That Fickle Finger
What do you call your fingers? "You unco-operative little gits," is a popular one when they refuse to go to the right places in that tricky bit at the end of the second verse.
People who write guitar tutors, apart from being suspiciously in league with the likes of 'Eric Clapton', give each of the fingers a number so they can recognise them again. Thus the finger next to the thumb is generally called '1' and the little finger '4'. Work the others out yourself, without using a calculator.
At this point, synth players may throw up their hands in horror. They may even throw up the wrong finger: number three in that guitar-shaped scheme will generally be referred to as 'the fourth finger' by pianists.
So how can you play safe if you want to tell a fellow musician which finger you mean? Answer: call the finger next to the thumb the Index Finger, the next one the Middle Finger (consider the finger and the thumb and it makes sense), then the Ring Finger (for your partner's gifts) and lastly (yup) the Little Finger.
Step in a time machine for a minute or two (they're so quick and efficient these days), and you might hear Ancient Greeks and Romans calling the Ring Finger a 'lech-man', or 'medical' finger. They believed that a nerve went straight from that finger to the heart (hence the later ring business). They used to stir their grub with it, too, under the impression that any poison would be instantly detected. And where did it get them, eh?
About the same place as Anglo-Saxon types, who called the little finger the 'ear' finger - check out its suitability the next time you've been in the front row at Iron Maiden and want to remove that irritating after-gig earful of wax.
Whatever you call them, there are still only four fingers on each hand. Russian classical tunesmith Sergey Rachmaninov (1873-1943) thought he'd like a wider spread over the piano keys and attempted personal surgery on his long-suffering hands - but today's government, via the Ministry of Musicians' Hands, warns that this can seriously impair your palms.
People have actually been born with more fingers than normal, but they've tended not to last long. The record (thank you Mr Guinness, mine's a genius) is six fingers and thumb on each hand. The owner of the remarkable digits was unfortunately dead on arrival at an east London hospital in the 1920s, and so was not able to make up impossible guitar chords for those Beyond Django Reinhardt sounds.
If you do decide to Do A Django (the gypsy guitarist got by reasonably well with only an index and a Middle Finger on his left hand after an accident when he set his street-cred caravan alight) then bear in mind this Making Music hot tip. After you've chopped off the fingers and put on the necessary bandage, you can avoid gangrene by removing the bandage again for one in every ensuing 15 minutes. And do see that doctor, love, OK?
We'd better just stop and make a quick check here. Four fingers on each, right? Phew.
If you've got a horse (nudge nudge) then a hand equals four inches, horseheightwise. In Mexican law, though, a finger is the sixteenth part of a foot. And some Americans are apparently convinced that a finger equals about 4½ inches.
So what. Fingers were used before forks were introduced to the English dining room in the 1620s. A baboon's thumb is as long as its fingers, so it probably calls the lot fingers. And one is about 20 of us is left-handed.
So what. Tried any fingerpicking lately, left or right handed? Tricky stuff, what? Mr Chillal writes from India, southern Asia, about his extra worry when fingerpicking his lead sitar: the fingernails on his left hand average 143 inches long.
This is a record, says that bloody Guinness book again. This is the end of the article, types the journalist's bloody finger (average fingernail length ⅛in).
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