The Curled Pinky

I’ve noticed this when watching a lot of great players. Many of them curl their pinky when they play, even during the fast stuff when the pinky is not immediately needed. In fact, I struggle to think of any players that don’t curl their pinky. Here’s some images of varying quality displaying what I mean.

Steve Vai

Shawn Lane

Guthrie Govan

Bumblefoot

When I play, my pinky is usually stuck straight out, neither hovering over the fret board nor curling up into the palm. Is there any technical benefit to doing this? Or is it just for comfort? When I look this topic up online, all that comes up are questions about how to straighten it out, but the curl doesn’t seem to hinder these guys in any way. Any speculation would be appreciated.

I think the conventional view of fretting movement is that the greatest efficiency comes when the fingers straighten very little (if at all) when a fretted note is released. Some amount of change in the amount of curl in the fingers is inevitable (especially when moving from one string to another), but excessive straightening needlessly adds inefficiency. Of course there are exceptions where there is a specific benefit to the straightening (e.g. to form a barre, or to make a stretch), but straightening should be viewed as an ergonomically “high cost” action that needs to be justified on a case-by-case basis. When the fingers remain more curled, the distal phalanges remain oriented in space very close to the way they will need to be oriented to fret a note, so less movement is necessary to switch between the “fretted” and “unfretted” states.

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I think physiologically the pinky and ring finger share a few bits of connective tissue that don’t allow you to flex your ring finger strongly without some degree of pinky flexion as well, and as @Frylock pointed out, “forcing” it to stay straight is unnecessary and makes you inefficient.

I’ve always suffered from what I call “Flying Pinkie Syndrome” to a degree, where it would pop out during fast legato passages for example.

Interestingly enough, it followed me to the piano when I started playing a few years ago - I’d be running scales and both pinkies would poke out like I was drinking tea at a garden party. Over time I came to associate it with tension, and it was a reliable indicator that I was trying too hard to play faster. Taking note of that feeling has brought it under control, and it tends to just move with my hand normally now.

Amazingly, this has helped on the guitar too, any motion is much less pronounced and more in line with what @Pepepicks66 describes above.

I would say don’t try and curl it if doesn’t do it naturally, but keep a look out for tension and use that as a warning that you need to relax or look for problems with your form generally. I watch this video when I was working through the paino stuff, some good insights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDKdmVkb5Ro

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