Female guitarists, simply put, are often at a distinct disadvantage. This whole guitar thing seems to be built around male players, especially when it comes to gear, guitars, and learning. Anyone who has smaller hands than the average guy feels the same pinch and can struggle with things that most male players never even think about.
(Cover photo from Free stock photos · Pexels)
I’ve taught many female guitar players in my years as an instructor and I’m here today to hip those of you who might not know to some secrets and tips aimed at helping those folks out there with small hands get their guitar playing going. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to have giant-sized hands to play guitar effectively. What matters most is how smart your hands become and getting them wrapped around an instrument that fits your physical size. Once you’re working with the proper information, the size of your hands will cease to matter and all will be well. Ready to learn?
Little Secret 1 – Guitars Come In More Than One Size!
A big part of any guitar student’s success is getting the right instrument matched to the right player. Guitar Girls, kids, and even pint-sized guys need to find a guitar that fits their bodies and hands well. Acoustic guitars of Dreadnought and Jumbo sizes are often much too much of an armload for these students and have necks that are too wide for their hands. The good news is there are plenty of smaller-bodied acoustics available, with names like Concert, Parlor, 00 and 000, and other model designations that are both smaller in body size and more narrow across the neck.
You’ll be able to tell pretty well right away once you sit down with the guitar in your lap if it feels too big or not. If it does, it does. Move on. The body issue isn’t as much of a problem with solid-body electric guitars, as they are pretty slim, but female jazzers can hit the same roadblocks when shopping for an archtop. Just keep shopping until one fits.
Watch this video to learn more about guitar sizes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXyElPjWufs
Little Secret 2 – It’s All About the Thumb!
Your fretting-hand thumb is your secret weapon when it comes to getting your hand around a guitar neck. Where you put it will determine how much of your finger length gets put across the fingerboard and how much wraps around the back of the neck. Players with little mitts have to be more careful about their thumb game than guys with big hands who can wrap all the way around any neck and get away with a lot more slop.
What you’re going for here is basically classical hand position. Your thumb is in the center (roughly) of the back of the neck, not wrapped around it like a baseball bat. Here is a good example:
This hand position allows you to get the full length of your fingers across the neck. It was conceived to play classical guitars with 2-inch-wide necks that few can thumb wrap. It’s also the position we all use to play barre chords and wide-interval stretches. Practice technique exercises like this simple speed training exercise until it all starts to feel natural.
Little Secret 3 – Someday, Your Stretch Will Come!
What most guitar students don’t understand is that everyone’s hands feel too small at the beginning. We normally keep our fingers close together in non-guitar life and often use our hand as one big apparatus, as in a handshake. I’ve seen full-sized guys not be able to make the stretch into classical position at first. The kind of finger separation seen in the photo above is cultivated and not something most of us start our guitar journey with.
The good news is that humans are amazingly adaptable and your overall hand reach will grow the more you work with it. The same rules that work for your big muscles in the gym work for your small muscles during guitar practice. Warm up, work on having good form, and play consistently. As time passes, your individual fingers get stronger and more able and can stand on their own a bit more. Your reach will also increase. You can also, of course, adapt the fingerings of what you’re playing to suit your hands and make the reaches easier to bear.
Here are some good tips for small hands: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbsQy4V3z4Q
Even more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZB98xsmLlI
Little Secret Four – Light Strings and Capos!
Heavy-gauge strings are hard to play. That is just a fact of life. It takes hand strength to push those bridge cables down, which can be in short supply for our smaller friends. Thankfully, you don’t need thick strings to get a good guitar sound and many players gravitate to lighter gauges over their playing careers. If a common 10-46 electric set feels too stiff, drop down to 9s or even 8s. Same goes for acoustic guitars, which mostly come from the factory strung 12-52. You can drop down to an 11 or even 10-gauge set without sacrificing too much volume, just be sure they are bronze acoustic strings and not 10-gauge electric strings made from nickel.
The capo is the best friend of those who just can’t get barre chords to happen. Use a capo to transpose your open position chords up the neck into different keys if needed and you’re good to go. This approach is more common with acoustic players but Muddy Waters and Keith Richards have used capos in electric blues and rock and roll to great effect, so give it a go.
Watch this clip to get some basic capo knowledge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crXQKGlsdHw
Try some blues licks out now that you have lighter strings and see how much easier they have suddenly become. Start with these easy blue riffs!
I hope all the Guitar Girls out there enjoyed and learned from this lesson about playing with small hands. Female players rock and no one should feel too tiny to play. There is always a way to adapt the gear and the music to get things happening. Please let us know what you thought of the article in the Comments section below and please also share it with your guitar-playing friends who might learn from it, too!
|Darrel Gil – a metalhead guitar teacher with a big obsession with shredding, effects & pedals, big fan of progressive music stuffs. I share the passions and loves on my blog: https://shredaddict.com/|
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