Collapsing 4th Finger Problem

Ergonomics and Posture for Classical Guitarists, Aches and Pains, Injuries, etc...

Re: Collapsing 4th Finger Problem

Post by Ameretat » Tue Apr 06, 2010 1:15 pm

I am no guitar teacher, so my response might not sound academic enough, but I've had this problem too and managed to solve it on my own. Paying attention to the particular places where my pinky ended up in this weird position, I payed attention to the direction in which I applied pressure and I noticed that when my pinky wound up in a tortured position like this, it was always because I was pulling my left hand down towards the floor, instead of applying pressure with the finger, perpendicular to the fretboard. It took me a lot of time and attentive practice to get rid of this bad habit, but as soon as I stopped pulling my left hand down towards the floor and payed attention to the "vector of force" being perpendicular to the fretboard, my 4th finger stopped collapsing.

It's an especially tricky situation, I find, because it is to be diagnosed and solved kinesthetically, not visually - so it is almost all up to the student to pay attention. A teacher can do little more than suggest what the problem might be and how to solve it, but in the end, it's all up to the student paying a lot of attention - especially to what his sense of touch and balance is telling him, not his eyes.

I hope this helps.

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Re: Collapsing 4th Finger Problem

Post by Nick Cutroneo » Fri May 07, 2010 3:44 pm

Get your tip joint knuckle right over the string you are playing. That'll take care of the locking mid joint.
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Re: Collapsing 4th Finger Problem

Post by KevinCollins » Fri May 07, 2010 10:37 pm

My teacher ( :lol: ) says, when it comes to pinky, you just slap it on there any way you can, as long as it hits the note. In this case, there is no reason not to use both 3 and 4 to play that note on the fourth fret. Just slap it on there.

That being said, I think everyone gets that condition and has come up with different solutions to fit the situation in their classical playing. That would be another topic.

In the case of a twelve year with two years of guitar under their belt, I would say that the F# on the fourth string is a killer. I tell them that. I say it, "I avoided it myself, for years. Now I use like a regular finger. I wish I'd known that". I tell them that, that I hated it and I avoided it for years. Then I explain that everyone hates that note and, if he can play that F#, he will be able to do something no one else can do, just by using the fourth finger. I say, if everyone else uses three fingers and you use four, you can play 33% more than anyone else and you never did anything, all you did is use what you already had. Then we do the "ninja pinky", with the vocalizations. Straight out of Kill Bill, with screaming. Heee-yah. Ninja pinky! Heee-yahhh! He is twelve, after all.

Before I teach fourth finger, though, I get 2 and 3 working as one finger, from the very first time they play G or D on the top strings. "2 and 3 work as one finger, keep your fingers over the strings", they must hear me say that 2,000 times in the first year. As I look at that picture, I notice that, as fierce as that '4' finger is, he is literally pulling it off the guitar by holding 2,3 away from the strings.

In this case, first, touch the strings, all the fingers. Then add pressure. Release the pressure, keeping the fingers on the string. Press again, until the fingers don't jump off the strings, just release. Just release. [That is, if they will let you teach them that -- the twelve year olds I know won't put up with my demands for that kind of introspection. Just play the song, the finger will catch up.]

That clenching could also be the stress reaction -- the lumbricals went 'mental'. The solution is to take a deep breath. Again, it is the rare twelve-year old who wants to hear my speech about the stress reaction. They put up with me, but I don't think they really listen. Maybe you have better luck.

Part of the problem, Nick, is the fourth string is not the best place to start fourth finger. Hava Nagila (Alfred's Guitar Method, Book One) introduces D# on the second string, with C natural behind it as a guide/anchor finger. The angle is better on the second string at that stage, and it is easier to press. Plus it is a cool song.

If they have the patience, I would suggest "laying them down" on the first string starting at the fifth or fourth position. 1-2-3-4 (G#, A, A#, B) right up the string, leaving each one down until all four fingers are pressing the string. Then, release enough to shift all the fingers up one fret and reverse, taking them off one by one, 4-3-2-1 (C, B, Bb, A). Then, shift 1 up one fret and repeat, 1-2-3-4, shift, 4-3-2-1, shift, all the way to the ninth position. Then, play the descending, back to fourth position, 4-3-2-1, shift, 1-2-3-4, shift. As Lare has pointed out elsewhere, there is pronation in the first position, which throws that fourth finger under the hand, next to 3. Starting in fourth position, the hand comes up over the strings and it is not so hard.

Finally, there is Hey Joe Bass Line. Same thing, lay 'em down. Once they start they can't stop.

Hey Joe Bass Line
Take turns strumming and bass line, one of those buddy jamming songs. It's a blast.

Why not? Every self-respecting classical guitarist should have at least one Hendrix song they can play. He stole it from Bach, anyway.


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Re: Collapsing 4th Finger Problem

Post by lagartija » Fri May 07, 2010 11:23 pm

Remmus, I can do the same thing with my finger joints that he can. I have always had loose finger ligaments. In fact, I was having my own pinky melt down recently on Brouwer VI in measure 9. The reach I needed to hold the D# and F# with 2 and 1 was extending that pinky too far and it would lock into collapse mode when I tried to fret the B with 4. My teacher suggested changing my elbow position (a little more forward and towards my body) to get a little slack for the poor guy, and that combined with the finger ligaments stretching out over the past few weeks seemed to help in my case. It is a life long issue. Your student will have to continue working at figuring out how to keep the curve in his fingers (it only has to be slight) to prevent collapse. It isn't just a problem in guitar playing.
But Kevin has a really good idea; ninja pinky. Because I have those loose ligaments like your student, in a martial arts situation when you are doing one of those "spear hand" strikes into a target, the collapsing joint issue is a real problem. In the old days, they used to start the students stabbing their hands into bags of rice, graduating to sand and then rocks. Well.... I am NOT recommending that for your student; back then, the guys only had to hold hoes and sickles and it didn't matter if their hands were all gnarly. But the thing that is recommended now, is to "breathe out through your fingers". That is, to have an image of your breath coming out the tips of your fingers.... Super hero stuff... you know, the power coming out of the fingers and zorching the guy. So you see, Kevin's ninja pinky is pretty close to the mark. When you "breathe out through your fingers", you bring awareness there and a mental image of strength or power. Depending on how well your student can visualize this sort of thing, it may be a helpful image. If not, then as Kevin says.... HEEEE YAAAAHHHH! Whatever works. Try it all.... except the hand stabbing into buckets of rocks... :wink:
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Jim McCutcheon

Re: Collapsing 4th Finger Problem

Post by Jim McCutcheon » Sun May 09, 2010 2:54 am

I would try two things:

1) Have him perform pressure exercises that would help him determine exactly how much pressure is needed to achieve a clear tone with that 4th finger - he might be pressing too hard.

2) Pull the hand slightly back toward the backside of the guitar neck. If this leans the tip a bit slanted, it might at least help alleviate the painful knuckle.

I might also ask him if he's doing anything else with his hands that might be stressing them.


Re: Collapsing 4th Finger Problem

Post by BenMurrie » Sat Sep 25, 2010 12:10 pm

In Pumping Nylon, an illustration on the 4th finger shows it is not being played front on, but more turned away from the other fingers to a degree. This makes it extremely easy to keep it bent. Also, the palm of the hand should be parallel with the neck, if it isn't. Lastly, how hard is the player pressing the fret? It's common (as was with me) for the 4th finger to collapse when it's pressing too hard or there's tension in the finger.

Just some advice from me :D I haven't read the other replies, so I may have just repeated all the other responses... hope not!



Re: Collapsing 4th Finger Problem

Post by Dragonstuff » Thu Sep 30, 2010 7:11 pm

It looks like he doesn't quite have the finger strength yet. Practice and time will help.


Jim McCutcheon

Re: Collapsing 4th Finger Problem

Post by Jim McCutcheon » Tue Nov 09, 2010 3:13 am

These last two posts are the best as far as I can tell.

Pulling the left forearm and hand back a bit will force the knuckle to straighten and help the finger cover the distance with an arch. Keeping the palm in close to the edge of the neck will be essential.

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Re: Collapsing 4th Finger Problem

Post by Mark_Steed » Fri Mar 04, 2011 5:37 pm

Thanks folks - very instructive. Have been wondering why my callouses are just under my nails on left hand and the strings are chewing up the already very short nails. Clearly my knuckles are some way above the fretboard forcing my fingers to come down at more than 90 degrees on the bottom strings! Amazing how in this game (more than a game for most I know) one can be getting things so wrong even after a year at it. Have half a dozen books and taken a few lessons - but think this will help a great deal. And I also have this Pinky problem - I feel it is more a locking problem than a collapsing syndrome!

Cheers to all
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Re: Collapsing 4th Finger Problem

Post by remmus » Sat Mar 05, 2011 4:01 pm

Good news! His pinkie finger is gaining strength and though it still collapses, the frequency is much lower than when I began this thread. I have tried many of the thoughtful suggestion mentioned here and feel very fortunate to have a source to glean such very useful information. Thank-you all again for all the help! :discussion:
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Re: Collapsing 4th Finger Problem

Post by lagartija » Sat Mar 05, 2011 4:12 pm

When the sun shines, bask.
Classical Guitar forever!


Re: Collapsing 4th Finger Problem

Post by guitarbroke » Wed Mar 30, 2011 6:40 pm

My son still plays like that sometimes, but I think it's because of the hand position: the top of the hand is close to the neck, but the bottom is further away. When the hand is parallel to the the neck, his little finger never collapses.

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Re: Collapsing 4th Finger Problem

Post by el Zilcho » Thu Mar 01, 2018 1:02 pm

Old thread, I know.. sorry for dredging it up but it's the only one I found which pertains to my frustrating problem.

My LH LF also collapses at the knuckle. It's functional for the most part but is becoming a hinderance now that i'm practising more and expanding my abilities.

My main worry is that I won't be able to fix it as i've played for quite a few years and would expect that I would have built up enough strength to avoid this issue.
My concern comes from the fact that my RH LF does not collapse in the same way. If I apply the same pressure in the same way it's really strong and in fact won't collapse. My LH LF collapses at minimal pressure.

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