The pinky finger. Some guitarists love it. Others avoid using it like it’s the plague. It’s weak, lacks coordination, and can easily end up being a liability in your guitar playing. However, with a few focused exercises you can quickly transform this weakness to a strength. Here are a few of my favorite pinky strengthening exercises for guitar.
Strengthening the muscles of the hands and forearms
When it comes to guitar exercises in general, I prefer those which are musical in nature. After all, the guitar is about playing music.
However, there are some instances where just focusing on the physical aspect of the exercise can be greatly beneficial. These pinky exercises fall into that group.
In the world of fitness training, when athletes train for a sport, specificity is key. The more specific an exercise is to the sport, the more beneficial the exercise will be in improving performance.
So, how can you best strengthen the pinky for guitar playing?
By focusing on the physical aspect of the pinky finger and using specific pinky exercises on the guitar. This will provide the biggest benefit in improving performance of the pinky.
The muscles of the hands and forearms need rest in order to recover just like any other muscle in the body. So while you wouldn’t lift weights with the same body part day after day after day, the same approach needs to be used when strengthening the pinky finger.
These pinky exercises can really tax the small muscles in your hand, so you don’t want to perform these finger exercises daily.
Instead, aim to incorporate these pinky exercises into your practice routine every few days to allow your muscles to adequately recover.
Ok, on to the exercises!
Pinky strengthening exercises
As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to incorporate a metronome to keep your timing consistent across all notes. With these types of exercises it’s easy for fatigue to interfere. If fatigue prevents you from keeping up with the metronome stop the exercise and rest. You may find you need to reduce the tempo in order to play through the exercise to completion.
Note that in each tab below, the fingering for the exercise can be found on the bottom row.
- 1 = Index finger
- 2 = Middle finger
- 3 = Ring finger
- 4 = Pinky finger
The first exercise is a chromatic hammer-on exercise walking up the fretboard on a single string. With this exercise, you give the pinky finger a bit more attention by doing three hammer-ons instead of one like the middle/ring fingers. You really want to try to use as much force on your hammer-ons as you can, particularly with the pinky finger.
Play up to the 12th fret then move over a string until you cross the entire neck.
This exercise takes the first exercise and reverses it. Instead of doing hammer-ons you do pull-offs. Again, pull off with a good amount of force to make the pinky finger really work for it.
If you’re a beginner, you may find this one can be a little painful until you’ve built up calluses on your fingers. You’ll want to manage that the best you can so it doesn’t prevent you from being able to play the guitar.
This exercise can be played across all strings.
This guitar exercise combines both hammer-ons and pull-offs with the pinky finger while the ring finger stays fretted. Because the ring finger is fretted, this exercise is particularly effective at developing strength in the pinky finger. The pinky is isolated and required to do all the work.
The exercise can be played up and down the fretboard as well as across all strings.
This exercise is a legato exercise up the neck, forcing the fingers to work harder to produce a clean sound.
The only note that is picked is the very first (4th fret on the 6th string). After that you’re using hammer-ons/pull-offs and sliding between positions. Again, play this exercise across all strings.
The following exercise isolates the pinky in playing hammer-ons across and up the fretboard.
Starting on the first fret of string 6, play across to string 1 and back, then move up to 2nd fret and repeat up the fretboard.
Similar to the previous exercise, only you perform pull-offs instead of hammer-ons. Again, be sure to apply a fair amount of force to make the pinky work for it.
Of all the pinky strengthening exercises for guitar, this one just might be my favorite.
With this exercise, the ring finger should fret the lower note while the pinky plays the pull-offs on the higher notes. The stretch on this exercise makes this one particularly awkward and difficult.
You’ll play up and down the fretboard as well as across the fretboard. This exercise can be quite tough, so take your breaks when you need them and progress slowly.
Be sure to take your time and play each note cleanly.
Finger Strengthening Tools
If you feel your hands are generally lacking strength, finger exercisers that work both flexion and extension may be useful for you. I’ve used finger strengthening devices for both of these over the years and have found found them to be beneficial, particularly after long layoffs on the guitar.
However, back to my point on specificity, while these tools can help build strength in your hands, they won’t improve your guitar playing on their own. So treat them as what they are, a way to increase the strength in your hands and fingers.
With its inherent lack of strength and coordination, it’s easy for the pinky finger to be neglected. However, this finger can be a true asset and, personally, one I absolutely couldn’t do without. These pinky strengthening exercises for guitar will bring this finger up to par with the rest of the left hand and allow you to utilize it with confidence.