“My fingers hurt from playing guitar. What can I do?” This is a very typical question from guitar beginners. And I wish I could give you a straight forward answer here. But the truth of the matter is: there is no easy solution. Which is actually an important realization, because I know that some people claim that their product or method can help you to avoid finger pain when playing guitar. I have no right or intention to discredit them or any statements made by them, in my personal opinion though, I’d advise you to be very cautious in case you consider spending money on such offers. Call me old-school, but I believe that learning to play guitar inevitably means that you will experience some level of pain in your fingertips, joints and wrist. You just can’t avoid that from happening. With that being said, there are certainly a number of mitigating factors that we will explore in this article, which should be looked at as they could offer some relief – or, ideally, prevent you from experiencing an unnecessary degree of pain in the first place.
What to do when fingers hurt from playing guitar – 10 questions and things to look at:
1. Do you have any medical conditions that may cause pain when playing guitar?
Sounds obvious, I know. But the fact is, sometimes you don’t know why you are in pain or what the pain you are experiencing is caused by. For instance, I was quite surprised when I got diagnosed with gout. It would have never occurred to me (I don’t drink alcohol and I don’t eat meat) that the pain in my joints was due to gout. So if you feel that your level of discomfort or pain cannot be attributed to playing guitar, then consult with a doctor. As mentioned above, your finger-tips will hurt from playing guitar, which is normal, especially if you are beginner. While I personally cannot remember having any pain in the joints of my fingers when I started to learn guitar, I know that some people say that they have. If a medical condition can be ruled out, then it is very likely that you are doing something wrong. This is not to criticize you – we will get to the bottom of that could be and take care of it accordingly. Just keep reading…
2. What are you playing – an instrument or a toy?
I’m not trying to make fun of you. This is actually a serious question. Several of my guitar students showed up to their first lesson with what they believed to be a solid and decent instrument. Some of them had spent a considerable amount of money. It pained me when I had to tell them that their ‘guitar’ was in fact no instrument, but rather a toy. It wasn’t their fault, they just didn’t know better. It’s easy to fall for an inviting offer if you are not yet familiar with the subject. But I ended up explaining to them that they needed to get rid of their toy and get themselves a decent guitar. Because what they showed up with was virtually unplayable. Therefore, make sure that you get yourself a real instrument, meaning a real guitar. A decent guitar doesn’t have to be expensive. And very likely someone of your friends or family member might have one sitting around somewhere that you can borrow for the start. Unless that one falls into the ‘toy’ category, you’re good to go.
3. What type of string do you use, nylon or steel?
This question and the next one are kind of connected to each other. Personally, if you just start out learning to play guitar, I recommend that you use nylon strings vs. steel strings. I know that some folks disagree with me on this point. Their argument is that your fingers hurt from playing guitar either way, steel or nylon strings. That is true, however, your fingers hurt LESS when you use a guitar with nylon strings. That leads to the next point…
4. What type of guitar do you play?
A classical guitar comes with nylon strings. Western guitars and electric guitars have steel strings. Therefore, ideally start out with a classical guitar. While this will not completely avoid finger pain when playing guitar, it will be easier on your fingertips. After a while (when you developed some calluses), you can transition to a guitar with steel strings. And just do be clear: do not put steel strings on a classical guitar, and don’t put nylon strings on a Western or electric guitar. The former will likely damage your instrument; the latter will just not work.
5. What gauge of strings do you use?
Guitar strings come in different thicknesses, referred to as gauge. The lighter the gauge, the easier it is to handle them. So switching to a lighter set/gauge of strings can make a noticeable difference.
6. What’s the angle?
Weird question, I know. But just as explained in the video, make sure that the angle of your fingertips relative to the fret-board is around 90 degrees. This is especially for guitar beginners a little bit tricky and requires some practice. But there are a number of reasons why this is important. First of all, it will ensure that everything sounds as it is supposed to sound and secondly, this way you are make the most efficient use of the amount of pressure coming from your fingers.
7. Do you know the role of the thumb?
Your thumb plays an important role even though he operates ‘behind the scenes’. Finding the right position for your thumb on the back of your guitar’s neck comes more or less natural to most people. However, as you start out as a guitar beginner, you have to play around a little bit until you find that right spot.
8. Will too much practicing hurt your fingers?
Your fingers will hurt when you get started on your guitar. But the more you practice, the easier it will get and the less pain you are going to experience. Consistency is key. It is much more effective – from a learning perspective as well as you level of pain is concerned – to practice a little bit every day, versus packing in hours on some days and then not playing at all on others. My standard recommendation for beginners. 20 minutes a day, 5-6 days a week.
9. How can I heal my fingers when they hurt from playing guitar?
I have heard of home remedies such as soaking your fingers in alcohol or vinegar in order to get rid of the pain. Honestly, I have zero experience in these things, but I am skeptical. I am also concerned when it comes to companies/individuals selling “how to avoid finger pain when playing guitar”-products. I believe that the pain is part of what you will have to go through as you learn the instrument. But, as I said, I don’t want to rush to judgment. Should you know of any effective method of how to reduce finger pain when playing guitar, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.
10. Will my pain get better the longer I play guitar?
Almost positively, yes. I’ve been playing for a long time, but I still experience pain in my fingertips depending of what type of guitar I’m playing. For instance, my Takamine guitar, while having a beautiful sound, is a nasty piece of instrument. I need to put much more pressure onto the strings which inevitably leads to soreness and pain after playing for a while. However, things do get better the longer you play, there is no doubt. So just stick with it, keep pushing forward. Be consistent, put in the work and take a break here and there to allow your fingers to recover.