Guitarists have a tendency to avoid using their pinky finger, it’s something I’ve noticed with almost every student I’ve had. It makes sense: when we start playing we avoid using the pinky because it’s our weakest finger. This only causes the rest of the fingers to get stronger and more nimble while leaving the pinky behind in the dust.
Technically, you don’t have to use the pinky to be a good guitar player…in fact, there are a few great guitar players who use it very little if at all. But using your pinky finger will open a lot more possibilities in your playing, allowing you to be the best player you can be. And if you’re interested in playing arrangements like the ones I do, then it’s pretty much essential.
Here are a couple of basic exercise you can do every day for a few minutes that’ll get your pinky into shape.
First, repeat these patterns until you get bored, or until your pinky gets tired, whichever comes first! Pay attention to the fingering on the first bar of each exercise. The combinations are index+pinky, middle+pinky, and ring+pinky.
The last one is particularly important, because you’re also working out the ring finger, which has an effect on the pinky as well.
Now do the same thing, but with hammer-ons. Pick the first note, and tap the next note quickly with your pinky. Do these until your hand gets tired (which will probably happen right away on your first try). The important thing here is not to tap the string hard, but with speed. Volume comes from velocity, not power.
And finally, just start using your pinky! The more you use it, the stronger it’ll get, it’s as simple as that. One fun little exercise that I used to do, was to try play without my index finger. Choose any song, solo or whatever that you know well, and remove the index finger from the equation.
If you start doing these on a regular basis, even if it’s just for a few minutes, you should start seeing results fairly quickly. Of course, it’ll take time for your pinky to have the same independence and agility as the rest of your fingers.
The important thing is to get to the point where using the pinky doesn’t feel awkward. Once you get past that, it’s only a matter of practice and patience.