In the preliminary stages of learning to play a guitar - is fingertip numbness to be expected?
November 2, 2010 6:43 PM   Subscribe

In the preliminary stages of learning to play a guitar - is persistent fingertip numbness to be expected?

I have decided to try to learn acoustic guitar, but I found that after practicing my 2 chords last night and tonight, my first fingertip is persistently numb.

The area in question is just the very tip, maybe a quarter of the length of the first finger segment on my left hand.

The middle and ring fingertips were a little bit numb last night, but when I woke up this morning they felt fine. The first finger though, was numb all day, up until I picked up the guitar tonight. And now that I'm done, it's even more numb.

I'm afraid I don't know what type of guitar it is, but I do know that the strings are Martin brand, 80/20 bronze "light." I am confident that the person who gave me the guitar had the people from the store attach the strings properly.

My practice sessions involved watching videos and trying to learn the A chord and the D chord. Each practice went on for about 30 minutes, but I wasn't playing constantly; I was trying to get the finger positions right.

I tried searching online guitar forums (and Ask MeFi) about fingertip numbness and read lots of accounts of finger soreness and building up calluses, which I understand. However, the only times people mentioned numbness, they mentioned whole fingers or the whole hand going numb and the responses all pointed to nerve damage.

No one really mentioned 1 numb fingertip and I was hoping that someone might have had a similar experience.

My question is, did you ever have 1 persistently numb fingertip after starting to play guitar and what happened?
posted by cranberrymonger to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
learning to play guitar traditionally involves building up your callouses. So yeah, your fingertips will be numb.
posted by mdn at 6:46 PM on November 2, 2010

Best answer: yep. this was my experience with picking up steel-string guitar (banjo just didn't callous up my fingers so much, so fast!) - all the work, the fingertips would be weird and numb for a while! if it eases your mind, i have excellent sensation in all my fingertips.

this was maddening to me when i started, so i hate to say this, but: it'll get better. it just takes some time. what makes it worse, i discovered, is to stop and start your playing, because then your fingers never quite actually toughen up.

kudos for picking up music! guitar is really fun and versatile, and you'll have a lifelong friend in it.
posted by circle_b at 6:50 PM on November 2, 2010

Absolutely! But as others have said, it really will go away with practice.
posted by ldthomps at 6:55 PM on November 2, 2010

Yes. You are unlikely to get nerve damage from practising two chords on a guitar. Your fingers will harden, but it takes time and a certain degree of pain before you get there.
posted by fire&wings at 7:11 PM on November 2, 2010

It will go away with practice, for sure, but it will REALLY go away with practice and a good guitar.

My 2 cents worth... if you are using steel strings, use flat wound light gauge strings. Round wound heavy gauge give good sustain on notes, but for the initial stages of learning where accuracy, picking style and general performance issues are paramount, compromise on sound.

Later, when you have great finger muscles, try heavier gauge strings.

If you have a guitar playing friend with a Taylor guitar (full size, not the miniature one), see if he/she will let you play your A and D to see how a good guitar feels.

Have fun. Stick with it.
posted by FauxScot at 7:17 PM on November 2, 2010

Did you buy your guitar from a reputable shop or have someone look at it after you acquired it? Some discomfort is to be expected as your hands get used to doing new stuff, but if your guitar's action is too high then you're pushing down that much harder with your left fingers, which would make things more uncomfortable than they should be, and also make it harder to become proficient.

Nthing light gauge strings, too.
posted by usonian at 7:28 PM on November 2, 2010

After 15 years or so my index finger on my picking hand still occasionally feels funny after a couple hours of playing, and my thumb on my picking hand always feels funny if I break a pick.
It mostly goes away, and you get used to it when it does come back. After it stops happening, don't be surprised when it comes back while practicing something new and difficult.
posted by gally99 at 7:46 PM on November 2, 2010

As everyone above says, yes, it's common to have your fingertips go numb. It will go away eventually. If it continues to be a problem, there may be too much distance between the string and the fretboard. If the strings seem too high, a guitar shop can fix that for you. For the time being, though, you should just tough it out.
posted by Gilbert at 7:50 PM on November 2, 2010

The numbness at first is how you know you're doing it right—practicing enough.
posted by limeonaire at 8:14 PM on November 2, 2010

Play until they blister, then bleed. You'll never have to worry about it again. Or switch to electric.
posted by WhiteWhale at 8:19 PM on November 2, 2010

Best answer: It's normal. It will happen less with (a) an electric guitar or (b) a nylon-string classical guitar, so if you've considered either one of those, they'd help you practice more without pain.

Eventually, your fingers form callouses. More importantly, you eventually learn to play with the minimum amount of pressure and avoid the pain. I don't have visible callouses anymore but I can play for 6 hours without pain. Until I practice something new (harder song, different guitar, etc.) - then my muscles tense up and I press too hard on the strings and the pain comes back.

Tip: try practicing on your acoustic and trying to keep the guitar as quiet as possible, while still cleanly sounding the chords. Your right hand controls the volume, obviously, but when you try to play quietly your left-hand fingers will not press as hard on the strings. It's a good technique to learn early.
posted by mmoncur at 10:31 PM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Normal. As mentioned above, there's a trade-off to be made in guitar strings between comfort and sound. At one end of the scale you have thick, high-tension strings and a high action, which allows for a lot of sound. At the other end you have thinner, low-tensions strings and a low action, which is much more playable at the expense of some sustain and volume. As a beginner, this is the end you want to be on. You could try picking up some "silk and steel" strings (often referred to as folk strings) as they have a lower tension which makes them easier to play (but quiet).
posted by primer_dimer at 3:54 AM on November 3, 2010

Nthing getting someone who knows how to play to look at your guitar - I've seen some which have verry high strings, which would be very difficult to learn on.

Also, I've played for years and the tips of my fingers on my left hand (my string-pushin' hand) are slightly less sensitive than my right hand. I can feel that as I type this, now that I have become aware of it, though I generally don't notice.
posted by StephenF at 4:16 AM on November 3, 2010

I quit playing professionally 15 years ago and pick up a guitar about once a month for 20 minutes these days. But my LH fingertips are still harder than rock with calluses thick enough that I can pick up very hot things and not feel any pain or put out a cigarette with my fingertips -- a great party trick. I seem to remember there was numbness involved in developing those suckers. Now they're not numb, but nor can I feel much with the tips of my fingers.

Be glad you're not a 'cellist. Years ago I had a teacher who made me play in thumb position *until* the side of my left thumb started to bleed, then again as soon as I could stand it, until that side of my thumb could be used to saw wood.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:12 AM on November 3, 2010

Yep. I'm like fourcheesemac - despite playing rarely these days, the calluses built over 20 years are thick enough to poke sharp pins into without feeling a thing. I clearly recall the dents and numbness in the tips of my fingers as this process began. It hurts; power through!
posted by Miko at 9:07 AM on November 3, 2010

Yep, perfectly natural. You just have to give your fingers time to adjust to the pressure on the nerves as well as build up the requisite layers of skin thickness. Also, the better you get with your accuracy the less pressure you need, I've found. With beginners their form typically becomes a mess after a few bars of rapid chord changes and they end up pushing harder to compensate, which gets your fingers tired a lot faster.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:36 AM on November 3, 2010

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