I often get comments about the large left-hand stretches I sometimes use when I play guitar. They range from “Ouch”, to “How the hell do you that?” to “I can’t play like that because I have small hands.”
Well, I have good news for the “small-hand” crowd: my hands are actually pretty averaged-sized, perhaps even on the small side. Being able to pull off those 5-fret stretches has more to do with technique than with hand size.
Of course, having large hands gives you an advantage…somebody with large hands AND good technique will always be able to reach further than one with small hands. But fortunately, guitar-playing isn’t a competition, and the only thing that really matters is that you’re able to play the music that you want to play.
Before we go any further, keep in mind that this isn’t something that you’ll be able to do in one day. It takes time to develop the proper dexerity and to teach yourself to position the hand correctly.
Seriously, don’t jump the gun on this, because you can get hurt if you try to do too much too soon.
Also, keep in mind that these are just a few tips to get you on the right track. There’s a lot more to this than what I can cover in one blog post!
1. Pinky strength
The first step to being able to do these stretches, is to add some strength to your pinky finger. If you use your pinky regularly, you’re probably set. But if you’re one of the many guitarists who avoids using their little finger as much as possible, then you should really start using it.
2. Hand Positioning
Beyond that, the positioning of your hand and arm are what will really allow you to do large stretches. It’s hard to give a general rule about this, because each player develops their own bad habits (including me!) and you can only really correct them one-on-one.
But the most important thing to keep in mind is that your wrist should be at a comfortable angle at all times. It should never be bent further than about 45 degrees, perhaps even less. This is especially true if your doing huge stretches, you can really hurt yourself if you’re not careful!
What this means is that you have to move your arm, shoulder, and your whole body really, in order to accomodate your wrist.
What I usually do is to lower my shoulder and to move my elbow towards my body. The further I have to stretch, the further I have to dig in my elbow.
In short, do what you must to keep from bending your wrist. I’ll post more detailed examples in the future.
And finally, once you get your pinky strong enough, and you’ve got your hand positioning down pat, you still won’t be able to do those mega stretches.
Why is that? Becuase you still have to develop some muscle. Stretching your fingers out uses a different set of muscles than the ones you normally use. You have to develop a certain amount of strength before you can stretch your fingers out, hold them in that position, AND fret notes in that position.
So start out with stretches that you can do, and slowly work your way up. Try doing them further up the fretboard where the frets are closer together.
Here’s a simple exercise you can do. Start at the 8th fret (or higher if necessary), and go down a step when it becomes comfortable.
If you do this regularly, you should start seeing results soon.
The important thing is to have patience. This is something that will take time, you can’t really rush it.