The pinky finger always seems to be our biggest fret-hand weakness, but just like going to the gym, it only takes a few smart exercises to bring those muscles up to speed.

If you’re one of those guitarists using only your first three fingers, we first want to say that we love you, care about you, and have a number you can call for help…

The second thing we want to say is that you shouldn’t be sacrificing the variety of options and world of interesting musical ideas that come from utilizing all four of your fingers – everything from beautiful chord voicings to wider interval stretches.

These exercises focus on the pinky without making you mindlessly drill unmusical noise, so take some time to see how these licks can fit into a musical context with licks or scales you may already be familiar with.

In order to get the pinky up to speed, we have to make sure we’re working two things…

Strength and Dexterity

Strength is about getting that consistent sound from your legato, not letting the last couple notes of each lick fade out simply because you haven’t developed your hammer-ons to have the same “hammer” to them as your first three fingers!

Dexterity is about making sure we’re quick and flexible when it comes to incorporating your pinky finger into your playing naturally. It allows us to stay loose and not tense up.

Training both strength and dexterity is incredibly important for those with weak pinky fingers. The mistake most people make is simple practicing legato with your pinky – this is absolutely the wrong approach!

Legato requires a higher amount of tension in your muscles to hammer-on or pull-off than to simply place the finger and remove it. Therefore, if you only train your pinky using legato you will be training your finger to work harder than it needs to when you play passages that are picked.

We balance this out by practicing licks with both legato and picking so we’re training all types of motion while minimizing the effort required from our muscles to execute these motions. We’re teaching our muscles two different types of motion for two different scenarios, rather than one technique that we apply to everything, which may slow us down.

Lastly, don’t forget your metronome. As annoying and tedious as that clicking sound may be, it can prevent you from developing a myriad of bad habits, including poor rhythmic consistency.

Lick 1: Walk Before You Run

We’ll start simple. Here we simply get acquainted with using our pinky in conjunction with our other three fingers in different configurations. This exercise should be played using picking first before moving on to legato, as we’re focusing on dexterity here, not strength.

Start by playing it as written, then switch the direction. The first bar starts descending, so reverse it and ascend, then bar two you can start by descending instead of ascending, and so on.

Once you’ve got a good handle on it, swap the bars around so you’re not playing it as a 4-bar pattern, this will keep your pinky guessing and add even more variety and flexibility to your smallest shred tool.

As an added bonus, it follows a neat chord progression you can add to your own music! Very classical sounding.

Lick 2: Stick and Pivot

Now we isolate the pinky and we don’t give it a break! This one should be played both picked and using legato, but with all of these licks make sure you start with picking to get the shapes and fingerings down first. One less thing to keep track of when you move on to your legato practice.

This is based on what I like to call a “pivot” technique, where we center around a classical motif that can be applied to any 3 notes on a single string. We stick our pinky into a position for the last three out of four notes (which can be one hell of a workout when sped up) then use the index finger to pivot to a new note, string, or scale.

Lick 3:

We step it up another notch by combining pinky isolation with changing techniques. We start off with a small 3-string sweep arpeggio into a 3-note-per-string approach that involves backtracking to push our ability to use this finger in a variety of different contexts, not just a straight-forward 3NPS scenario and nothing else.

The musical context of this exercise is a diminished chord, making it easy to apply it to a variety of metal genres with ease while letting you shift the entire thing up in 3-fret intervals thanks to the symmetry of diminished scales.

Lick 4: The Real World

Now we take all the skills we’ve taught our pinky finger and combine them into a realistic musical passage. We have multiple techniques (sweep picking and 3NPS), isolating the pinky with classical pivots, and even ascending and descending sequences that incorporate larger interval stretches to create more melodic interest.

This lick can work equally well with both an Fmaj chord and a Dmin chord. Try it over both to hear how it can bring out different sounds over each chord.

Closing Thoughts

Getting your pinky finger to be as capable as your other fingers isn’t difficult, thankfully, but it does take time. Make sure you’re patient, you practice slowly and consistently, and don’t sweat it too much. Music is about expression, whether it comes from your pinky or not.

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