Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay
How to toughen up your fingers.
Yes, your fingers and wrist are going to hurt when you start playing. The higher the action on the guitar, the more pressure it takes to press down the strings. Just about any guitar can have the action adjusted. Take your guitar to a local music shop and have them adjust it.
Adjust your grip on the neck of the guitar. Pressing the strings against the fretboard is hard work and it does make your fingers sore and your wrist ache. As you continue to play it will get better. But here are some tips:
- Most beginners press down on the strings too hard. Relax your fingers. Don’t press down so hard. Just make sure the string firmly contacts the fret.
- Don’t play with wet fingers.
- Hook your thumb over the top of the fretboard to get leverage. This causes you to press the strings more with the flat pad of your finger, rather than your fingertips.
- As your fingers toughen up, move your thumb to the back of the neck. This causes you to press the strings with your fingertips, which is more accurate, but harder at first.
- Keep your fingernails trimmed. It’s much easier to develop calluses with short nails. Long nails also make it more difficult to get good sound.
- Don’t bite, pick, or shave off your hard-earned calluses.
- Soak your fingertips in apple cider vinegar for about 30 seconds before and after
- Get the right strings. When you’re first learning, light gauge strings are easier to play than medium or heavy gauge. The light strings will cause less soreness. Lightly icing your fingertips before and after playing can also ease the soreness. Topical ointments containing benzocaine, such as toothache cream, can also be applied before and after playing.
Some guitarists use a spot of super glue on their fingertips as a makeshift callus, until they develop their own. If you develop a cut or split in your finger apply New-Skin or some other liquid bandage to seal up the cut until it heals.
Supposedly, Eric Clapton suggests “rubbing your fingertips with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol three times a day for a week or two for beginning guitarists or someone who hasn’t played for a while. Supposedly, this dries out the skins and helps the calluses to develop quicker.”
Your body position
Get a good strap and practice standing. Yes, it’s harder at first, but when you sit you tend to slouch over the guitar looking at your fingers. If you do this consistently, it will become one of those bad habits you have to break. Always practice standing.
Take it slow
As we mentioned earlier, take it slow. Learn the basics and the best guitar methods. Don’t focus on trying to play fast. Good technique requires accurate fingering and hitting the right notes every time. Be precise with your fingering. The speed will come when you have everything else in place. You won’t have to develop speed it will happen all by itself.
Always focus on correct fingering. Don’t try to develop new moves. Stick to the tried and true fingering methods, which will lead to the best guitar methods.
Use a metronome
From the beginning, your very first exercise, use a click track or metronome so you develop a good sense of rhythm and timing. When you first start, take it slow. You can adjust the speed on the metronome. The idea is to get used to playing with a steady tempo. Remember, good guitar technique comes first then tempo.
Make sure you practice some every day, even if it’s just 10 minutes. Pick up your guitar and practice the last lesson. The calluses won’t develop if your practice is haphazard. Set up regular practice time. Develop a good practice habit.
not about how long or how hard you practice. The key is “how” you practice. TrueFire offers “Smart Practice” which is a step-by-step practice system just for guitarists. The system is designed so you get the biggest payoff for the time you invest in your practice.
It doesn’t matter whether you are trying to learn to play guitar, or piano or learn something totally different, such as baseball. We all know we have to practice. The problem is that we really don’t know how to practice correctly.
Many who try to learn guitar on their own think that just picking up the guitar and strumming, trying to pick out the melody of their favorite song is practice, or having friends over to jam is practice. Wrong!!!
TrueFire lessons use Soundslice interactive Tab, go to their site for a full demo. The video gives you three views that you can slow down or speed up to facilitate maximum learning. The video lessons make it much easier to see what you are to practice and follow the instructor.
K. Anders Ericsson has researched what it takes to reach a high level of expertise in a skill. He states that practice is deliberate and not inherently enjoyable.
To become a good guitarist or to develop any skill, you must do the work and realize that enjoyment will follow.
Make up your mind that you will do whatever it takes to practice correctly. Quit just doodling around when it’s time to practice. Yes, at first your fingers are going to hurt, but keep in mind that it’s not going to last forever. Use some of the techniques above to ease the pain so you can work through it. Tips for Beginning Guitarists.
No matter what you are doing or attempting to do, setting goals, especially Smart Goals, will help you achieve your desired results quicker and in an organized fashion. Goals will help you do activities that are specifically designed to improve your performance.
Before going any further, look at where you want to go as a musician, and specifically, as a guitarist.
Many people, when they are attempting to learn something new, like playing the guitar, learn bits and pieces assuming that it will all magically come together at some future date.
How do you know what you should be studying and practicing if you don’t know where you want to go or what you want to do with it? If you don’t have a firm goal or path you will end up frustrated.
In any new endeavor, your goals must include both long-term and short-term goals. It’s best to set your long-term goals first then work backward to include all the steps necessary to achieve your long-term goal. This will give you the items that you need to work on NOW.
Included in setting goals you need to take an inventory of your skill set and where you are in the present.
Productivity guru David Allen in his “Getting Things Done” lectures states that you need to take an inventory, which he calls a “Brain Dump”, of everything you already know is required in order to achieve your goal.
What You Know
To start, create a list of everything you know, in this case, about playing the guitar. Divide this list into sections: scales, chords, arpeggios, songs, exercises, fingerpicking styles, licks, tuning your guitar, and bits and pieces. This list will include everything you’ve worked on or doodled around with or have a “somewhat” knowledge of.
You need to be able to play all of the exercises listed above without looking at a tablature sheet or stopping to remember or starting over.
What You Are Learning
This list will change as you learn new skills. Enter everything that you are currently working on goes into this list. You will move these skills to “What You Know” and add more from “What You Need to Know.”
What You Need To Know
List all the things from your short-term goal list. As you come across things you want or need to learn add them to this list. This list will also continually change as you progress down your learning path.
One of the most important things is that you take the information out of your head and put it on paper so you have a better and more workable list.
Once your goals are on paper, proceed to develop an actual practice schedule.
Are you really motivated to do the work necessary to achieve your goals? Remember, as mentioned above, practice isn’t just doodling around and “playing” with your guitar. If you are serious about achieving your goals, about developing good guitar technique, you have to be motivated to practice correctly.
Remember, anyone you have ever admired for their skill at playing any musical instrument or any other skill has “put in the time, effort, and discipline to learn and execute basic skills and then apply them to build their performance mastery.” Anything worth having is worth working for.
As you achieve each incremental goal, your confidence, and the sheer joy of making it happen will not only be personally rewarding but will also inspire greater accomplishments.
If you are motivated and really want to achieve your goals, you will set aside the time and disciple to do the work. Find a practice routine, such as Smart Practice from TrueFire or a practice routine from your teacher. Then, discipline yourself to do the work necessary to achieve your goals.
by Dena Warfield
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Thinking back to when I was about nine years old. I would watch guitar players wishing I had a guitar. I thought if I asked my mom, I might have a chance of getting one.
As I watched The Green Valley Mountain Boys, a local TV show starring REM WALL and several others who worked at the Gibson factory down the street in Kalamazoo, I said, “Mom, mom, come here. Come see Billy. Isn’t he good?”
“He’s just a kid,” she said. “He can’t be much older than you.”
“See. That’s why I need a guitar. I’m behind already. Could I get one for Christmas?”
She paused, “It’s only January. It’s a long time until Christmas. But, I saw a guitar in the second-hand store. Stop in and see how much it is.”
I looked at the clock on the wall… 4:00 pm. I had 30 minutes to get there. I ran for the door, hopped on my bike, headed for the store. I pulled up in front, dropped my bike, and reached for the doorknob just as the lady approached with a key in her hand.
I stepped inside.
“We’re closing,” she said.
“Please, do you still have the guitar?”
“Yes, come on in. I’ll show it to you.”
I picked it up, cradling it in my arms like I had seen others do, and started to strum.
“It’s really out of tune,” the lady said.
I didn’t care. I kept strumming.
“Young man, young man.”
I looked up.
“If you want to play it, you’ll have to buy it. It’s $5.00”
I put it down and reached into my pocket and pulled out $2.75. “This is what I’ve got.”
“Well, you need $2.25 more. But this will hold it until you get the rest,” she said scrapping the coins into the drawer.
“What do you mean, hold it?”
“I won’t sell it to anyone else. Bring me the rest of the money and it’s yours.”
“Thank you,” I said running out the door. I didn’t think to give her my name.
“Mom, mom,” I said running in the backdoor. “Do you have $2.25? She put the guitar on hold. All I need is $2.25. Please, mom.”
“Well, I’ll give you $.50 on Saturday if you’ll do the dishes every night for the next 5 days.”
I looked at the floor shuffling my feet. I would still need $1.75. Tears began to form in my eyes.
“Go ask the neighbors if you can mow their yards or help with something else. You can earn the rest,” she said. “Check at school. Mr. Allen might have something you could do in the music room.”
I managed to get several jobs lined up. I worked hard to get the rest of the money. Mr. Allen, the music teacher, seemed so impressed that I would work to earn the money that he gave me a little extra. He even told me to bring the guitar to him and he’d help me. It took me four weeks to earn the rest of the money.
The day finally came. I didn’t ride my bike to school because I was going straight to the second-hand store to get my guitar.
I walked in and laid the money on the counter.
“Very good, I knew you’d come back with the money,” she said walking into the back room reappearing with my guitar.
She handed it to me. I brushed off the dust and cradled it in my arms. It was mine.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “It didn’t come with a case.”
But, I didn’t really hear her. I didn’t even notice the long walk home. I had it. I had my guitar. I had borrowed a guitar music book from the library. It was on my bed waiting for us. The old upright piano in the dining room was in tune enough to tune the guitar like the book said, I thought.
I went straight to my room. I didn’t want to see any of my brothers or sisters. I wanted to be alone with my guitar. I sat on the bed with it in my lap and opened the music book to the first song. I placed my fingers on the strings as the book showed. I went from one fingering pattern to the next until my mother called bedtime. I had played through dinner and didn’t even notice.
“I look at your fingers,” she said as she walked into my room. “They’re bleeding.”
I stopped and looked down. “Mom, they’re not bleeding, they’re just red when I held the strings down.” I hadn’t even noticed the welts on my fingertips from the guitar strings.
I carried it to school the next day where it waited in my locker.
After school, I took it to Mr. Allen. I waited until he was finished with another student then walked up to him handing him my guitar.
“You got it, alright. Let me see it,” he said almost as excited as I had been. As he turned it every which way looking at it, his excitement seemed to fade finally saying, “You can learn the fingering on this guitar, but it’s not going to be good for much else. See this,” he said running his finger around the bottom side of the body of the guitar. “This crack can’t be fixed. It will never really sound very good. I should be able to tune, but it will be hard to play. Let me see your left hand. See your fingertips? That’s because it is made with the strings too high off the fretboard.”
Mr. Allen tuned it and showed me how to tune the first string then tune the other five by tuning the next string to the one you just tuned.
My walk home took a little longer than usual as I thought about my guitar. I wasn’t going to give up. I just couldn’t. Over the next few months, I continued to work as hard as I had the first day. I was going to learn how to play and that was that! I learned about seven chords and I had a good rhythm in my strumming. I took my guitar to YMCA summer camp and was able to play some campfire songs.
Christmas morning finally arrived. I stumbled out to the living room with the rest of the family. I hadn’t seen anything under the tree with my name on it. As I sat on the floor watching the other kids open presents my mom walked out with a brand new guitar case containing a new Gibson LG-1 Sunburst Acoustic Guitar. I was in heaven!
“I know you were disappointed that there wasn’t a present for you under the tree, but I couldn’t wrap this. Will this do?” she said handing the guitar case to me.
Don’t get stuck with an old clunker as I did. Find out how to get your Best-First-Guitar.
by Dena Warfield.
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