THE #2 THING ALL GUITARISTS SHOULD KNOW:
Love your calluses and extra short nails!!!

Whether I teach children or adults, complete beginners or seasoned players, this keeps coming up: People do not pay attention to their calluses and nails. I’ve been playing guitar for twenty years and singing for longer. I wish I could say I was born talented and never had to work at it, but that would be a lie. Actually, learning songs has always been an intense, focused activity for me. So anything that makes playing easier has been a welcomed addition to my guitar routine. At the top of my list is to love my calluses and extra short nails. But how does one show the love? Here are a few tips:

Practice a little but often, instead of a lot one day of the week.
Calluses don’t grow spontaneously. If you don’t practice a bit each day, especially when first starting out or picking up your guitar again after a break, you’re not giving your fingertips the chance to grow calluses. Practice 10-15 minutes a day for two weeks. Even after a couple of days, you will begin to feel a difference.

Do not remove calluses.
I love pulling the skin off calluses. It’s so much fun! But it’s so bad. Basically, it’s ripping off the shield protecting my fingers from the guitar strings. Resist the temptation.

Avoid applying moisturizer, shampoo, conditioner, suncreen and any other creamy lotion with the fingers of the hand you fret with.
For example, I’m right handed, which means I strum with my right hand, but make chords with my left. So I avoid putting creamy stuff directly on my left-hand fingers. I still use my left palm, but I’m very careful not to drench my fingers. Creamy/oily substances soften calluses that dull the pain of guitar strings. This is a reason I suspect many people give up the guitar. Many have told me in the past they quit because the pain phase never ended. But as soon as I give them this tip, it’s almost miraculous… calluses appear and stay.

Loving your nails means keeping them short.
I cannot emphasize this enough. Cut them, file them or both. Just make sure they are short enough not to interfere with playing. My non-official rule is to cut them as soon as I see a white strip longer than a fingertip. Another way to know is I place a pick over a fingertip. If the nail gets in the way, I cut it.

The white strips on these fingers are not too long. Neither nails hides a fingertip. You will be able to press down properly on the strings.

The white strips on these fingers are not too long. Neither nail hides a fingertip. You will be able to press down properly on the strings.

The white strips on these fingers are too long. The nail  on the left finger hide the fingertips, while the nail on the right almost hides the fingertip. Both nails will get in you way while playing.

The white strips on these fingers are too long. The nail on the left finger hides the fingertip, while the nail on the right almost hides the fingertip. Both nails will get in the way.

The pinky nail here does not touch the pick. No need to cut or file it.

The pinky nail here does not touch the pick. No need to cut or file it.

The ring finger nail here does not touch the pick. No need to cut or file it.

The ring finger nail here does not touch the pick. No need to cut or file it.

The middle finger nail touches the pick to the extent that it is slanted upwards. Definitely cut a nail this long.

The middle finger nail touches the pick to the extent that the pick is slanted upwards. Definitely cut a nail this long.

The index finger is a millimetre away from touching the pick. Just to be safe, I would cut it before playing.

The index finger is a millimetre away from touching the pick. Just to be safe, I would cut it before playing.

No, really. Keep your nails short.
Have you ever wondered why that A-chord sounds weird? Maybe you need to do some finger exercises to improve their strength. Maybe you’re not pressing hard enough. Or maybe you’ll never be able to play it because your index nail keeps getting in the way! No amount of huffing and puffing will allow your fingers to press down properly if your nails are too long. Instead, your fingers will twist and your wrist will turn at awkward angles to compensate. Then you end up with pain that feels like lightning shooting up your elbow and even all the way to your shoulder and neck. Save yourself the pain and frustration. Always keep a nail cutter and filer in you guitar case. Always check your nails. Keep them short. It’s that easy.

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