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Missing finger

Question by John McMahan
(Utuado, PR)

I am missing the little finger on my left hand. Should I reverse my guitar strings and strum with my left hand? I would like to study classical and flamenco.


Hi John, there should be nothing stopping you from learning to play left handed (left hand strum/pick). There are countless stories out there of people doing this exact same thing, either because of an injury or, for lefties-turned-righties, a wider availability of guitars (back in the pre-internet days - not so much of an issue now).

It will be hard work as, physically at least, you are essentially relearning the guitar and rebuilding your muscle memory. Mentally, however, you will retain all the theoretical knowledge you have accumulated over your time as a musician. This will certainly have a positive effect on how quick you progress compared to when you first picked up the guitar.

If you want to get into classical guitar then, without doubt, you will greatly benefit from having that little finger on your fret hand.

Saying that, not all classical music requires the use of a 4th finger. It depends on how advanced you wish to progress, how elaborate the pieces you wish to play are.

Bear in mind, many players who have fewer than 4 fingers have learned to incorporate slides, legato, different tunings etc. to compensate for their "handicap" (I only put that word in inverted commas because in reality, it's only a handicap if you feel your own playing style and aspirations are limited by it).

Inadvertently, they have developed a unique sound from playing in a compensatory way.

But here's my personal opinion...

If you have a lot of time to devote to guitar (i.e. more than a few hours per week), and you know you're the type of person who perseveres and aims for the best possible results, then I would go for the restring and hand switch.

Whatever you choose, go for it with a full heart and don't look back.

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By: Anonymous

About the finger...My ring finger has been broke and healed crocked...dose not line up with the frets straight. I do the best I can...it dose hinder playing high up on the neck...but a rapper once rapped...the only limitations you have are the one's you put on yourself..so that being said...I do the best I can....thanks....al.....

Make the most of what you have...
By: Mike

...that's all we can do. There is a lot of inspiration out there from musicians who have overcome injuries and become pioneers of their style/genre.

I forgot to mention in the response above that partial capos can be used to help compensate for difficulties with certain fingers.

I've seen gigs from guitarists who use just one or two fingers, but the partial capo mixed with an alternate tuning produced some of the most beautiful music I had heard.

Obviously there's a lot you could still do with the pick hand as well. In a way. it can help you focus on developing a very specific style to the level of absolute mastery.

By: John McMaham

Thank you all for your comments. I have decided to restring the guitar upside down and retrain my brain. This will be an interesting challenge! Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

good choice...or you could do both
By: Rick

This is incredibly interesting. Ill only add a single thought to the decision whether to play with one less finger or play with the other hand. That thought would be I have seen hundreds of guitarists that could play better with one finger than I could play with 14 fingers.

On the thought of having to relearn with the other hand and retraining the brain, I watched a video of a guy play one time that I KNEW was right handed (fretting with his left hand). In this video, it was flipped around so it appeared he was fretting with his right hand. I couldnt tell if he really was or if the video was just flipped to a mirror image (in the event he was trying to teach a left handed guitarist the same technique). I actually tried this just to see if there was much difference and while it didnt come in immediately, I could tell that with just a little bit of work, the fretting hand would come in fine. Almost like the brain was already trained and the fingers were very close behind. It was actually quite surprising, as I am only on my 9th month of playing right now. In short, I firmly believe it would not be the equivalent having to learn the fingerings all over again. So just knowing what i know, this is the route i think I would choose as well.

Of course, you have the unique opportunity to separate yourself from 99.999% of all the guitarists in the world and ultimately learn both ways and perhaps create your own website for teaching those who are similarly situated as yourself. It would certainly be educational and probably more so, inspirational, for all of those who either have one less finger or have loss the use of a finger for various reasons.

1 finger down
By: Anonymous

I had a student who lost 3/4 f his index on his left hand in an accident. He was a great guitar player before, but was really limited in what he could do. We worked on reprogramming his other fingers and came up with a system of chord variations and moveable chords that he couls use. After a few months, he was a better player than myself. If you are determined, you will find a way to make it happen. I have seen it!

I lost my Index finger as well
By: Sebastien

I am struggling with changing hand but find it difficult somehow. I am much interested in these chords variations. Pls help. thanks.

amputated fingers
By: robert

my left hand was partly amputated 10 years ago.i'm trying to learn to play a 3 string shovel guitar. i have a thumb that is partly fused my baby finger was moved to where my index finger would be. that finger is fully fused. my hand looks and acts like a crab claw. i'm starting guitar lessons next week.i 've never played a guitar before.i would like to learn to play the blues, rmullan@mullannurseryco.com is my email, if anyone has thoughts etc please contact me. robert

I lost my left index finger past the bottom joint
By: Mark

It is tragic to have an accident so bad that you lose a finger . I lost my left index finger 4 years ago at the age of 61 . I have played guitar since 3rd grade !! Looked everywhere for help on the internet … nothing except , learn to play left handed !!! .. I have been in bands all my life with thousands of hours playing right handed !! Thanks for the advice ! Coming from novice players .
I have been working for the last 4 years learning how to play with my 3 digits that I have left . No , I can’t play like I did , but I’m playing high quality music now that I never thought I could ever do again .
I play I with the guitar tuned to E , G , or D . I play slide now that I did very little of before . I play a ton of Allman Brothers including Little Martha , note for note . Just practice and learn .good luck dude !!👍 start tuned in E and get a slide and learn the chords that aren’t published !!

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