Are Your Fingers Too Fat to Play Guitar?

A black and white image of fingers on a guitar
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Worry about fat fingers with regards to playing guitar is a common concern. Generally, this worry is expressed in complaints such as, "I tried playing guitar, but my fingers are just too fat to hold down the strings." Most often, these concerns come from people who have briefly dabbled in practicing the guitar, but didn't feel like they were having any success. In reality, it is unlikely that large fingers could impede a person's progress in learning the guitar.

Common Beginner Mistakes

When students complain that fat fingers are getting in the way of playing the guitar, their problems invariably stem from the exact same problem all new guitarists have:

  • They aren't holding the guitar correctly, so their hand position on the neck of the guitar causes strings not to ring clearly
  • They haven't sufficiently learned to curl their fingers so that only the tips of their fingers make contact with the guitar string
  • The muscles in their fretting hand haven't developed to a point that allows them to stretch their fingers effectively

Although how to hold the guitar correctly, correct finger position, and basic stretching exercises are covered in greater detail in other lessons, let's take a moment here to review how each of these applies to guitarists with particularly stubby fingers.

The Correct Way to Hold a Guitar

Seat yourself in an armless chair so that your back rests gently against the back of the chair. Hold your guitar so the body of the instrument comes in contact with the middle of your torso and the neck runs parallel to the floor. If playing the guitar in a "right-handed manner," the body of the guitar should rest on your right leg. If you have a protruding stomach which makes holding the guitar difficult, try angling the body of the guitar slightly so that the body of the instrument sits flat against your stomach and somewhat to the right of your belly button with the tip of the headstock points out slightly in front of you.

Note: Classical guitarists use a completely different posture—the position above is one used by the vast majority of guitarists playing folk, rock, blues, etc.

Correctly Curling Fingers

Concentrate on your "fretting hand" (the hand closest to the neck of the guitar, when sitting in proper position). New guitarists often try and keep the palm of their hand flat against the back of the neck of their guitar, which creates awkward angles for their fretting fingers. This invariably results in unintentionally muffled strings. To avoid this, the thumb of your fretting hand should rest in the middle of the back of the neck, with the top part of your palm facing the fretboard of the guitar. Your fingers should be poised in a slightly curled position above the strings. It is extremely important to keep these fingers curled at the knuckles, except when specifically instructed not to do so. This hand position allows your fingers to approach strings at a much better angle, greatly reducing the opportunity for accidentally muffling strings.

Finger Stretches to Improve Reach

Developing dexterity in your fretting hand takes practice and patience. This is a problem that all new guitarists, not just those with fat fingers, struggle with. Fortunately, the internet is full of resources designed to help you work through these issues. One effective exercise is Justin Sandercoe's finger stretching technique lesson on YouTube. Watch the video and try the technique yourself (slowly!), making sure to maintain your hand position throughout the exercise—don't shift your hand to accommodate the stretches, as the goal is to increase the reach of your fingers.

Choose Your Instrument Wisely

If you've tried applying the above techniques, and still find your fingers to be too stubby to play guitar, you may want to consider a change of instrument, to something with a wider neck. Although there isn't traditionally a huge difference in neck widths between electric and acoustic guitars, which typically measure 1 11/16" width at the nut) of the instrument, classical guitars have a wider neck—most commonly 2"—which should make fretting easier for stubby fingered guitarists.