If you happen to be a musician that uses their fingers to make those gorgeous notes come alive, you've surely encountered the ever problematic calluses. Especially when you're just starting out, it can be particularly troublesome and can sometimes deter potential musicians from getting over that obstacle. How can we overcome and ease these?
What is a callus anyway? Have you ever begun to play that guitar that’s been collecting dust in your bedroom and you quickly find that your skin seems to be wearing right where you hold down the strings on each fingertip? This is where a callus begins. If you stick with it, while keep playing and practicing, the soft tissue will begin to harden due to the friction and use. Typically a callus develops fully in 2-4 weeks, though this is certainly dependent on how often you play, practice, the type of guitar and guitar strings and what type of music you’re playing.
Now, it’s not just guitarists that get calluses in the music world. Most musicians who play stringed instruments will find themselves with calluses or sometimes even blisters. Violinists, bassists, cellist and beyond often acquire these. Many people don’t know that non-musicians get calluses too! This can range from a hardworking dishwasher in your favorite restauraunt’s kitchen all the way to a lyricist who writes their ideas down with pencils. Have you ever noticed how the sides of your fingers feel after taking a lengthy test? Imagine doing this day in and day out.
So, how do we handle the dreaded and unavoidable callus? First and foremost, don’t fight it! Start smart and accept that which we cannot change. Start with the strings. Pay for quality and consider starting with light gauge strings, unless you’re ready to dive into medium or even heavy gauge and are looking to get some tough calluses quickly!
When it comes to hygiene and maintenance, consider keeping your fingernails quite short and well-maintained. This will allow for you to play more precisely, as well as keep calluses in check. While you’re at it, you should attempt to resist the urge to peel, pick or bite at the calluses you’ve worked so hard to develop. If you get rid of them, you’ll just have to start from scratch. One tip that we really love that may go overlooked is the idea of not playing with wet fingertips. Did you wash your hands right befire band practice or perhaps you’re working up a sweat while playing your favorite tune? It’s very important to always play with dry hands and fingers, so be sure to grab a towel nearby to keep them dry and hardened, as wet fingertips will soften the callus.
When keeping up with the maintenance of your calluses, it may seem counterintuitive but you do need to keep your hands and fingers fully moisturized, as you don’t want cracking or bleeding skin. At the same time, if you’re looking to quickly harden calluses that may be out of shape due to a little vacation from practicing, it’s been said that a few doses weekly of apple cider vinegar or rubbing alcohol on your fingertips can help do the job.
Be sure to stick with it and ride out the pain on this one! Calluses are a necessary part of your connection to your instrument. Take care of them just like you would the rest of your body and they will repay you by creating more precision, agility, longevity and preservation in your playing.