As Guitarists, our biggest assets are undoubtedly our hands. We can’t play without them, (unless you’re one of those busking toe strummers) and no amount of expensive equipment can cover for them. It’s time we protected and maintained our hands as well as we would look after a $20,000 original Strat. Below are 6 top tips on taking care of your hands, which it is strongly advisable to follow. As an added bonus, every one of these 6 tips has several other positive side-effects on your Guitar playing technique and Musical creativity. Yes, sometimes this kind of stuff can seem a little bit straight-laced or boring, but for most of us the alternative is absolutely unthinkable: Being unable to play for an extended period of time, or even prevented from playing at all, as you get older. Get into these routines now, please take care of your hands!
1) Warm up
This is one of those much-repeated tips that we Guitarists always seem to want to bypass, perhaps because it sounds a bit anti-creative, boring or uncool. Warming up is quite literally delaying the experience of writing or performing. So let’s just set this one straight. This doesn’t mean when you’re at a party and someone says “Hey play us a song” you have to politely decline, leave the room, find a quiet space for your 20 minute wrist yoga routine before you can return ready to play to what is now an empty room. However, any good practice session should begin gently. Plugging in and shredding is not the way to look after your wrists and fingers. A few minutes running nicely through your scales and arpeggios can go a very long way towards keeping you playing for many years to come. Not to mention helping you learn, memorise and utilise the scales and arpeggios themselves. If you really want to be a better Guitarist, Warming Up is essential. So Start now!
2) Take A Break
Also essential to your creativity, perspective and mental state, taking regular breaks in practice, rehearsal and jamming is absolutely vital in taking great care of your hands. Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) can occur if you play too much. We often traditionally associate a condition like RSI with Typists and Tennis Players, and Guitarists are increasingly joining them in this group. It is the repeated motion putting too much strain on muscles in the hand and wrist. And this doesn’t mean that if you don’t play 8 hours a day you’re safe! The intensity of your playing also has a whole lot to do with it. If you’re shredding at your maximum speed for 20 minutes straight, you’re going to do some damage. Moderation is the key to everything, including looking after your wrists and fingers!
3) Finger/Wrist Exercises
Make sure you exercise your hands! And your whole arms and body for that matter. This YouTube channel contains 3 great videos full of exercises designed to strengthen your hands, improve your dexterity and stay injury free. If you already work out, go jogging or have an exercise regime, this is just 5 more minutes, to put on the end. If you don’t, just make this the first 5 minutes of your Guitar practice routine. The great thing about these exercises to do without your Guitar, is that you can do them anywhere. Please don’t try and do them while driving though!
Whether you’re playing standing, sitting, kneeling or crowdsurfing, every part of your body affects every other part. So good Guitar posture means keeping your back straight, your feet on the floor and your shoulders loose and relaxed. You can usually trace an awkward hand position back to the fact you’re not doing one of these things. And likewise, approach it the other way too: If your wrist is having to bend at a right angle, is there something about your posture forcing this to happen?
5) Get Help If You Feel Pain
This is another one that’s good, sensible advice beyond the world of Guitar! A pain is your body’s way of telling you that something isn’t quite right. You should never play through pain. If you feel any persistent pain while playing Guitar, stop playing. Take a break for a day or two and see how it feels. If the pain continues, go and see a doctor.
6) Manual Maintenance
This means all the little day-to-day things you can do to keep the state of your hands generally good, such as trimming your fingernails. Others are especially relevant in Winter, when the cold weather can leave your hands dry and sore. So, using moisturising cream or lotion on your hands, and wearing gloves when you go out in cold weather. Cold hands not only become dry and cracked, but they’re also harder to get warmed up and ready to play. This day-to-day maintenance can go along way, and sets you off on the right foot (hand!), in the routine of looking after your biggest assets. Your hands!