Fretting Problem: Crooked Fingers and Higher Register Notes

Hello everyone,
As some of you may have experienced, getting your fretting hand working correctly on the higher register notes can be quite challenging. Especially if you want to maintain a comfortable back posture, and without getting excessive strain in your tendons.

My problem is as follows. My fingers are by nature very short. And (drumroll), all my fingers are crooked, my pinky is especially and quite dramatically crooked as you will see in the pictures.

So when I want to play on the higher notes, my pinky simply can’t reach the notes (on the E & A-strings). When sitting or standing in my normal position, the following tends to happen.

Wrapping my hand around the neck is set to its maximum - as my hands and fingers are small -, so I can only increase the range of my pinky by wrapping my entire fretting hand inwards (towards the body) which causes painful strain on the tendons of my index and middle finger - I can hold this a few seconds before the pain becomes excruciating; it feels like they’re about to snap or tear apart.
Another way I found my pinky can reach those higer notes, is by excessive crouching or slouching while sitting, or placing my right foot on a chair and slouching aswell, which is really uncomfortable for my back and neck.

I tried many possible ways of sitting, standing, holding the bass, crouching etc. Nothing seems to work without sacrificing comfort in my back, neck, and tendons.
The importance of using the pinky while playing is something that I always hold in mind. So I try as best as I can to use it as often as possible without sacrificing comfort or using unnecessary force. This problem is quite frustrating, because this crookedness in my pinky ( and others fingers) seems to prevent me from using the pinky on the lower strings in the higher register.

It seems like my pinky naturally tends to need the support of my ring finger to fret the strings down. Especially the lower they go on the neck.
Is there anyone who can come up with some ideas or solutions to this problem? Maybe accept the fact that I simply can’t use the pinky in this register, and thus accept using only index,middle, and ring?
I’d love to hear your ideas. Thanks in advance for your feedback!


Welcome @Jeffreydv

Two things come to mind…

  1. Try moving your thumb under the neck. There is no rule that says it has to stay so high (and shouldn’t actually). Check out Peter Hook playing on YouTube, he does same and its the only way I can play up there too. Only “alien fingers” people can do what you are trying to do.
  2. Try the Smandl technique, a 3-finger technique that uses index and pinky together to fret (comes from stand up bass playing). The index reinforces the pinky. I use it a lot especially on root-fifth type patterns.

Also, shoot over to this thread and say hi…


Welcome Jeffrey

I agree with John’s 2 points. For point 1, it’s absolutely ideal that you keep your thumb at the centre behind the neck whatever someone’s hand size is. Don’t think you have to wrap your fingers around the neck like some players with bad technique do. This will help you to access the bottom string(the bottom string means the lowest in pitch. On a regular 4 string this will be the E string. The highest means highest in pitch) comfortably. Don’t worry about going beyond the 12th fret where the neck is wider - that’s more for soloists but you don’t ever need to go there as a meat and veg bass player.

For point 2, the Samandl technique is often recommended in the first 7 frets, and that’s where the so-called money notes are (the so-called money notes are where most or a great many bass players will spend their time in a gig that earns them money)

Be aware that EVERYONE whatever their hand size initially has difficulty adjusting to muscle actions requires for bass because you’re not used to them. For example you may notice that you will have flying fingers that EVERYONE has to begin with, where some of your fingers rise up way off the fretboard when you’re fretting a note with one finger. There are exercise to practice that will eliminate this, so don’t worry.

I don’t think that your fingers will be any detriment. There are kids and women who are awesome at bass and have smaller hands than you. As far as I know, large hands have never been a prerequisite for playing the bass, so it’s only a case of finding the best technique for yourself. If you read out a list of professional bass players with small hands, you would have no sleep for a very long time.

If you practice good technique and good habits, all of which you are more than capable of doing, you will have no problem.

btw you mentioned that you sit while playing. Don’t do that. Get a tall stool or stand up while playing. There are plenty of resources about good posture.


All of the above :point_up_2:t5:
I’ll say that my hands are not small (I think) but I do not fret the E string with my pinky above the 15th, I’ve done it but it’s not very comfortable and I don’t think it matters, Josh puts emphasis on the pinky during the course mostly for comfort on the lower frets and to build its strength, but you’re free to choose and adapt after that

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big +1 to both of those.

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Thanks everyone for your replies, they certainly helped me to search for some ways to make playing with my fretting hand easier.
The thumb ‘under’ the neck didn’t work for me, as I found that my pinky just followed with. Getting firm enough grip on the strings was even harder this way. The Simandl technique simply doesn’t work on these higher notes for me I found, as there isn’t enough room to put my fingers so close together.
And yes, when I play, practice, or improv, my thumb is always in the center of the neck. This ‘wrapping around the neck’ only occurs at the higher notes. I enjoy these higher notes, not for soloing in the conventional ways, but because it widens the range of emotional expression, or visual aid in an abstract sense.
I am aware that there’re ‘beginner’ issues which most beginners run into, as you mentioned like the fllying fingers. These exercises to increase dexterity, coordination, and the like, are a usual ‘warm-up’ as well as a reminder for myself. They indeed certainly help to get rid of these issues.

After all your suggestions and tips, I’ve found that, personally, it helps to maintain the neutral position of my fretting hand. This means that when my hand goes lower down the neck, I see my pinky naturally disappear from the string I’m playing on, which indicates to me, that this is the most comfortable position for it. This happens mainly at the E & A strings indeed.
So what I’ve (re)discovered, is that maintaining neutral position, along with accepting the limitations of your hand’s anatomy - and consequently all the fingers’ most comfortable position on the neck - works best.

Thanks again for your replies! It made me do some more research and rediscover a few notions about anatom. It was a great reminder to stay focused on these hand positions to prevent issues further down the line.

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My in person teacher encourages this technique. His bass teacher had him tape his pinky and ring together to establish the habit and break the habits he has coming from guitar

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It sounds like you may be better suited with a guitar if you’re preferring that range and your phrasing there with the use of “emotional expression”. The guitar will also be less physically challenging for you.

If you’ve understood the role of the bass and what is expected, there’s really no need to go in that part of the neck unless you’re soloing or wanting to play it like a guitar.

Something else to remember in the future, whether you choose bass or guitar, is that you should aim for the lightest touch. The lighter the touch, the less energy expended and the less fatigue, and therefore the better your endurance and lesser chance of health issues. Maybe I’ve misinterpreted when you say “enough grip on the strings” which suggest to me that you’re pressing down quite hard.

When I play up there on the neck, my thumb is somewhere below the middle of the back of the neck, almost pointing in the direction the neck goes, so not at all perpendicular to the neck.

I had big problems with my thumb at the beginning that it was too tense and I felt pain in the root of my thumb after only a few minutes of playing. That is why I make a conscious effort to have it as relaxed as it can be. And this pretty open position is the most relaxed for me to have it.

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Thanks for your reply, it’s definitely a great point of view that I appreciate. I agree that a guitar is more suited for this ‘emotional expression’ in the way you said. I can see what you mean, that the guitar has a more ‘preferable range’ in that regard.
However, ‘preferable’, in my opinion, is subjective, and this brings me back to what you want to achieve with your instrument and music. The reason I will stick to a bass, even though it may be ‘unconventional’ in use, is mainly because the deep and foundational sounds (even the ones in higher octaves) are closer to my heart. Emotional expression with a rhythmical foundation is possible, though hard to explain, especially since I’m still experimenting and finding my own way through this strange and abstract world of music.

I agree that a guitar is indeed physically less challenging than a bass. I refer back to the person who referred to ‘Tommy Emmanuel’ (I believe it was), where he basically said that your body will adapt to your own will through practice and dexterity. Of course, this implies practicing without overly straining yourself in bad and unhealthy ways.

And your remark about the lightest touch, that is certainly true. What I meant with the ‘enough grip on the strings’ was that when I have to curl my hand inwards in order for my pinky to reach the higher notes on the E & A string, my pinky simply doesn’t get enough grip, as in: its reach isn’t close enough for a firm grip and sustain.
I am aware of that thanks to Josh. I’m trying to apply this as much as possible, though you can only focus on so many things at once during practice. But certainly I will keep this in mind, thanks for the reminder!

Thanks again for your reply. It certainly made me think and see a few things through a new perspective.


Yes I see what you mean. I believe this is called the ‘neutral position’ of the hand, if I remember correctly, one of the users referred to a video of Adam Neeley, who explained this neutral position very clearly. By keeping your hand as relaxed as possible, I’ve noticed that the thumb automatically runs parallel to the neck instead of perpendicular. Having it perpendicular or ‘underneath’ the middle and index finger is really strenuous and quite unnatural when you keep your hand in a relaxed, neutral, position.
It is indeed quite a challenge to put little pressure on the thumb while playing as a beginner. Let’s keep our thumbs relaxed as best as possible haha

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I would slightly disagree. There’s bassists that live up in that range and do it really well. It’s a different type of playing with different setups and styles, but some have made a career on it.

You’re right that guitar will be physically easier and more expressive though.

I’m doing this naturally and thought it was a problem! :persevere:

That Adam Neely video is great. I learned a lot from it.

I, also, have to disagree about the whole expression, upper register, play guitar thing.

For me, playing bass is the tool of my expression. If that takes me into the upper register notes, all the better. :sunglasses::+1:


I would tune a 5 string to EADGC. easier to play. But that’s me


I can’t play up there with the bass held horizontally due to short fingers and wrist pain…so i held the bass more like a vlassical guitar and use at least a 45 degree angle … that way i just hold my wrist srltraight and don’t have to reach or curl my wrist or fingers


Yes but they’re not beginners though, are they? They’ve most likely already understood and learnt what the bass is about and are in a position to decide that they like to spend the time soloing or higher up better. If a beginner chooses to, it may suggest that they’re better off with a guitar given the higher range of the instrument and the different role it plays in music. Meat and veg bass doesn’t belong up there, so it would be better if they were steered in the right direction early on rather than them getting so far and realising that it’s a dead end.

I can think of at least one famous example. Peter Hook has played up there his entire career, from the very start when he didn’t know how to play, because it was the only way he could be heard, due to his amp being terrible. And his attitude was such that he wasn’t going to just follow along; he was going to drive the song. He more or less defined a genre with that sound and style, but he didn’t know a thing when he started it.


Was it not because Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner changed roles so that the bass played the melody and the guitar played the rhythm?

That probably wouldn’t be appreciated in most musical settings.

Nope, nothing so planned as that :rofl:

“They tried telling me once, asking if I could just follow the root,” laughs Hooky. “I said, ‘No - how about you fuckin’ follow me?’ - probably out of ignorance, because I didn’t know what a root note even was. I’ve never liked to be hidden, and I don’t like to be patronised. I don’t buy into the idea that the bass player is the quiet one who drives the van…” and there’s that cheeky wink again, before the admission that he was in fact behind the wheel for most tours.
Quiet he certainly wasn’t, and with encouragement from producer Hannett and singer Curtis, Hook soon discovered that the higher frets were where his potency was at its most ripe.
“Berny had a really loud amp right from the word go. I couldn’t hear myself at practice if I played low, so I went high - and that’s when Ian would be shouting, ‘Sounds great, do that, go high Hooky, go high!’ It was nice to be encouraged. A lot of those bass riffs were at his insistence.”

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