Can You Play Classical Guitar with Small Hands?
Is it possible to play classical guitar with small hands? Do small hands put you at a disadvantage?
And are there special exercises or techniques for those with smaller hands? And what options are out there to make life easier?
Does Hand Size Matter?
Guitars are big. In fact, the regular guitar size is larger than ideal for most of the world’s population. Classical guitar bodies are smaller than many regular acoustic guitars. But the classical guitar neck is wider than steel-string acoustics.
So guitar feels big for most people.
But what about stretch and large chords? Can small hands meet the demands of classical guitar music?
The answer is yes. Many of the world’s best players have small hands. We can find high-level guitarists in most any country. This includes those with the shortest average heights (such as those in South Asia).
There are also many children that become high-level players.
Even folks with large hands often have trouble with stretch on guitar. This is in part because of how they position and use their hands.
Is Your Guitar Too Big for You?
For many beginners, a regular, “adult-size” guitar may feel too large and unwieldy. It is common for new guitarists to question whether they have the right instrument.
Some folk of smaller stature or with small hands, including some women, find they enjoy a slightly smaller classical guitar. There are several sizes of guitar, and there is more on guitar sizes below. But the adult-size classical guitar can come to be a good fit for most adults. This may take time to become accustomed to the instrument.
And the better our form, positioning, and movements, the easier the guitar is to play. Often when a guitar feels too large, the player is not positioned as well as they could be.
Make the Most of Your Hands: Use Good Guitar Technique
Guitar is much easier with good technique. What is good technique? Classical guitar technique includes the form, positioning and movements with which we play. Good technique allows for the greatest freedom and versatility with the least tension.
Classical guitar technique is a study. It’s one of the main elements of learning classical guitar. The better we use our bodies and hands, the easier it is to play. With appropriate tension and positioning, stretches and strenuous chords are possible.
So it helps to master the basics of classical guitar, regardless of hand size.
Most every accomplished classical guitarist has practiced classical guitar technique over time.
Option: Play Smaller Classical Guitars
Another option for those with small hands is to play a smaller instrument. (Though even with a smaller guitar, technique practice is useful.)
There are various types of small guitars.
Shorter String Length (Scale Length)
Guitars can be made with shorter than usual scale length. Scale length is the distance from the bridge to the nut of the guitar. This is length that vibrates when we play the string with no frets pressed.
These instruments are usually custom-built by luthiers (guitar-builders).
The most common size of short-scale guitar is 630millimeters. The average guitar is around 650mm. Some guitars are even larger than this, and are more taxing to play, even for those with large hands.
You can search online for used short-scale instruments, or find a local luthier to build you one.
7/8 Size Guitar
7/8 size classical guitars are mass-produced and easily found online. If a regular-sized guitar feels too large, this size may be more comfortable.
Many of these are low-quality instruments intended for children. Alhambra makes a good 7/8 size guitar. And Cordoba also has quality 7/8 size classical guitars.
3/4 Size Guitar
3/4 size classical guitars are almost exclusively for children. They are very small, and unsuitable for most adults.
Parlor Guitars – NOT Recommended for Classical Guitarists
Parlor guitars are smaller than normal acoustic guitars. But they are generally steel-stringed, and not great for classical guitar study. If you’re playing classical guitar, do not get a parlor guitar. If you would like a smaller instrument, get one of the options above instead.
Strength and Flexibility Help for Small Hands on Guitar
For those with small hands, it can help to increase overall hand strength and flexibility. This will help with leverage. We can more easily hold down frets while performing stretches between fingers.
One of the best exercises for strength and finger-independence are rasgueados (for both hands). These can be done anywhere, and do not need a guitar.
On the guitar, left hand slurs (hammer-ons and pull-offs) are a wonderful exercise.
Movement is Allowed
One of the factors limiting stetch and general facility on guitar is rigidity. When we play with a rigid position, we limit movement.
We can free our wrists and joints and allow for easier movement. We can re-position our hands for more ideal form. This can help with the specific musical demands (such as chords or scales).
With experimentation and practice, we can release excess tension. We can then move more freely from one challenge to the next.
Hi, I’m Allen Mathews.
I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
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