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Fingers won't reach on some chords

Question by Bill

Question: I find it impossible to play many of the jazz chords as my fingers just won't reach. Suggestions would be appreciated.


This is a common problem, especially for guitarists with shorter fingers.

Firstly, make sure you are doing some finger stretching exercises for 5 minutes before playing.

This alone may solve many of your problems with reaching certain notes. However, the other possible solution is to cut down the chord to its bear essentials.

Cutting down chords

Take the below dominant 13th chord shape used frequently in jazz music...

The problem for most will be getting that pinky finger note on the high E string, especially down at the lower frets.

To help, we can simply cut out the bass note (which is the root in this shape) because we can assume the bassist will cover that note and the overall voicing of the chord won't be lost.

This leaves us with a less constrained fingering as you now don't need to barre your 3rd finger...

The general "rule" for cutting down chords in this way is you can safely drop the root and 5th from the chord. This is because these are considered "neutral" tones and therefore aren't often needed to convey the overall tonal quality of a chord.

Stretching exercises

It still might be a struggle, so try some stretching exercises using this shape down at the lower frets.

Start at first fret, hold the chord fingering for 10 seconds, release, fret again for 10 seconds, release etc.

Try moving the fingering down a string, but still at the first fret. It may not sound right, but we're just doing this for stretching purposes.

Change between these two positions. It's the motion of lifting off and re-fretting that will set in your muscle memory.

With persistence and patience you will get there. Remember how difficult that F barre chord was when you were first learning it? Or before that when you were learning the open C major fingering?

The more you play and change between these awkward chord shapes, the more comfortable you'll become with them.

The JamPlay chord chart has tons of fingering variations to try out, including inversions that will provide a fresh positioning for those more awkward chords.

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