Anyone who really knows me can attest that music is, and always has been, a huge part of my life. As a child I learned how to play piano and frequently “rewrote the masters,” much to the chagrin of my traditionalist piano teacher. As a teen I played clarinet in both my school band and a jazz quartet. After high school I learned several other traditional band instruments and spent some time as a percussionist in a long-forgotten local band. I even briefly found a niche working in pro audio at a recording studio. However, with all the years I’ve invested into music, the one thing I never learned was guitar.
Certainly, I know a thing or two about guitars. My younger brother played when we were growing up, so I’ve been around them my whole life, and my time spent in pro audio gave me copious hands-on experience with restringing, tuning and setting up guitars out of necessity; but I never actually learned to play one. Thanks to some recent advice from a good friend, that’s finally changing.
As the old adage goes, practice makes perfect. This statement has been around in one form or another since the 1550s (though it has changed in the interceding years), and it is as true today as it was 450 years ago. Thankfully, already knowing a thing or two about guitars and having a general love for music means that, for me at least, practicing isn’t a chore. Over the last few weeks, practicing has become something I actually look forward to every day.
Over the years I’ve found that one of the cornerstones of learning is consistency. As such, I’ve set out a kind of routine; at the end of every day, I spend around an hour practicing. Ironically, learning guitar has reminded me of another adage that was drilled into me many years ago: no pain, no gain.
Anyone who has ever picked up a guitar can tell you that, for a while, playing it hurts! Pressing a steel string can really do a number on your fingers at first, but it does get easier! The fact of the matter is that your fingertips are incredibly sensitive. By and large, the average person doesn’t do anything on a daily basis that would “toughen up” their fingertips, so playing guitar can, and will, hurt. However, over time, calluses build on your fingertips and the pain lessens.
That said, there are ways one can be proactive in fighting finger pain. Many people recommend keeping your practice sessions short at the beginning. Spending no more than 15-20 minutes a day practicing can minimize the pain while still helping build calluses. Some people suggest that starting with a classical guitar can be easier. Classical guitars use nylon strings instead of steel, which is much more forgiving on your fingers! Perhaps most important, take your guitar to a professional to make sure it’s set up right. If the action is too high, you’ll have to work harder to press the strings (common sense, right?).
Regardless of how you begin, you’ll still have to practice. After all, practice makes perfect… or at least, practice makes you better. While I’m admittedly far from perfect, I have at least found a hobby that I truly enjoy that has absolutely nothing to do with my job. Even better, just a short time in and I can already see progress and it’s finally given me something to write about! Rock on!