2.25.2013

How to Fix Fingers that Keep Popping off the Fretboard



One of the most taxing and irritating aspects of playing guitar is having one or two fingers that constantly seem to want to pop off of the fretboard and go jutting off in some bizarre direction.

It's a strange experience since your fingers don't typically do that in any other situation. Though having to curl them and get them used to resting on the fretboard in the correct position can cause your finger's muscles to do some strange things early on in the process.

The question is: What can you do about it?

The Issue is Control

The reason you fingers are doing this stems from a lack of control over the position and movements of your fingers and hands. Aside from just practice and time, correcting this requires the following:

  • Comfortability with the fretting hand position: The proper position for your chording hand is a relaxed resting posture over the fretboard with a slight curl in your wrist and a subtle curl in your fingers. This isn't a natural position until your muscles get used it.

  • The correct amount of curl in your fingers for various chords: Different chords will either require that you increase or decrease the curl in different fingers. This will be easier in some chords than in others, and is something you'll have to get used to as you broaden your chord vocabulary and get more used to the finger placement for each one.

  • Developing Wrist and Forearm Strength: The muscles you use to move your wrist come down off of your forearm, so stretching these muscles and building them up are an important part of getting your fingers to stay put.

  • Developing Finger Strength and Dexterity: What will ultimately solve your problem is whenever your fingers stretch and get stronger. Playing guitar will do this on it's own, but there are some exercises you can do to speed up the process.

Let's break the process down a little bit and cover some exercises for settling your fingers down when playing chords and lead guitar. Though exercises can help you in both areas, the focus will be helpful depending on what area you're practicing.

Exercising For Chords

Chords are the more difficult of the two topics because they usually involve more of a close cooperation between your fingers.

The best thing to do is to start off with a few stretching exercises that target your entire hand:

E|--------------------------------
B|--------------------------------
G|--------------------------------
D|--------5--------9----------14--
A|-----3--------7---------12------
E|--1--------5--------10----------


Run through this tab two different ways:

  • First time: Use your pointer, middle and pinky finger in that order.

  • Second time: Use your pointer, ring and pinky finger in that order.

Alternate between your middle and ring finger for the middle note several times before moving onto the same notes in a chord form.

E|------------
B|------------
G|------------
D|--5--9--14--
A|--3--7--12--
E|--1--5--10--


For this chord, use your pointer, middle and pinky finger for each of the three notes. Stretching your ring and pinky finger that far is probably going to be too difficult, and not necessary.

Keeping Your Pointer Finger Low

Now we want to go through some exercises that will help us keep our pointer finger beneath the other fingers, since that's a typical pose we find ourselves in for a lot of different chords.

Ring and Pinky Finger Stretch
E|--------------------------
B|--------------------------
G|--4-----------6-----------
D|-----5-----------7--------
A|--------5-----------7-----
E|-----------7-----------9--


Pointer and Middle Finger Stretch
E|--------------------------
B|--------------------------
G|--1-----------3-----------
D|-----3-----------5--------
A|--------3-----------5-----
E|-----------4-----------6--


Approach this tab using your pointer finger to get the first note, and your pinky finger to grab the last one. In the first tab, the stretch will be between your pointer ring and pinky finger, while the second one stretches your pointer and middle finger.

    1st       2nd      3rd
E|--------|--------|--------
B|--------|--------|--5--1--
G|--4--6--|--------|--------
D|--5--7--|--1--10-|--6--2--
A|--5--7--|--------|--7--3--
E|--------|--3--12-|--------


This might look a little bit random, so I broke these chord groups up into three different categories and listed them below:

  • First Group -- Basic Pointer Finger Stretch: This one isn't difficult as it simply gets you used to playing with your pointer finger underneath the other three.

  • Second Group -- Pointer and Ring Finger Separation: Here the goal is to get you used to separating your pointer and ring finger when your pointer finger is underneath the rest of your hand.

  • Third Group -- Pointer and Ring Finger with Pinky: This is basically the same as the second group of chords, just with a note added at the end for your pinky to grab, which will up the intensity of the stretch and the overall difficulty.

All these chords can be moved around to different frets. In terms of how challenging they'll be, the lower frets will be more difficult, while the higher frets will be a little easier because of their smaller size.

Exercising for Lead Guitar

Lead guitar stretching is a bit easier since it offers your fingers greater independence. Though even in this situation you can have rogue fingers that seem to pop off the fretboard. We'll cover some tabbed exercises that can help you stretch these fingers in lead patterns and get them to stick to the strings a little better.

E|----------------------
B|----------------------
G|----------------------
D|----------------------
A|----------------------
E|--1--3--5--7--10--12--


This is a pretty basic stretch that will really pull your pinky away from your ring finger. Pick up that 10th note with your ring finger to force the four-fret stretch.

Use your middle, ring and pinky fingers only.
E|--------------------------------------
B|--------------------------------------
G|-----------------------------7--8--9--
D|--------------------5--6--7-----------
A|-----------3--4--5--------------------
E|--1--2--3-----------------------------


The tab here isn't complex or difficult, but if you don't use your pointer finger, it's a challenging stretch for your other three. Usually your pointer finger is the stronger link, while the others tend to stay weaker. This exercise will really help to stretch those fingers out and keep them from jumping off the fretboard.

Use pointer and pinky fingers.
E|--1-----------------------------
B|-----4--1-----------------------
G|-----------4--1-----------------
D|-----------------4--1-----------
A|-----------------------4--1-----
E|-----------------------------4--


Once again we'll single out two fingers to focus on stretching. This one is pretty self-explanatory (and tedious). Do the best you can with it until you get bored. This will help get some separation between your pointer and pinky finger.

Use middle and pinky fingers.
E|--3-----------------------
B|-----5--------------------
G|--------3-----------------
D|-----------5--3-----------
A|-----------------5--3-----
E|-----------------------5--


So for the last tab we'll focus on the middle and pinky finger and take a seemingly easy tab and turn it into a pretty good stretch. The more you do this one the harder it will get, but once your fingers are maxed out, take a break and come back to it. You'll definitely feel the stretch and eventually the strength.

Here's a good practice process to stick to:

  • Spend 10-15 minutes on a few different exercises.

  • Play something fun or even give your hands an hour or so break from guitar.

  • Try to apply the exercise to a riff or improvisation that you might not have been able to do before. 




About Robert Kittleberger

Robert is the founder and editor of Guitar Chalk and Guitar Bargain. You can get in
touch with him here, or via Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.