How To Combat Hand And Finger Pain When Learning The Guitar

There’s no doubt about it… playing guitar is a blast. There is nothing better then seeing — and hearing — yourself progress as you work through notes, and then chords, and then, finally, songs. There is, however, one unpleasant reality that comes with the territory for beginners, and that reality is hand and, more specifically, finger pain. While it’s virtually impossible to avoid all discomfort, there are several things you can do to get through it and get on with playing like a rock star. 

First and foremost, you need to remember to warm up. Beginners expect the pain of calluses when they are learning, but often are surprised at the hand, and even arm pain that they experience in the first few months of playing. This is to be expected. Remember that there are a multitude of bones, tendons and muscles involved in moving your fingers around, so you’ll want to get them warmed up before you start shredding. There are a wealth of resources, like JamPlay, out there that feature great warm-ups for beginners.

Here is a great exercise from the JamPlay YouTube channel that will help to wake up those guitar-playing muscles and prepare them for the even the most rigorous practice session or performance.

Another way to ensure that you’re being kind to your hands is to simply check your strings. As simple as it sounds, it can make a HUGE difference when you sit down to play. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Check the Action: Action on a guitar is simply the space between the fretboard and the strings… the farther the strings are from the fretboard, the higher the action. The higher the action, the more force is required to press down on the strings. See where we’re going here? By having the action on your guitar lowered, you’ll make it easier to play, with less strain on your fingers.  The good news is  any guitar’s action can be adjusted at your local music store. A good rule of thumb is to set the action at about 1/16″ at the 1st fret and 3/16″ at the 12th fret. Once the action is adjusted you’ll be amazed at how much easier playing becomes.
  • Make Sure You Have The Right Strings: Guitar strings come in different gauges (diameters). Light gauge strings are much easier to play than medium or heavy gauge strings, helping to alleviate some of the pain in your fingers.
  • Don’t Press Too Hard: It is common for beginners to press down on the strings too hard… remember, you don’t have to try so hard. Relax your fingers and press down just hard enough to make sure the string firmly contacts the fret. How do you know if you are pressing too hard? Simple. Fret a chord or string as you normally would and then let off the pressure just a little bit. Does it sound the same, or even better? If so, you’re probably pressing too hard, which can make your fingers ache.

The last tip we have for you involves practice. Odds are that, as you grow more and more excited about learning, you’re going to want to play more often. That’s great! By playing regularly, you’ll be building the calluses on your fingers, which, in turn, will protect your fingertips from soreness. The trick here is not to practice too much. If you dive in and don’t give your fingers time to adjust, you may end up with blisters instead of calluses, which will need to heal before you can continue playing.

The truth of the matter is that your fingers are going to hurt, but it’ s going to be worth it. Don’t get discouraged and definitely don’t use it as an excuse to quit. Remember that you started playing guitar in the first place because you love music, plain and simple. The discomfort of these first few months will pass, but in the meantime, follow these tips, keep playing and pushing through, and use the pain to motivate you to persevere and move to your next stage of playing: the pain-free one! Good luck!

Article originally appeared on the JamPlay Guitar Blog

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