This is a common question I get on a regular basis, and some people on YouTube have given me flack for not playing with my pinky more when soloing.

You know what? I could really care less if it’s the proper thing to do or not. Blues Guitar is not proper! We are not playing Classical music which is completely different.

Well everyone has an opinion, so what I teach is how to play blues guitar. You can use any fingering you want, but if you take a look at Eric Clapton, Warren Haynes, Jimi Hendrix, SRV and many others, the general thing you will see is that they all mostly are 1, 2, and 3, finger players. To me, this is part of their sound. Some will probably disagree but it’s true.

This doesn’t mean to say that by using your 4th finger to play certain licks you can’t sound like them. It just means to take note that using your 3rd finger will give you a different tone than using your 4th will.

Is this true for all styles?

No. If you’re playing flamenco, classical, Jazz, or any style for that matter using your 4th finger is needed because of different playing styles. Mainly because of the arpeggios that are used in these types of music. Blues doesn’t use arpeggios in the same way that Bebop does.

To me, blues is more characteristic of bending and sounding like a singer. Now if you want to add Joe Bonamassa and Eric Johnson in, we’re getting more to modern blues rock. You’ll also notice that when you see these guys mimic Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix they usually go for more of a 3 finger guitar style.

Does this mean that you can’t use your 4th finger to play blues?

No. It’s completely fine to use it. Just keep in mind what others have done and the differences in tones.

Why do I myself use it mainly?

Because it sounds the way I like it. In reality I can use my pinky a lot, but when playing like Clapton or SRV I usually don’t use my pinky because to sound like them I want to do what they did. Although If I’m playing more of a Warren Haynes, Santana, or Grant Green Style, I’m more likely to use my pinky.

So you should probably learn how to play with whatever fingering you like using the most, and feel comfortable with. If you’re using a 3 finger style just for the sake of doing it, but can’t really hit the licks, you’re insane for continuing to do so without using your pinky. There are no rules that say you have to use your pinky or 3 finger style. It’s really all a matter of preference and you should experiment with all fingerings to understand what they feel like and how they sound. Keep in mind Django Reinhardt only used 2 fingers and played sophisticated jazz!

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6 Comments

  1. I personally use my pinky whenever I see it appropriate but my thoughts are that if you sounds great, don’t change how you approach playing. You obviously play great so people should see past the formalities and listen to the playing. I teach my students to use their pink from day 1 but if you have spent a lifetime without using it, why change now?

    Thanks for the great post!

    Tom

  2. Thanks again for addressing this issue, John. I love the way you sound and that’s why I invested in your complete DVD set! I also believe in the power of imitating winners when you are trying to learn something. I’m a classically trained pro sax player and I play jazz, blues and rock. I’m currently attempting to become proficient at blues guitar. I value the importance of learning proper technique when trying to master an instrument but everything you state makes sense to me. I intend to follow your method and eventually when I’m more accomplished I can modify technique to suit my own “voice”. Thanks again!

  3. Well said. I’m self taught use my little finger, I’m sure a teacher be changing me all around.
    Blues is you and what you’re feeling not some musically correct style. If yer feelin it you can play the blues on one string one finger. Learnin and playing is the easy part, feelin it another story.

  4. If you’ve played for a long time, gotten pretty good and never used your pinky there is nothing inherently wrong with that. However, I do think that ultimately it will benifit you as a player and musician to push yourself to do things that feel unnatural if they have been proven to be more effective, efficient, or healthy in the long run.

  5. I’d just look at any critic and give a one word response, “Django.” If they don’t know who that is, then explain to them how a guy with only two functional fingers on his fretting hand could play faster than many “competent” guitarists. :-)

  6. Agree with you 100%, the only thing I’d add is that one of the main reasons for using the pinky so sparingly is vibrato. When improvising in the blues you are not often thinking ahead in terms of fingering so when you choose to sustain a note it pays to land on a strong finger for vibrato which the pinky is (most often) not.

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