Learning To Use That Damn Pinky

Having trouble using that fifth digit on the fret hand? You are not alone. Here are some exercises in to get the stubbornest finger to fall in line.

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I actually posted a very similar lesson years ago on Mxtabs, but it's a lesson that should be reiterated because it's a challenge to all of us, and a challenge that too many guitarists try to get around because it is such a pain. Plus, I wanted to improve on what I had originally done. Anyway, the pinky. For whatever reason, it seems to land on the wrong string, lag behind the other fingers when it comes to speed, and it is just as stubborn as a mule. So why make such a big deal about getting that pinky to work? 3 reasons: 1) Efficiency. Look at this way, you have 4 fingers on your fret hand (well, there may be some exceptions) and by only using 3, you are only playing to 75% of your maximum efficiency. Don't limit yourself from what songs you play because they use too much pinky. 2) Reach. Sometimes you can cheat by stretching the ring finger on those hard to reach notes, but this can't always be done and can end up sounding choppy when you do. Using the pinky can smooth this all out. 3) Speed. Without a doubt, the fastest guitarists out there all use their pinky. When you are able to improve the first 2 things here, you will find that your speed will begin to improve as well. Now, on to the practice! Take it step by step, and wen you are comfortable with each one, move on to the next. I can't promise that this will make you an expert, but it will certainly help you become more comfortable with your fifth digit. There are 4 exercises total. Exercise 1 Let's start simple. Don't worry about scale or the notes themselves, the goal here is too work on coordination and getting that damn finger to work along with the others. Start slow, and speed up when you feel comfortable in doing so. Just go up each string, like so:
-----------------------------------------5-6-7-8--
---------------------------------5-6-7-8----------
-------------------------5-6-7-8------------------
-----------------5-6-7-8--------------------------
---------5-6-7-8----------------------------------
-5-6-7-8------------------------------------------
Once you are comfortable with that, try going going down the scale:
-8-7-6-5------------------------------------------
---------8-7-6-5----------------------------------
-----------------8-7-6-5--------------------------
-------------------------8-7-6-5------------------
---------------------------------8-7-6-5----------
-----------------------------------------8-7-6-5--
Once you are comfortable going in both directions, put the 2 together, and go up and down, up and down. I have it starting in the 5th fret here, which is a good place to start because it's not too hard of a reach and not too easy either. If it is too tough for you, you can start higher up the fretboard (closer to the 12th fret), or start below the 5th for a little more of a challenge. Either way, you should be able to get comfortable doing this anywhere on the fretboard. Exercise 2 Now, let's try using the pinky in a simple practical application, a 12 bar I-IV-V blues scale in A. Just a simple up and down strum, nothing fancy here. Again, the focus is getting the basics down on that pinky Have a look first:
--------------------------
--------------------------
--------------------------
--------------------------
-7--7--9--7--7--7--10--9-- 4x
-5--5--5--5--5--5---5--5--
 v  ^  v  ^  v  ^   v  ^                                       
 
-------------------------
-------------------------
-------------------------
-7--7--9--7--7--7-10--9--
-5--5--5--5--5--5--5--5-- 2x
-------------------------
 
--------------------------
--------------------------
--------------------------
--------------------------
-7--7--9--7--7--7--10--9-- 2x
-5--5--5--5--5--5---5--5--
 
--------------------------
--------------------------
--------------------------
-9--9-11--9--9--9-12--11--
-7--7--7--7--7--7--7--9--- 1x
--------------------------
 
-------------------------
-------------------------
-------------------------
-7--7--9--7--7--7-10--9--
-5--5--5--5--5--5--5--5-- 1x
-------------------------
 
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--------------------------
--------------------------
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-7--7--9--7--7--7--10--10- 2x
-5--5--5--5--5--5--5---5--
This progression can be done over and over. Remember how I said the pinky was needed to reach some notes? Perfect example here. There is almost no way you can hold the root of each chord while stretching to the 9th or 10th fret without using the pinky. Again, start off slow and gradually speed up when you get more comfortable. And also again, you can start from anywhere on the fretboard if you so choose. Exercise 3 Now, this going to look simple, but it's trickier than you may think. We are going to train that pinky to do some hammer-ons and pull offs. Take a peek:
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------------------------------------
-5-h-7-p-5-h-8-p-5-h-7-p-5-h-8-p-5--
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------------------------------------
------------------------------------
h= Hammer-on p= Pull-off The basic idea is that you only have to pick the first note, and then just repeat this endlessly by using hammer-ons and pull-offs without having to use the pick again. Use the ring finger to hammer-on and pull-off in the 7th fret, and the dreaded pinky in the 8th. Be patient with this one, this can be quite tricky. Sam rules as the lst 2, start slow and move anywhere. Exercise 4 For the final exercise, we are going to do a practical demonstration, and use the pinky in an actual tab. You may find a song of your own to practice in, and that's fine. But the tab I am going to use here "Satellite" by the Dave Matthews Band. Love him or hate, Dave is a terrific guitarist, able to do some big stretches and complex chords because of his ability to so easily use his pinky. We are going to focus on the song's main riff. It is a tough stretch, and definitely requires the pinky to get involved. I am know you can find the song on Youtube if you need to hear it:
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--------------------------------------------------
--------------------------------------------------
-----------8*------6-------5---------------6------
-------6-------4-------------------8---4----------
---4-------------------8*------6---------------8*-
*- notes where the pinky should be used This riff sounds very choppy without the pinky, and you need it to get up to Dave's speed. It's a tough stretch, and a tricky riff altogether, but if you are comfortable enough with your pinky finger, you should be able to pull it off. And for the last time, start off slow and work your way up to speed. So that is all I've got for you. I hope that at the very least you feel a little competent using that 5th digit. We have all been there. Just keep practicing away, use it when you can, and it will be a non-issue before you know it.

23 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Lock'n'Load
    i found playing Guitar Hero from levels hard and up - where you have to use the orange key - was like finger excercises and now I can use my pinky much better!!!
    PnT
    theheirapparent wrote: how could you ever not use your pinky...?
    I used to do powerchords with my index, middle and ring finger...xD Pretty much avoided my pinky. Luckily, it wasn't difficult to change my way of doing powerchords.
    The RFS
    stream of consciousness by dream theater really helped my stretches and pinky use. great lesson, these excercises are great
    CRAZY4040
    Lock'n'Load wrote: i found playing Guitar Hero from levels hard and up - where you have to use the orange key - was like finger excercises and now I can use my pinky much better!!!
    this may be true as well, because my pinky isn't THAT slow.
    CRAZY4040
    The one part I really like is the hammer on and pull off part. I did everything else with no problem, but I noticed that on that exercise my pinky was definently moving a bit slower
    Mana sama
    I played exercise two on one fret and realized my mistake only just now... Suddenly so much harder now.
    Colkurtz1
    My pinkys last segment is bent inwards, towards my hand, i can reach farther with ring finger than my pinky. Also, its abnormally short compared to other fingers, even more so than normal people. Its great for power cords even up past the 12th fret because it falls right in bellow my ring finger, but thats all its good for. I have been playing for 20 years, and i still have no speed or accuracy with it. DOOOOOMED
    epicguitarbro17
    My Pinky is bent wierd and it makes playing Metallica songs hell. Its so hard for me to bend my pink over from laying at my ring finger.
    guitarlover762
    ive been playing for about 1 3/4 yrs and i have still yet learned to use my pinky...sad...great lesson
    illyria
    during exercise 1: do you need to keep the fingers in place? or can you let them go? it's not stated in the exercise
    coco-loco
    Thanks heaps!!! I, similar to gizmojoker, have been playing almost 5 years and I still struggle to use my pinkie! Hopefully this will help if I practise frequently! lol
    illyria
    during the first three excercises its not clear which fret needs which finger. could you me that more clear?
    ivanruller22
    you should keep your fingers on when you are playing up the scale and start letting them go when you are playing down(opposite ) the scale srry about my English my main language is russian
    GizmoJoker
    ive been playing for a little over 3 years(im 16)and i have never been good with my pinky. i can already feel im getting better after just practicing these exercises 3-5 times daily.. thank you much.
    Briar30
    Hey man, great lesson! I'm sure this will help a bunch of people. I use my pinky more than most, but I still need to work with it a little bit more.