If you're reading this article, your fingertips are probably hurting like crazy right now
Be comforted by the fact that sore fingertips are part of the initial learning process, all guitarists know the pain and got through it. Actually, after a while, you'll get to like the feeling of soreness in your fingertip, since it'll mean you had a good practice session.
Your newly built calluses won't look yukky or weird at all, they'll just be toughened skin on your fingertips. You can see what you can expect your guitar calluses to look like on the right. Nothing special.
But until then, here are a few things you can do to quicken the buildup of calluses on your fingertips.
How to build finger calluses for guitar playing?
First of all, what are calluses? They are areas of hardened skin which develop as a result of skin irritation, so your skin being put out to constant friction and pressure. The most common callused skin people have is on their feet, from walking.
We, as guitarists, develop calluses on our fingertips, from fretting the strings on the guitar. Here are a few tips on how to develop finger calluses faster:
- Play a lot! Ok, this is obvious, but it's the best way to quickly build calluses. If your fingertips really hurt, that's when you know that your calluses are developing.
- Use Eric Clapton's secret elixir. His secret to developing calluses is dipping his fingers in rubbing alcohol. Does it work? Yes, since it dries your skin, and dry skin hardens.
- The more it hurts, the faster calluses form. If you are feeling extra masochistic, practice on heavy gauge guitars, and do lots of bends and vibratos.
- Build your calluses while not playing guitar as well. If you're super eager to build your calluses, there is an exercise you can do on the bus, in traffic, at work, or anywhere to build them. Get your credit card, or anything with a hard, thin, solid edge, and press it against your fingertips. There are actually products for this, do a search for guitar callus builder.
Almost as importantly as the above, there are also a few things you should stay clear of if you want to develop calluses quickly:
- Don't immerse your hands in water for long. Water softens up your skin, so this means no more dishwashing without latex gloves. This also applies to washing your hair, taking showers, etc 😉
- Don't play after your hands are softened from water. If you get out of the tub/pool, and your fingertips are soft, the strings will shave your existing calluses right off, setting you back weeks. Don't play your guitar until your skin has dried and has toughened up again, this usually takes about an hour.
- Don't use hand moisturizers. Or if your hands are really dry, don't get the moisturizer on your calluses.
- Don't put superglue on your fingers. This is recommended by some websites, but you won't get any benefit in terms of callus development. You will, however, smear your guitar with glue flakes and residue.
Stick to the above recommendations, and you'll be on your way to hardening your fingertips and building those guitar calluses as quickly as possible.
How long before your guitar calluses develop?
The amount of time it takes to develop calluses on your fingers, and in turn, not have sore fingertips anymore, depends a lot on whether you do things right.
If you stick with my recommendations above, and practice at least 30 minutes per day, lengthening that as you can, you should see results pretty quickly:
- First few days of playing: Your fingers will hurt, there's nothing you can do about it. The first few days, you might only be able to play for 10-15 minutes, but you'll need to increase your practice time as your fingers allow it.
- After 10 days: The very sharp pain you felt in the beginning is totally gone, and you can feel your fingertips getting harder. You still feel pressure on your fingertips when practicing, but it's totally bearable.
- After 1 month: The pain is pretty much gone, and it doesn't bother you anymore. Your calluses are getting harder. Sometimes a layer of skin peels of your fingertip. Don't worry, harder skin is formed beneath. Just keep playing and whatever needs to peel off will come off by itself.
It doesn't take long at all to develop those guitar calluses, so stick with it!
How to reduce finger pain
Everyone who learns to play the guitar has to deal with sore fingers at the beginning. There are things you can do to reduce the pain, but in turn, your calluses will form slower, so you're basically extending the period of lessened pain.
If that's OK with you, than you can do the following to ease your sore fingers:
- Get lighter gauge strings, they are easier to play than medium/heavy gauge strings.
- Practicing is least painful on nylon stringed classical guitars, a bit more painful on electric guitars, and the most painful on steel stringed acoustics.
- Decrease your practice session time, but practice more times per day. So let's say you could practice for just 10 minutes at a time, but do it 3x per day until the pain eases.
This article is around 1,000 words long, so if you started reading this article with sore fingers, the pain should have eased by now. It's time to practice for a few minutes again
Keep in mind that the pain will completely go away with practice, and let this be your motto:
The more it hurts today, the less it will hurt tomorrow!
Keep at it, practice a lot, and I'll see you in one of the lessons.