August 5

Do Your Fingers Hurt When Playing Guitar?

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This is the first video of my 30-day guitar coaching challenge. What I’ve done is committed to do 30 coaching videos, 1 per day, for the next 30 days. So send me your questions and give me some ideas of content for these videos.

Why Your Fingers Hurt Playing Guitar

One common question I get from new guitar players is about their fingers hurting. Is it normal or is there something wrong? And what can you do about it?

First, let me say that it's absolutely normal! When you first start playing guitar, your fingertips on your fretting hand are going to be sensitive. And when they're pressed on the strings it's going to hurt a little. This is especially true with steel strings. 

Over time you'll develop calluses and your finger tips will get tougher. In addition to that you'll also desensitise them. Kind of like when you were a kid running around barefoot. At first your feet might have been sore and felt every little pebble. But over time your feet adapted and stopped being hurt from being barefoot.

But this does take time and it can be hard to practice when your fingers hurt. There are some things you can do about this. 

Consistency

Consistency is the key to basically everything in life. If you only went to the gym once a month, would you expect to be in better shape? Or if you only studied once every couple weeks would you ace the test?

With guitar, especially the first few years, it's very important to be consistent with your practice. Practicing a little every day will help your fingers adjust much faster. Even 10 minutes a day will do wonders. Both for your fingers and learning the guitar!

Finger Placement

The second tip is making sure you have the right finger placement. When you're fretting a note you want to fret it right by the fret. Not on it, but right next to it. If you're too far away you have to press down way harder to make the note ring clear. This is going to make your fingers hurt and it's also just a bad habit to have. 

Finger Pressure

In addition finger placement, you also want to use the right amount of pressure. Use only enough to have the note ring clearly. This gets easier as you develop better hand and finger strength. And if you use the right finger placement the amount of pressure you need to use is much less.

Pressing too hard wears your fingers and hand out faster. Which makes your practice sessions too short. Which leads into the last point.

Practice Session Length

I mentioned that even 10 minutes a day is helpful. But as much as you can it's better to have longer sessions. If your sessions are too short it's going to drag things out. Both in developing calluses and strength, and overall ability. 

Exercises To Reduce Finger Pain On Guitar

Let's try an experiment. Grab your guitar and put your finger on the fifth fret. Your guitar probably has a fret marker (like a dot). Put your finger between the dot and the fret. Now press the note and hold it. Not pick the string and see how much pressure you need to let the note ring out.

Now move your finger away from the fret closer towards the dot. Or even farther back. How much harder do you have to press to let the note ring out? When you're closer to the note and find that sweet spot, you need way less pressure to play the note. Finding this sweet spot and making it muscle memory takes time, but the more you work on it the more natural it becomes.

When it comes to exercises, you don't need to be too picky. Really any exercise will work as long as you slow it down and pay attention to what you're playing.

Starting slow and building speed once you have the exercise/lick/riff/chords/etc down is something that will benefit you throughout your guitar playing journey. 


One exercise I like is called the Speed Builder. It's really simple. You play an open string, then the first fret of that string, then the second fret, and then the third. Then move onto the next string. You can start on the lowest string (the thickest one) and move up. Make sure every note rings clear before moving onto the next. 

(You can also play the first four frets. This is a little more challenging for new guitar players, so start with the first three and move up to the first four frets).

The overall goal is to be able to play all notes cleanly. The speed doesn't matter at this point. Once you can play the whole thing without having to think too much about fretting the notes you can increase your speed. 

Making Your Guitar Easier To Play

Everything we've covered so far will help you build finger and hand strength, dexterity, and will ultimately make the pain and soreness go away. But there's one more thing we can look at to make things easier: your guitar. 

Most people who buy their first guitar buy a less expensive guitar. There are actually a lot of really good inexpensive guitars out there. But most of them need basic adjustments to really make them play as well as they can. These adjustments are called a Set Up. 

A set up includes adjusting the bow of the neck, and adjusting the nut and saddle height. The goal is to get your strings as close to the fretboard as possible without them buzzing. This makes it so you don't have to press down as hard to play the notes.

The neck adjustment is something you can do if you're handy, and there are a ton of videos on YouTube to walk you through this process. But the nut and saddle adjustments are best left to a qualified guitar technician or luthier.

The next thing you can do is use lighter guitar strings. The "standard" string gauge you'll see on guitars are called 12s. 12s have a string gauge of 12-56, with slight variances between brands. I would recommend using a lighter gauge string like 11s. This small change can make your guitar easier to play.

Different gauges of strings will give you different tones. The general difference is this:

  • Heavier strings have more body and volume, and are a little darker
  • Lighter strings have less body and volume, but more brightness

I wouldn't worry too much about the tone at this point. Playability will be more important to start.

If you think this might benefit you check out my post on how to make your guitar easier to play.

A Few Final Tips To Reduce Finger Pain

I talked about having short practice sessions, but you can alter this slightly. Instead of having short practice sessions, spend a short amount of time on the thing that's making your fingers hurt. If it's a barre chord, spend 5 minutes on that and move onto something else.

You can alternate between chords and single line melodies or exercises. This gives your fingers a chance to do different things. I like this practice method because it mixes things up too. You never get bored!

The last tip is about ergonomics. Not just in your hand, but in your body. I wrote a whole article about this you can check out here.  It's a short read and will make sure your hand, wrist, arm, and torso are in the best possible position.

Feel empowered to take breaks too. Play for 5 or 10 minutes and take a short break. Come back and play some more, then take a break. 

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Thanks for joining me today. I'll be releasing a new video every day for the next 30 days! If there's a video you want me to make, go ahead and leave a comment!

>> Check Out Day #2 : Should I Warm Up?

Tomas Michaud

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