If you have ever played a stringed instrument before, you know that it can be a process getting your fingers used to pressing down the strings. There is a time when you first begin playing that you will experience something painful on the tips of your fingers. This is very common with steel-stringed guitars but what about ukuleles that have nylon strings?
Do ukuleles have the same effect and do they hurt your fingers as much as an acoustic guitar?
It can be painful on the tips of your fingers when you first begin playing the ukulele. It may take a while for your fingers to adjust and build calluses so that you do not experience pain when playing. Although painful, it is not quite as painful as what you would expect from the steel-stringed guitar.
This is very common with ukuleles and anyone who plays often will experience this. This usually happens in the beginning when your fingers have not developed calluses or during times when you have not played as much. When you play regularly, your fingers build calluses and it is not painful after such calluses have been developed.
There isn’t really an easy way to avoid the pain associated with playing an instrument like this. However, I do have some tips that I have learned the hard way after playing the ukulele for over 10 years now. I go through phases with my ukulele so I often have times where I need to retrain my fingers to become accustomed to holding down strings.
Although I typically play acoustic guitar when I am not going through a ukulele phase, there are times when I don’t have time to play any instrument. During these times, my fingers become soft and I have to re-introduce them to the pain of holding down strings again.
Besides the pain on the tips of your fingers, there is also the pain of stretching your fingers in positions to form chords. This is also something that can take some getting used to. Let’s look at a few ways that you can help decrease the pain associated with playing the ukulele.
5 Tips To Reduce Finger Pain When Playing Ukulele
1) Play Consistently
The best way to adjust your fingers to playing the ukulele and keeping them that way is to play consistently. When you play your ukulele on a regular basis, you will allow your fingers to build and keep hard calluses on the tips so that it doesn’t hurt anymore. People who play all the time are numb to the pain that many beginners feel when they play.
This is especially true of those who play other instruments such as the steel-stringed acoustic guitar. This type of guitar is much more painful to soft fingers and takes thicker calluses to become numb to it. The nylon strings on the ukulele are softer than steel strings so they are not quite as painful.
As a beginning ukulele player, you should strive to play each day for a set amount of time. This will not only help you to learn the ukulele faster but it will also help you to callus your fingers and help with speeding up the process of not being so painful.
If you do not play every day, your fingers will never build up to the level that you need them to be at so that you can play for long periods of time without pain.
2) Play Through The Pain
If you start to experience pain in your fingers, don’t stop! Continue to play through the pain because this is what will allow the skin to harden into calluses that will prevent pain in the future. If you were to stop when the pain starts to persist, your fingers would not build up to endure the pain.
This is similar to building muscle when working out. If you were to stop working out as soon as you experienced fatigue, your body would not grow larger muscles. It takes going beyond your limits in order to increase muscle size and strength.
The same can be said for training your fingers to play the ukulele or other stringed instruments. Keep going once you experience pain and your body will magically adapt so that it becomes less painful in future sessions.
Plan on playing your ukulele each day and if your fingers are hurting, keep your sessions short until you can play for longer periods. If you can only play for 10 minutes, do it. Then take a break and play for 10 minutes more in another session throughout the day.
3) Get Your Ukulele Set Up
The importance of getting a ukulele properly set up cannot be stated enough. If you begin to play the ukulele directly from the manufacture, it is likely that you will not get the most out of that instrument. It needs to be set up for you by a professional in order for you to get the most value from it.
During a setup, the action of the ukulele is decreased, making it easier to push down strings.
This alone can make it more comfortable when playing. Since you don’t have to push the strings down as hard, you will not experience as much pain as you would when playing the ukulele with high action from the factory. Many people push the strings down too hard so if you find yourself doing this, you may require a ukulele setup.
There are some companies online where you can purchase a ukulele and they will set it up for free or for a small fee. I would suggest that you take advantage of this, even if it costs a little bit more. Let the experts set your instrument up for you so that you will be working with an instrument that is easy for you to play.
You can also lower the action yourself if you are comfortable with doing the work required. This work might include removing the saddle and sanding it down or filing down the nut so that the strings sit lower. If you are not experienced with this, I would suggest having a professional do it so that you do not end up with unintended problems.
4) Do Finger Exercises
It’s not only the tips of your fingers that can become painful but also the joints of the fingers. There are times when your fingers need to stretch along the fretboard so that you can form chords and play single notes. This often takes some adjusting and many people cannot stretch their fingers very far when they begin playing.
There are plenty of exercises that you can do that will help to increase the flexibility of your fingers. This will make it easier for you to form difficult chords and move along the fretboard more fluidly.
These types of exercises should be performed on a regular basis and even continued for as long as you play the ukulele. If you do not perform these types of exercises, your fingers may become rusty and unable to stretch into position as easy.
Doing this along with the other things that you can do to decrease the pain on your fingertips will help you to play the ukulele pain-free.
5) Leave The Calluses Alone
Once the calluses start to form and harden, there will be a time that it will be enticing to peel them off. Avoid doing this because this will only reveal the softer skin again underneath and then you’ll be back to square one. If the calluses have rough edges or are peeling a little, use a file to smooth them down rather than removing them.
If you play consistently, you’ll notice that the tips of your fingers will always have a little hardness to them. Even when you take a break for a while, you may still feel harder spots in your fingertips where calluses once existed.
Just play the ukulele consistently and keep the calluses smoothed down and the pain from playing will take care of itself.
A ukulele is a stringed instrument and any instrument of this nature will require that your hands and figures get used to it. There will be a little pain in the beginning but it is normal and everyone goes through this. Don’t let it stop you from playing and know that it will pass if you continue with consistent practice.
The tips above will help you to ease into playing with minimal pain but you’ll need to expect at least a little discomfort. If it were easy to play an instrument like this, everyone would be doing it. You must be willing to play through the initial pain so that you can continue the journey of becoming a great ukulele musician.
Once you get to the point where it no longer hurts, you will be able to play for longer periods of time and you’ll see your progress improve at a faster rate.