How To Ease Finger Soreness When Learning To Play Guitar

Ask just about anyone who's learned to play guitar, and they'll tell you that learning to play was one of the best decisions they ever made.

Ultimate Guitar
Ask just about anyone who's learned to play guitar, and they'll tell you that learning to play was one of the best decisions they ever made. As rewarding as the experience is, it's not surprising that many people who try to learn give up pretty quickly. It's hard enough to learn to play any musical instrument, but learning to play guitar actually hurts. If you're struggling with sore fingertips, don't worry, it's natural. And don't give up--the pain will go away soon. In the meantime, try these tips to ease those sore fingers.


1. Increase your guitar's playability. Action on a guitar denotes the space between the fretboard and the strings. The strings on a guitar with high action are higher off the fretboard than are the strings on a guitar with low action. You want low action because the higher the action the more force is required to press down the strings. Luckily, just about any guitar's action can be adjusted. Bring it in to your local music shop and ask them to check the action. Typically you want the action at about 1/16" at the 1st fret and 3/16" at the 12th fret. If your action is too high, you will be absolutely amazed at how much easier it is to play once you get it adjusted. 2. Get the right strings. Certain strings come in different gauges or diameters. Light gauge strings are easier to play than medium or heavy gauge strings, and they'll cause less finger soreness. 3. Gradually build your calluses. After a few weeks of regular playing, you'll develop calluses on your fingertips, and that should end the soreness. In fact, as long as you continue to play regularly, you'll maintain your calluses and never have to worry about sore fingers again. The key to building calluses is to play regularly, but not to play too much. If you try to play for several hours on your first few days, you may get a blister or two instead of a callus. Tincture of benzoin is good for preventing blisters and protects the skin. Blisters or cuts can make it almost impossible to play, and they're slow to heal, so don't overdo it. 4. Press the strings down only as much as you have to. Beginners have a tendency to press down on the strings too hard. Relax your fingers, and press down just hard enough to make sure the string firmly contacts the fret. To see if you're pressing too hard, fret a chord or string as you normally would, and then release the pressure just a little bit. If it still sounds fine (or better), try to break your habit of pressing too hard. 5. Numb the pain. Certain products can dull the pain to help you get through it. One of the most popular is apple cider vinegar, which is also a popular home remedy for painful sunburns and sore throats. Just soak your fingertips in the vinegar for about 30 seconds before and after playing. Lightly icing your fingertips before and after playing can also help alleviate soreness. Topical anesthetic products containing benzocaine--toothache creams, for example--can also be applied before and after playing. Follow the manufacturer's directions for these products, and discontinue using them if they seem to cause an allergic reaction. 6. Persevere. Everyone who learns to play the guitar has to deal with sore fingers at the beginning. It's worth it. Just keep playing regularly, follow these tips, and you'll get past this stage in no time at all. Learn to love the pain and associate it with everything that you love about music and the guitar.


~* Your fingers will be the most sore during the first few minutes of each day's playing. As you continue to play, the soreness will quickly lessen or disappear altogether. The next time you play, the same thing will happen, but once you build good callouses you won't have to deal with the soreness at all. ~* Washing your hands right before playing can soften the skin on your fingertips and make playing more painful, even if you already have callouses. That said, it's a good idea to wash your hands before playing because oily or dirty hands can harm the finish of your guitar, the fretboard, and your strings. Solve this conundrum by not playing immediately after washing your hands or, especially, after taking a bath or shower. Right before you play, apply methylated spirits (rubbing alcohol), as this will not only toughen your skin but also remove oils from your fingers. ~* Some people find that soaking the fingertips in rubbing alcohol (or Methylated-spirits) for a few minutes several times a day helps build the callouses more quickly. ~* Nylon-string guitars and electric guitars are much easier on the fretting fingers than steel-string acoustic guitars, which can be very helpful for easing beginners into learning the basics. When choosing a first guitar you might want to keep this in mind. If you do decide to start playing steel-string acoustic later, though, you'll likely go through some finger soreness again, though nowhere near as much as if you had never played. In general, it's not a good idea to put nylon strings on a steel-string guitar, and it can be dangerous to put steel strings on a nylon-string guitar. ~* Cheap acoustic guitars are tough on beginner's fingers because the action cannot be set low without buzzing (due to the fact that the neck and frets on low-quality guitars are not flat). As suggested above, beginners may be better off with a cheap electric guitar; after a few months, if the interest is still there, then consider purchasing a decent acoustic guitar. ~* Practice with a capo on the 1st fret, that lowers the action and makes it easier on your fingers. ~* Some beginners will try to put wax, stick-on quilters' thimbles, or similar products on their fingers to avoid soreness. The problem with this method is that you really don't want to avoid the soreness. If you do, you'll never build the callouses. There is a product called Leather Callus FingerTips that helps with the pain without too much effect on playing ability. This is a better option then super glue, etc. ~* Be careful not to injure your fingers. Even a small cut in certain locations can make it difficult or impossible to play. ~* It's much easier to build up callus with shorter nails. Long nails make it hard to make a good sound as well.


~* Some people recommend dipping your fingertips in turpentine or super glue to harden the skin. Don't do it! These are dangerous chemicals, and you should not intentionally expose yourself to them. ~* Make sure you are playing with correct form. Sore fingers can cause you to try to avoid certain areas of your fingertips, and this can throw off your playing form. It's hard to break bad habits of incorrect wrist angle and hand placement, and these habits can eventually lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. ((I didn't write this article, I had it saved on my computer so unfortunately, I cannot give credit where it is due. I just thought it was a wonderful article and wanted to share it))

2 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Another tip; tune down your guitar a half-step (Eb-Ab-Db-Gb-Bb-Eb). This will be easier on your fingertips when building up the callouses.