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learn guitar with injured fret-hand ring finger?

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Postby pickitup » October 4th, 2011, 7:37 am

Hi All,

I'm considering learning how to play guitar. Though I learned piano and brass instruments as a child and played through college, I've always loved guitar, from classical to reggae and ska.

Problem is, I've had an injury to my left ring finger - the tip got cut and the result is that last segment is is about half the normal length and the nail curves down. The pad is only really on the bottom, and the nail can act a bit like a hook (which doesn't seem like it would be great for playing guitar). Anyway, this isn't my finger but it looks quite similar to this: http://tinyurl.com/6ctdkwn

With a slightly non-romantic outlook (yes I've heard about Django's injury to his hand :P ), what is my guitar-learning prognosis? Everything else is pretty good - I have a good ear, and I proved to be pretty good at my other instruments. Just this potential mechanical issue.

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Postby sunder » October 4th, 2011, 5:36 pm

if you can keep the nail cut and get used to everything im sure you can still play. if not then you can also try playing a left handed guitar. my dad is left handed and he plays a right handed guitar.
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Postby Blue Jay » October 4th, 2011, 5:53 pm


Having a good ear helps. You don't want to be cutting any of that off?

The prognosis is good if you develop an average or better flexibility in all other joints of the left hand and can articulate it.

I have cut off the ends of both thumbs, and they grew back, and the end of my left (fingering) first digit. It only grew back partially, or maybe just smoothed itself over. I find that it is either highly innervated or damaged - well, it hurts, but still works. I had a friend who was a butcher - really, and didn't learn to play guitar or violin until he cut off three left fingers. I remember at least one had no joint, but didn't stare or look closely. Anyway, he compensated at the wrist and was flexible.

I think that the finger nail will get in the way and have to get shortened. I have a burned finger too with only half a nail. :roll:
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Postby MarcMM » November 28th, 2011, 3:42 am

I agree with Blue Jay, It can be done. And a good ear is a good start. You should probably consider trying slide guitar too. With a slide on your ring finger you would bypass your injury and If you like blues (of course, lots of genres can be played using a slide) that could be a great thing for you. But do not give up on conventional fretting either; players do seem to get around their mecahnical injuries. In fact, just learn some chord fingerings or scales and try it out -see if there is a way to make it work.

So the prognosis is bright, considering your musical horizon and your good ear.
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Postby jason brann » November 28th, 2011, 12:17 pm

i can't move the last knuckle of my pinkie on my picking hand and have limited motion with it, but i pick with it. i know a guy who has a similar injury to you who doesn't play anymore because of it. there's a guy on here with one arm who plays. it's pretty much up to you how far you pursue the guitar.
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Postby cnev » November 29th, 2011, 9:21 am

I don't have anything missing but I broke my pinky about a montha ago but didn't know it for a few weeks. HAd to have surgery and they put 4 screws in.

I was totally freaked out about not being able to use the finger but I have just started to play and although I don't have a fullr ange of motion (and may never have it) I can do most things I could do before I broke it.

So I am going to persist and modify my playing if needed.

I would guess like Jason said if you are highly motivated you'll find a way to play with your limitation.
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Postby kent_eh » November 29th, 2011, 2:47 pm

Tony Iomi is another guitar player who played his whole career with a damaged fretting hand.
He had to create his own playing style, and had to build some prosthetic "thimbles" to fret without pain, but he's done it.
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Postby tinsmith » November 29th, 2011, 5:13 pm

I have crappy fingers, mostly cubital tunnel, so I learned to slide.....very happy intermittently with the results....moments of brilliance....& moments of not so good.
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Postby Chris C » November 29th, 2011, 11:25 pm

cnev wrote:I would guess like Jason said if you are highly motivated you'll find a way to play with your limitation.


There's only one major problem with learning anything and that's to lose your motivation. Almost every other difficulty can be overcome or compensated for in some way.
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Postby dahni » December 13th, 2011, 1:20 pm

Left hand ring finger was injured 25+ years ago; tendons cut. Didn't know for several weeks due to infection. Finger 'froze' into curved position, and only movement is from palm, just up and down a little. I play guitar and uke ok, but I have had to make some adjustments, and some chords I just can't manage. So I've learned to transpose and use a capo, and in cases play around to find another chord, or half-chord, that sounded good.

I use the little finger instead of the ring finger most of the time. Only real problem is when I bend the other fingers, the ring finger still sticks up or out, which can be misinterpreted with a fast look. Anyway, patience and substitution works fine for me, and I play solo for myself, and in a couple of groups performing for nursing homes and retirement homes, and actually for just about anyone who'll invite us! Make it sound good to yourself and it's more fun anyway. Cheers,
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Postby SGinCYQX » March 5th, 2012, 1:24 pm

I shredded my picking hand index finger, ruined both tendons. 90% movement bottom knuckle, 40% middle, none at the top, I play fine. Takes some adapting and I need two fingers planted to bend any more than a half step but I play better lead now than I did before.
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Postby Cat » March 5th, 2012, 7:14 pm

Bummer...and I should know. Five years ago I was cutting off all the reinforcing rod that remained sticking out of the top of the cinderblock walls that had concrete poured into them. I was using an angle grinder. I WISELY swapped the light leather gloves for the VERY heavy welding gloves that were nearby. Anyhoo...my right hand got pulled into the block cavity and that grinder chewed though the right hand glove and severed the tendon right on the top of where that last joint on my right pointing finger is.

Now it's frozen as if I have just one long bone. I "point" at everything now.

I'm an excellent flat-picker and I actually thought of suicide after everything healed...seeing as my playing feeds me and is a great part of what I am...no...it's all I am. Other than my guitar, I'm an uneducated bum. It was a really bad trip for me, and, truthfully, I thought of checking out. :(

But now I'm back to where I was. It's like it never happened. I just had to retrain my "second nature" picking. Not easy...

All in all...I feel deeply for all our military that come back home maimed...wayyyyyyyy worse than me or you...resulting from helping ignorant savages that want all of us dead.

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Postby SGinCYQX » March 5th, 2012, 7:25 pm

Just for fun I read through that thread I made about injuring myself.

All good now, I'm glad to say. Spent today playing Santana solo's. Not quite like it never happened but better than I hoped.
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