How To Play Chords With Large Fingers Without Touching Adjacent Strings

Article Written By Daniel Bainbridge

Do you have monster fingers that are so big that it feels impossible to play anything?

Do your fingers spread out over strings and prevent any notes from ringing out when playing chords?

If you feel frustrated or are losing hope in playing guitar because of your sausage fingers, don’t give up yet. Lots of guitar players have large fingers and being that the guitar is one of the more popular instruments around the world many ideas have been shared about how to handle this issue.

In this article, I will share with you some of the most common tips and tricks to get you playing so you relax and enjoy the music. In a future article I will provide some alternative solutions in case the usual solutions still aren’t helping you.

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1. Don’t be calloused about playing with big fingers if you are new to guitar
 

I have chosen to address this first because if you are new to guitar or it has been a while between playing last, the fingers have not yet formed a hard skin. When you press on the frets with your fingers you will notice that the flesh of your fingertips spread wider.

If you imagine a balloon being pushed softly to the floor it will become wider in all directions and more of the balloon will meet the ground. If you are trying to play chords and the fingertip spreads, coming into contact with the adjacent strings, this is often the cause of notes that don’t ring clearly.

As you practice more frequently, the flesh on your finger will harden and form callouses which will prevent it from spreading so that you can play only the string you want to be playing. Back to the balloon metaphor, imagine you covered the balloon in many layers of glue and paper, now there is a hard crust and the balloon will no longer spread so a smaller area of the balloon will meet the ground.

2. Try playing guitar from another angle
 

Everybody’s fingers are different, this may seem like an obvious go to solution but if you have been taught to only hold chords by keeping your fingers straight and on a right angle to the strings you might want to try angling your fingertips towards your picking hand.
 

Some people have fingertips where the flesh will push straight past the top of the fingernail and not spread so far to each side. This is a great example of where angling the fingers might come in handy as the area in front of fingernail will spread in line with the string you are fretting rather than obstructing the adjacent strings.
 

If you notice that the flesh of your fingertips spreads more from side to side rather than from the top of the finger than you would simply try playing with a straighter angle.
 

It is also important to note that if you are new to guitar, getting the notes of each chord to ring out clearly is a common challenge for a LOT of people, not just those with big fingers. Ensure that you are using the right technique, this is a topic for another article. If you are feeling completely lost when it comes to playing clean chords, I advise seeking help from a professional guitar teacher before you become too frustrated.
 

3. Consider doing research for getting a guitar that has strings spaced further apart
 

In case you didn’t know already, the section at the top of the guitar that separates the fretboard from the head is known as the nut. This is where the strings fall into the grooves. The distance between the top and bottom strings is known as the nut width and this can vary from each guitar.

Having a guitar with a larger nut width means that there is more space between the strings for your large fingers to sit comfortably.

Three great options for guitars that have their strings spaced further apart that I have come across are;

 

  1. Nylon string classical guitars – These tend to have a much larger nut width than an acoustic steel string or electric guitar.
     

  2. 12 string guitar, minus 6 strings – A 12 string guitar is designed as 6 pairs of strings that you play by fretting a pair of strings simultaneously to create a harmony.

    If you were to remove the second string from each of these pairs you would be left with a 6 string acoustic guitar with a large nut width to fit your XL fingers. There is also the extra benefit of having all strings being made of steel if you don’t like the sound of the nylon strings that a classical provides.

     

  3. Tailor made guitars for large fingers – There are companies around the world that design guitars specifically for people with large fingers. Typically pricier than options 1 or 2, however you will most likely have the support from guitar makers who know exactly what you are experiencing and guide you on what you need.
     

I know that for a lot of you reading that you may have already invested money into a guitar or even been given one as a gift so the idea of getting another guitar may not sit too well. There are many things you can do before this step, so leave it as a last resort.

Remember before you buy a new guitar;

  • Try the first two solutions in this article

  • Seek a professional guitar teacher if you are unsure about your technique

  • I will be posting a second article with alternative solutions for playing guitar with fat fingers in the future that you can try, in the meantime you can email me at bainbridgemusic@live.com if you want to know these alternative solutions ahead of time
     

There are a lot of guitar players who have larger fingers and if you have the will to want to play guitar, I am sure there will be a way for you. I have seen people play with missing fingers (Django Reinhardt), fingertips cut off (Toni Iommi) and even people play well with their feet (Johnatha Bastos).
 

I hope that this has helped you make some progress and given you some hope to play guitar the way you want to.
 

About The Author
 

Daniel Bainbridge is the director at Guitar Lessons Albany and provides guitar teaching services to students from around the Great Southern Region including Lower King, Bayonet Head, Little Grove, Mckail, Orana, Yakamia, Lockyer, Denmark, Mount Barker and many other suburbs in the surrounding area.