This article is about how to get your hands used to playing the guitar. If you’re interested in how to learn the guitar from home, you can view our article here. If you’d like to know how long it takes to learn guitar, we have an article about that here. You can also view our introductory guitar courses.
I remember like it was yesterday, how my fingers felt after my first guitar lesson- not good! Yes- this is a normal part of the initial stages of learning guitar. However, there are some specific things that you can do before you begin to play, and while you are playing to reduce excessive finger soreness, and more fully enjoy the excitement of learning the guitar.
So, how can you get your fingers used to playing the guitar? To reduce finger soreness from guitar playing, limit initial practice sessions to fifteen minutes with breaks. Gradually work up to daily practice over a two week period, being sure not to play with pain.
Let’s take a look at seven tips on how to help your fingers get used to playing the guitar.
#1 Two Weeks
It will take approximately two weeks to work through the initial discomfort in your fingertips after you begin playing guitar. This is normal. As you begin playing, your fingertips will gradually develop calluses, and over time, this will eliminate fingertip soreness. There are some things that you can do to minimize finger discomfort and a method for working through these first two weeks. Let’s take a look.
#2 Properly Set-Up Your Guitar
The most important preparatory step is to make sure your guitar is properly set-up. The distance between the strings and the frets is called the “action”. If the action is too high, you will have to work much harder to push the strings down, and more soreness than necessary will result. If the action is too low, the strings will buzz when you play them, resulting in an unpleasant sound.
You can check your action in two ways: 1) take your guitar to a guitar shop and have a guitar tech inspect it; the tech will let you know if the action is in the normal range, 2) You can do it yourself. Purchase a string action gauge, which is a type of ruler, and measure the action. Normal action on an acoustic guitar, when measured at the twelfth fret, is between .07 inches and .10 inches.
If the action is not in the normal range, especially if it is too high, you will want to adjust it, either yourself or have a guitar tech do it. How to do it yourself is beyond the scope of this article; however, it will involve adjusting the truss rod, in most cases.
#3 String Gauge
Assuming your guitar is properly set-up, the thickness or gauge of your strings will also have an effect on finger soreness. Strings are produced in light, medium, and heavy gauges. Lighter gauge strings are easier on the fingers because there is less material to press down. Most guitars come with a medium to light gauge string.
You may want to move to a light gauge string if your fingers are overly sore. Also, there is a special type of string called silk and steel. This type of string is made for an acoustic guitar and has a thin layer of nylon wrapped around a steel core. The nylon is more finger friendly and will allow you to play longer before soreness sets in.
#4 Short Practice Sessions With Breaks In Between
It is important to take breaks when practicing to allow your fingers to recover and avoid overuse. A good rule of thumb is to make your practice sessions no longer than fifteen minutes. This takes discipline because many times we just want to keep on going. However, this will overuse the fingertips, and as a result, you will most likely have to take a few extra days off to recover.
An alternative to the all-or-nothing approach is to practice in small sessions. You can do more than one session a day if you space it out, e.g. fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen minutes at night. As your fingers develop endurance, you can increase the amount of sessions, but never practice more than fifteen minutes without a short break, even after your fingers are broken in, so to speak. In the beginning, you will want a long break between your sessions; however, later, a short break to stretch, walk around, get a drink of water, etc. is sufficient.
#5 Practice Every Other Day For Two Weeks
When you are first starting out and your fingers are developing calluses and endurance, a good plan is to take a day off between practice sessions. This will allow your fingers to have a recovery day. Again, this requires discipline because you will want to play much longer when you are starting out. Try this approach if you are having a problem with finger soreness. It will prevent you from going from the extreme of over-practicing and then to the other extreme of not practicing because you are too sore to play.
As an aside, some of my students will practice a lot before their lesson, and unfortunately they cannot make it through the lesson because their fingers are sore. You can avoid this in your own practicing by setting up a practice schedule with time limits and sticking to it. Practicing less, in terms of time, but maintaining consistency, is far better than a lot of long practices with multiple days off in between.
#6 Transition to Daily Practice
After practicing one day on and one day off for two weeks, begin practicing daily. Remember, you should only practice for fifteen minutes before a short break. If your fingertips are sore before you start playing, don’t practice that day. This is your transition period and you will want to allow your fingers to get used to daily practice by allowing them a day off if necessary. By this time, you will recognize when your fingers are too sore to play and will know what to do about it. You will also be more confident that this normal ebb and flow is a natural part of playing guitar, and it will not be of concern, as it may have been when you first started playing.
#7 Gradually Increase The Amount Of Practice Sessions Per Day
After the initial two week break in period for your fingers and the transition to daily practice, you are ready to increase the amount of daily fifteen minute practice sessions per day, if you desire. What you may not have realized is that by following a disciplined approach to breaking in your fingers, you have also developed a structured practice habit that will serve you well in order to reach your musical goals.
The main take away from the above tips is: less is more. Limited duration practice sessions with breaks will help you to more easily move through the normal finger soreness that is associated with beginning guitar playing.