there you have it, a fairly comprehensive guide on how to play guitar with small hands. If you can’t find the exact guitar you are after in a reduced size, I might encourage you to consider picking it up in full size and making it work for you. As you can see above, there are plenty of ways to do so. Make the guitar experience your own, today.

FAQs How to Play Guitar with Small Hands

Does hand size affect guitar playing?

To a degree, yes, but it can also be said that it is one of those things that’s only as important as you make it. Children, without knowing any differently, are more likely to simply accept a guitar being slightly larger than themselves and take it head on. There are countless videos online of children below the age of ten playing full sized guitars, and it still baffles us even though it shouldn’t. Adults are riddled with anxieties, size and weight being top priorities. It only makes sense that as an adult you would worry about these things, and while they are certainly something to consider, it shouldn’t stand as a barrier to your development in something that your truly enjoy. small hands or large.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

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