In retrospect, I suppose that is impossible.
But, it certainly seems to be that way whenever I am attempting to play the guitar, or the mandolin, or the ukulele. Evidently, the pinky finger of my left (fretting) hand is blessed with some odd configuration of the joints. Sometimes, for whatever reason, it will simply “lock” in the extended position. When this occurs, I have to make a conscious effort to pop it back into place. It doesn’t hurt but, as you might imagine, if you are attempting to play notes in a fluid fashion, it stops everything.
For the longest time, this has bugged the crap out of me. I am not what anyone would consider a good player on any of those instruments, (primarily because I become impatient with the repetition of practice, and when I do get on a roll, the finger thing frustrates me). But there is a certain beauty in this “problem” with the finger that, if I acknowledge and accept it, could lead to wonderful things. You see, when it comes to music, a unique style comes from working around what you cannot do more than what you can do.
I think of the story of the legendary guitarist B.B. King, who has one of the most-revered and recognizable playing styles in the world – and he has it because he couldn’t do what he wanted to do on the guitar. It was he who once said that he had “stupid fingers.” And why did he say that? Maybe you know the story, but I’ll share it just in case you haven’t.
As a young man, he used to hear his cousin, Bukka White, play blues guitar using a slide. He was mesmerized by the sound of the vibrato sound that Bukka produced using the slide, and set about learning to play slide guitar the same way…but he just couldn’t make it work. Try as he might, he couldn’t play like Bukka because, as he put it, “I must have had stupid fingers or something.” As frustrating as this was, he still wanted that sound, so he started trying other ways to get it. The result? He developed an incredible finger vibrato, (using primarily his wrist), that guitar players all over the world still can’t seem to duplicate. Only B.B. King sounds like B.B. King, and the irony of it all is that it is a sound that he considered a poor substitute for what he really wanted, and now thousands of players are trying to learn how to play his “mistake.”
The legendary “gypsy jazz” guitarist Django Reinhardt, a pioneer in the world of guitar playing, became so after severe burns rendered the third and forth fingers of his fretting hand partially paralyzed. Essentially, he re-learned the guitar, crafting a way to play all of his amazing solos using only 2 fingers on his left hand.
The incredibly influential jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery lived in an apartment where he constantly received complaints about how loud he was practicing, so he ditched his pick and practiced with his fingers. In the process, he became the root of what is often termed “smooth jazz” today.
And, as a last example, Tony Iommi, guitarist for the seminal heavy metal band Black Sabbath, and ranked as one of the ten greatest guitar players of all time, managed to do so after an industrial accident at age 17 removed the tips of the middle and ring fingers of his right hand [He was a lefty, so this was his fretting hand]. What did he do? He created thimbles to extend those two fingers.
Here’s the truth of it all. It is within what you think are your “limitations” that you will discover your unique, God-given style…whatever field of endeavor you may be in. Always remember that. The way that you overcome what you cannot do will be the legacy of your life.
Many Blessings To All…
Gawain of the Coire