When starting out as a beginner on the guitar and bass, it’s completely normal to have some pain and discomfort, particularly in your fingertips. However, even though it’s part of the process, it’s still not necessarily pleasant and can discourage you from playing. This article will share some tips for guitar finger pain that you can use to keep practicing and adapting by building those calluses.
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The Most Common Causes Of Finger Pain on Guitar
In the vast majority of people who start playing guitar and bass, pain in the fingertips is commonly reported, and it’s nothing to be worried about – this kind of pain will go away sooner than you think.
Below, you’ll learn why this happens in the first place.
Wear & Tear
Firstly, you might be experiencing blisters that make your fingers feel very sensitive while playing your guitar, and this occurs because you and the ends of your fingers are not used to the pressure that’s being applied to them from the strings.
Early on, this will irritate your skin, but as mentioned before, this discomfort is temporary, and you will be able to play pain-free when you start growing calluses and toughening up your fingers.
Calluses are the thickening of the skin on your fingertips, and they can take a few weeks to a couple of months to develop, so it’s crucial to keep at it and stick to playing. However, if the pain is unbearable or you have an open wound, it’s okay to take a break.
This is something that basically all guitarists go through, and with more experience, it shouldn’t become an issue as long as you keep playing guitar consistently. Calluses aren’t permanent; if you take time off from playing, you will likely need to rebuild them.
Unfamiliar Movements & Poor Technique
In addition to the finger sensitivity and callus-forming process, some individuals who are new to playing guitar might have some soreness in their fingers and fretting hand wrist from making stretches or other movements on their guitar that they aren’t used to performing.
Again, this can be rectified simply with time and practicing smart; however, chronic pain in the joints can also come from overuse and faulty technique and should always be looked out for and worked on.
If you learn to play with bad technique, you’ll only reinforce these habits, and it will only make matters worse, so as you practice, be mindful of everything in your body, not just your fingers.
As you continue to read, you’ll find some practical advice that can make your guitar-playing journey more positive by helping you overcome finger pain, even if it’s only short-term, such as building calluses.
1. Take Breaks
You don’t have to practice for 8 hours straight to get good at playing the guitar, and it’s perfectly acceptable to put the guitar down for a bit so you can rest and heal.
This doesn’t mean you should stop playing for an entire day or more, though – if you do that every time, it’ll be much harder to get the calluses you need.
I recommend taking 5 to 10-minute breaks for every hour you practice. This will also help you stay mentally focused in addition to giving your fingers a rest.
Getting in the habit of taking regular short breaks will also help prevent more severe problems like repetitive strain injury (RSI) and tendonitis. You might feel eager to keep playing for hours on end, but this will be more beneficial in the long run. Your guitar journey isn’t a race; it’s a marathon, so take care of yourself.
2. Try Lighter Strings
The guitar strings you use can contribute to finger pain, particularly in regards to the string gauge. A guitar with a higher gauge will be thicker or heavier, so you’ll want to try something thinner and lighter.
This is definitely true if you’re starting out on a steel-string acoustic guitar or a bass, where the standard string sizes tend to be thicker than on an electric guitar. However, if you’re learning on an electric guitar, the point still stands, and there are lighter string gauge options if your fingers are giving you some grief.
Once you start getting used to playing and the pain has gone away, you can start moving up again, and it’ll be much easier for your fingers to get accustomed to heavier strings.
Keep in mind, though, that if you do decide to stick with a thicker gauge string, it should theoretically help build your calluses faster.
3. Get Your Guitar Set-Up
Many guitars, especially ones for beginners, don’t come out of the factory with a good guitar setup, which can make playing the guitar unnecessarily difficult.
For example, a guitar with high action will require the guitarist to apply more pressure in order to sound a note because the string height is further away from the fretboard.
Taking your guitar to a professional and getting your guitar’s action lowered will make your guitar much more playable. Ideally, fretting notes should feel effortless for you.
A guitar tech will also be able to adjust your guitar so that the tension is correct for your preferred strings and tuning, as well as make sure your guitar is intonated correctly and stays in tune. These are all important for a positive experience when learning to play the guitar or bass.
4. Learn To Play With A Lighter Touch
One of the best things you can do for yourself regarding your technique is to learn to stop applying excessive pressure when fretting notes and instead play with relaxation and use just enough to articulate them.
Playing with a lighter touch will not only be important in reducing strain and preventing injuries, but it will also help you become a better player in terms of your ability to perform.
Getting your guitar set up will certainly assist with this, but it will also require a conscious effort to take a relaxed approach to playing the guitar by reducing tension in your hands and the rest of your body, especially in your shoulders and back.
Once you get the hang of it, you’ll have much more control over your guitar playing and can apply force and tension when you need to. Check out this video that goes further into depth about this specific topic:
5. Try Home Remedies
Pain in your fingers when playing guitar isn’t a severe phenomenon that normally requires medical attention, but if the discomfort is bothersome, there are some solutions that can aid you in relieving the pain.
Applying an ice pack, cold compressing it, and dipping your swollen fingers into apple cider vinegar for 30 seconds to a minute after you’re done playing can reduce the swelling and help you heal.
However, if you decide to pick up your guitar again, be sure your hands and fingers are cleaned off because ACV’s watery and acidic nature can corrode your strings. A numbing cream or ointment can also be helpful after your sessions if you have it around the house.
Aside from these localized solutions, ibuprofen can reduce inflammation if your pain extends to other areas of your hands and other parts of your body.
However, if you’re experiencing constant pain in your muscles and joints, you must work on having a more relaxed technique, as mentioned before, but in some instances, you should consult with a medical professional if your pain is chronic and intense.
To reiterate once more, pain in your fingertips is entirely normal if you’re a new player, and the best way to get through this phase is to keep practicing and learn how to take adequate breaks.
Nonetheless, there are other strategies you can use if the pain is holding you back, and hopefully, the advice here will be helpful to you and will keep you pushing forward to becoming a more experienced guitarist.