Is It Necessary to Use the Pinky Finger When Playing Guitar?

When it comes to guitar players, they always manage to create their own personal style. 

This involves the different techniques they apply but it also has to do with how they play in terms of hand movement.

Some of them are recognized by playing with only three fingers. 

However, even players who are known for applying this method, sometimes use their pinky.

That is because some certain licks or chords are easier to play using your pinky.

So, is it in fact necessary to play using the pinky finger? 

It is not necessary to play guitar using your pinky finger to fret, however, many modern players do use it because of the benefits it brings to reach and play speed. On the other side, a lot of players from more vintage styles, such as blues, prefer to stick with only using 3 fingers to fret due to tradition.

This is a completely subjective matter so it is relegated to each player’s preference. 

Some players who use a lot of two-note-string patterns may feel comfortable playing using their pinkies whereas some others rather use their first three fingers.

In this article, I will discuss everything there is about playing with your pinky finger.

Stick around with me, if this is something that worries you about your technique.

Is it wrong to play guitar without using the pinky finger?

On many occasions, we have said that there is no right or wrong in guitar what it means that you can do whatever fits you better. 

When we discuss pinkies’ use, we need to make distinctions between right and left hand.

On one side, the pinky of the right hand (also known as playing hand) is not so commonly used. 

This little finger takes time to build its strength and it doesn’t provide many advantages to play.

On the other hand, although there are loads of people that try to play guitar using fewer fingers of their fretting hand, it is a practice that limits you. 

By leaving one finger aside you are limiting your playing in every aspect, from playing chords to running scales.

However, some people claim that as the pinky is a very weak finger, they prefer just omitting it. 

We have a wonderful example of this in Django Reinhardt who was a well-known jazz guitarist that played amazingly just with two fingers due to an accident.

What I mean to say is that for some people the pinky is really useful and essential, for some others is more comfortable playing without it.

Are there famous players that don’t use their pinky fingers to fret?

Apart from Mr. Reinhardt, other musicians don’t usually use their little pinky fingers. 

Although you can find them using the pinky on some occasions, most of the time they just play without it.

Wes Montgomery was an American jazz guitarist who developed a particular technique for playing guitar. 

Montgomery plucked the strings with the side of his thumb instead of using a pick.

This player was also known for his extensive use of octaves that gave him a particularly distinctive sound. 

He was a great example that you don’t need every finger to play amazingly.

What can we say that hasn’t already been said about the milestone BB King? 

Not much I guess, but he also was one of those players that handle to play lovely expressive vibrato and effortless phrasing just by using three fingers.

King’s style was never about speed but expression while playing. His common trait was a mixture of both minor and major pentatonic scales.

We also have the guitar player from Rush, Alex Lifeson, who is a representative figure of progressive rock. 

As regards his style, he is more of a riff player than a soloist but this doesn’t limit him to play admirably dispensing with his pinky.

Last but not least, we have the Yardbirds and Cream member, one of the most remarkable guitar players in history. 

We are obviously talking about Eric Clapton who is really competent on electric and acoustic guitar.

In terms of style, he can be a fast player when he wants but he is an expressive player that transmits a lot when soloing. 

The interesting thing about him is that he tends to slide his pinky behind the neck when he does solos. 

There are actually benefits from not using the pinky finger

It is not just an issue of comfort or convenience, there are benefits from not using the pinky finger. 

You may think that it is nonsense but this way of playing is intimately related to blues.

In blues, there are three finger lines based on playing just with three fingers. 

If you play these patterns in that way, it will sound limited which is great because is what generates part of the feel.

Through this method, you could achieve that sweet blues tone. 

Moreover, chromatic licks employing the famous “blue note” will give you that note grouping sound. 

But there are also drawbacks from playing with just 3 fingers

We have already mentioned the benefits of playing with just three fingers. 

However, you have to know that there also exist some drawbacks.

First of all, the guitar is an instrument made for playing with every single finger in your hands. 

This affects not only your fretting but also your playing hand so, it would be silly wasting one or two fingers.

Besides, playing with all your fingers is the modern approach to guitar. 

Nowadays, guitar learning is based on the use of four fingers and it is shown in scales and chord shapes.

You will probably be more comfortable playing with only three fingers but what will you do if you want to play seventh extended chords or tetrads? 

It will be almost impossible to do it in that way. 

How can you learn to use your pinky finger?

You may think that pinky sucks but if you don’t use it, you are neglecting a quarter of your playing potential. 

Like everything, in the beginning, will be difficult or even uncomfortable but you have to get through some practice to dominate it.

I suggest you start with chord shapes and scale runs. 

By doing this, your fingers will get used to the different shapes in which you have to place them, do it slowly, and although you can feel frustrated, take it easy, it is part of the process and takes time.

Try to expose yourself to simple exercises where you are forced to use your pinky finger. 

In that way, you will gain strength on it and you will find the whole slew of subjects easier to play. 

Tips for improving your pinky finger dexterity

As we know, the pinky is the weakest finger of our hand and the most difficult to master. 

That’s why you will need to practice to get accustomed to using it.

To improve these, you can perform chromatic scales over and over again. 

The toughest part is finger dexterity and coordination and through this exercise, you will enhance them.

In addition, you can play arpeggios of chords that include hard reaches. 

However, be careful and play everything exaggeratedly slow to get along to it step by step.

There is an interesting exercise called “pencil reach” which is a hand exercise that increases the strength of the pinky. 

Consists of gripping a pencil or a pen in your fretting hand but using only your fingertips.

Then, you need to gradually walk your finger away from the others. 

It is important not to use wrist power (you will be cheating!) just use your finger’s strength.

Finally, I think that the best tip I can give is to be patient

Remember that learning new techniques is challenging and it takes time to build up muscle memory

Incorporating an extra finger won’t necessarily fix your playing

To sum up, I think it is important to incorporate the use of pinky into your playing. 

In my opinion, it will give a wider range of resources and options when you perform. 

However, adding an extra finger won’t fix any other issues you are carrying on your playing. 

Most guitarists just play the way they feel more comfortable.

Remember what we said earlier, many famous players don’t use every finger, and that doesn’t avoid them to became eminences. 

Furthermore, it is something important to work on, but not especially fundamental.