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truman48

When will my fingers stop hurting?

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truman48    3

Hello,  Ive only been practicing for a week and Im at the stage where I can only play for a few minutes before my fingers start hurting and I have to stop. How long does it take for callouses to form? I wanted to try and get in at least 15 minutes practice a day but I am unable to as I have to stop after a few minutes.

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mset3    158

Truman,

 

It has been so long I really don't remember. It shouldn't take more than a couple of weeks. Keep at it and it will get easier every day. No pain, no gain. Don't give up!

 

Mike

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truman48    3

I won't give up but it's very annoying.  I want to practice for 15 minutes a day and I can barely make 5 minutes without having to stop all the time. 

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truman48    3

Tonight I practiced switching from A to D and E and visa versa (And was quite happy with my progress so far I might add) but after about 5 minutes my fingers were in agony. They felt like they were cut really bad but weren't.  I stopped for 1/2 an hour then tried again but this time it was only a few minutes before I had to stop.  They feel slightly sore now an hour later which I'm hoping is a good sign that callouses are forming.  I certainly want to be able to practice more than 5 minutes or so a day.

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6string    81

I'm guessing your pinky had been spared.

Try playing something with it only, like the melody to Tom Dooley (by the Kingston Trio) in the key of G

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mset3    158

Truman,

 

It appears that the action on your guitar is too high causing you to put excessive pressure on the strings. You should be able to make chords and play with a light touch. Try putting a capo a couple of frets from the nut. It should lower the action a little bit.

 

Mike

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JanVigne    27

Finger tip calluses form at a rate equal to how much you work your fingertips.  Play only on the thicker strings and you will develop calluses at a slower rate due to the lowered amount of work required as your fingertip pressure is distributed over a wider string surface.    Play only on the thinnest strings and the inverse is true.  The harder and the longer you work your finger tips, the faster you will develop calluses.   They are a natural defense mechanism your body creates to protect itself from injury. 

 

That's the bad news.  The good news is there are ways to make newbie playing more comfortable.

 

First, understand your fingers are reacting to the tension of the wire string and your insistence you can push it down against the break angle of the nut.  That sentence contains all of the most common solutions to your pain problem.  

 

Tension is your enemy at this point.  String tension varies with several factors.  First, given a constant string gauge, materials and construction (all of which go into setting the "tension" of the string at standard tuning), would be scale length.  "Scale length" is typically defined as the distance between two termination points along the length of a string.  The next would be gauge, the heavier the gauge, the more pressure is required to press the string down to the fretboard.  In other words, the heavier the gauge, the higher the string tension at any scale length.  The final issue would be the "preferred" tension of the string which would vary as you raise the string up to or beyond standard tuning.    

 

Scale length is measured by checking the distance between the nut and the bridge saddle.  It is fixed in terms of the open string's native scale length and cannot easily be changed without serious reconstruction of the guitar.  However, once you press down on the string at the first fret, you have changed the "effective scale length" of the string.  Therefore, use a capo on the first or second fret and you have altered the effective scale length of the guitar.  

 

Understand how the tension is developed along the guitar's fretboard; it is highest at the points just nearest the termination points of the string and weakest in the exact center of the string's length.  

 

We can empirically grasp this idea by observing the effect of a weight placed along the length of a wire terminated at both ends.  Place the weight at the center of the wire and the deflection of the "straight" line (zero deflection) is greater than when the weight is located very close to the termination points.  This tells us it is easier to alter the deflection of the wire at points further away from its terminations and more difficult to achieve equal amounts of deflection just adjacent to those termination points.  

 

We know the guitar string sits at a more or less equal distance away from the fretboard along its length.  

 

Replace the downward pressure of the weight with the downward pressure of your finger and apply some logic to get ... the highest "effective tension" along the string's length exists just adjacent to its termination points.  This is where we must overcome both the "native tension" of the wire and the "effective tension" of its length at standard tuning. 

 

This is where the greatest amount of pressure will be required to overcome that tension and to achieve equal amounts of deflection as it relates to the distance from the nut to the fretboard or from the top of a fret to the fretboard surface.   

 

All that adds up to, more tension will exist just adjacent to the termination points (the nut and the saddle) and we will need to exert greater pressure at the first fret than at the seventh fret.  Since we don't normally play above the length of the fretboard itself, for now we only need to concern ourselves with the tension created along the playing side of the nut up to the highest fret on the fretboard.

 

These points; the nut and the saddle, have created (along with the final termination point of the string at the tuner and the pin) what has been termed the "break angle" of the string.  The greater the degree of angle and the distance between the termination point of the string at the tuner and the termination point of the nut, the greater the "break angle" on the non-playing side of the string.  The greater the distance between the point where the string leaves the nut and the fretboard, as it affects you, the greater the break angle on the playing side.  Therefore, the higher the "action" at the nut and first fret/fretboard, the greater the break angle is and the higher the pressure required to adequately depress the string to the point it makes contact with the fretboard.

 

Since you have mentioned already having your guitar set up by a qualified tech, we can assume there is no more available adjustment of the break angle at the nut before you would experience fret buzz.  Therefore, the native scale length of the guitar has been fixed and the break angle is fixed and those values cannot easily/inexpensively be further altered to your advantage. 

 

The next step is to alter the effective scale length and the playing side break angle by using a capo.  The capo replaces the nut as the playing side termination point of the string but does so by using the upstream fret wire as the new effective termination point.  First however, ...  

 

A capo changes the "effective" scale length of the string by its placement between the two native termination points of the string and eliminates the native break angle of the nut as a factor in string tension  Placing a capo on, say, the second fret will replace the the break angle of the nut with the break angle of the (second) fret, which is quite likely a lesser degree of angle than is the nut.  Now, with less distance to overcome between the fret and the fretboard, the amount of pressure required to depress the string fully to the fretboard has been significantly lessened.  Secondly, the effective" scale length of the guitar has been shortened.  That accounts for the issue of the break angle and scale length as it relates to "playability". 

 

Obviously, since we can safely assume all the frets on your guitar are of equal height above the fretboard, it doesn't really matter where on the fretboard the capo is placed if your only goal is to minimize the break angle of the string.  However, thinking again about scale length suggests placing the capo even further up the fretboard will further shorten the scale length which will result in a further reduction of string tension.  Placing the capo at the fifth fret will create a shorter scale length than placing the capo at the second fret, right?  The result will be ... ?

 

The greatest change in the pressure required to depress the string will come from eliminating the nut's break angle and replacing it with the break angle of a fret. Changing the effective scale length will be less than the effect of the break angle but still significant when you consider the other advantages of using a capo further up the neck.  

 

The typical guitar neck will widen as it moves from the point where the headstock joins to the neck and moves toward the body joint.  Also the shape and profile of the neck will change and this will alter your grip on the neck as you fret the strings.  

 

The termination point for each individual string is also a rather permanent location at the bridge/saddle and would require serious work to alter.  Looking at the specifications for a guitar though you will see a measurement for "string spacing" at the nut and at the soundhole or bridge saddle.  The spacing at the nut is always a shorter distance than the spacing at the soundhole.  This tells us the strings are not spaced at a consistently equal distance (between each individual string) as they are measured further up the neck.  Are you with me here?

 

Place the capo at the fifth fret and the string tension has been further reduced due to the shorter scale length.  Placing the capo at the second fret gives you a slightly wider fretboard with slightly greater string spacing than you would have when the capo is removed.  The additional benefit to the fifth fret placement is a slightly wider neck still with a bit more neck material to work with and a wider individual string spacing.  All of those values tend to be beneficial to the student.  This will be slightly more evident when you begin to play barre chords.  Start with the capo up the neck and you will minimize the fear and failure of the "dreadful F Major Barre".  (When you get around to barre chords, I'll make further suggestions to minimize the difficulties.)

 

Start with the capo up the neck and play there for now.  This should reduce the amount of pressure required to just play.  Your fingers are tender now so they will still tire early but you should have the ability to play for longer time periods with the use of the capo.  The slightly greater string spacing should also provide a bit more room between strings which is beneficial if you find you are muting adjacent strings which should sound out or you are simply muffing notes.  The lack of tension will mean you will develop calluses at a slower rate but that single disadvantage typically outweighs the numerous advantages of the capo.  

 

As you develop the ability to play for longer periods of time using the capo, gradually move the capo one fret back toward the nut.  Play there and then make another change once you are comfortable.  Starting at the second fret means your fret markers are always in the correct relative location for a student.  If you are not relying on fret markers, then initial placement of the capo is less an issue.    

 

Since you are going this alone and not working with an instructor, the capo's position is not a factor when it comes to playing in tune with another instrument.  Of course, using the capo on the second fret would mean the pitch of the first string open is now a F# and not an E (when you've initially tuned to standard tuning).  An open second string would produce a C# rather than a B.  

 

Now we can look at the issue of tension as it relates to the "preferred" tuning of the strings.  

 

It should be obvious any string must be placed under greater tension to raise its desired pitch to standard tuning.  Raise the pitch and you raise the tension.  Lower the pitch and you lower the tension.  Can you see what's coming here?

 

By using the capo on the second fret, you've raised the pitch of the open string.  To further lower the tension of the string, and thus reduce the pressure required to play, you can tune your guitar down.  Lower the pitch and you will have lowered the string tension when all other factors remain consistent. 

 

If you've tuned down one whole step to a D on the first and sixth string, when you place the capo on the second fret, you've raised the tuning back up one whole step to E but you have not changed the inherent tension on the string.  The benefit here is the "normal" string tension has been lowered by way of detuning the string so the use of the capo simply further reduces the overall string tension while returning the string to standard tuning values  You are therefore playing "in tune" with another non-capo guitar in standard tuning.  Understand?

 

Now you have two methods for reducing string tension; tuning down and using a capo.  They can be used together or separately.  You may begin with the capo and after you've reached the point where you can play without the capo, still tune down.  As long as you are not in need of playing along with another instrument, the only thing you need to concern yourself with is relative tuning across the strings.  If you tune down every string one whole step, the guitar will still play in tune with itself and you can play any song normally though realizing the notes are lower in pitch than the notation would suggest.       

 

Finally, you can use lighter gauge strings with less inherent tension.  Typically, going from an "11" to a "9" would be a significant change in tension.  That's a long time standard reply to painful finger tips, just use lighter gauge strings.  

 

Most string manufacturers will have their tension charts available either on their webpages or by contacting them directly.  Many of the string retailers also have this information available to them and you can consult with a shop such as www.juststrings.com.  

 

Today however, gauge may not be your most reliable judge of tension which makes the suggestion to change the strings less of a sure answer.  Strings have been developed specifically for the value of lower tension when at standard tuning and you can seek out just those strings.  That simply means, if you are desiring the benefits of an "11" gauge string but want slightly lower tension, you can typically find it in today's string market.

 

Of course, that also means string materials may have changed along with the construction of the string.  Both materials and construction affect the "tone" of the strings.  You may have to try a few sets of strings to reach the desired goal of "playability" and tone.

 

But, for a student just beginning their work, using the capo and/or tuning down will typically provide the easiest, quickest and consistently most reliable answer to painful finger tips.   

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JanVigne    27

Please place this additional information at the appropriate location within the above post ...

 

" ... other advantages of using a capo further up the neck.  

 

The typical guitar neck will widen as it moves from the point where the headstock joins to the neck and moves toward the body joint.  Also the shape and profile of the neck will change and this will alter your grip on the neck as you fret the strings.   This changes the leverage you may exert on the playing side of the neck/fretboard.  

 

(As an aside here, it is not finger strength alone which determines the ability of a player to cleanly fret the strings.  You must learn to exert leverage on the strings.  Just as a smaller opponent can defeat a larger foe by a strategic use of leverage, so too does the learned application of leverage become more important than shear strength when playing a guitar.  Just look at all those eight year old wonders and consider whether you have more or less strength than they possess.  They have learned to apply leverage.)    

 

The termination point ... "

 

Don't think of only developing hand/finger strength to individual strings.  Think first of how to apply the greatest amount of, and the most equal degree of, leverage to the width of the fretboard.  The advantage to this way of thinking will become more important as you begin to play barre chords.  

 

Also, when using a capo, always check the tuning of each string after the placement of the capo.  Capos can slightly shift the tuning of a string.  Retune to equal relative tuning after you've located the capo.  

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truman48    3

Thanks for the replies.  I just had the action lowered so it's not the strings being too high. I do have a capo but was told by someone not to use it whilst learning but I suppose until I get my fingers hard it's probably a good idea for now anyway. I really want to play longer than 5 minutes as I have plenty of spare time after work at night.

Im actually quite surprised at how quickly I learned to just play the first 3 chords and swap between them.  

I'm assuming it's perhaps memory from years ago when I was learning.  

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truman48    3

Well 5 weeks later I can play for a good 2 hours before my fingers get real sore so my callouses have certainly developed nicely. I know the following chords and can switch between them nicely D A E G C Amin Emin Dmin and my first bar chord Bmin.

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JanVigne    27

That's steady progress.  Keep it up!

 

I hope you aren't cramming two hours of practice in and mistakenly using that as a substitute for shorter, more frequent - and far more productive - practice sessions.  As you've probably heard about learning and mastering a subject, it is a marathon not a sprint.  

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truman48    3

Well I practice nearly 2 hours almost every week night. Some nights it might be only an hour though. I have a lot of free time after work once Ive had dinner so whilst the Tv is on in the background Im usually practicing. At this stage Im just learning to play songs from Riffstation and other Youtube videos. Once I master some chord changes and have it down pat then I might look at learning scales etc.

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Rockerbob    47

Great progress.  Turn off the TV.  Not just when you are playing, but all the time.

 

"I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book."

- Groucho Marx
 

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