RangeOfSounds.com is reader-supported. We may earn a small commission through products purchased using links on this page.
Playing guitar can be quite hard on the fingers, especially for a beginner, and there are a number of things you can do to help mitigate that pain.
One of the most essential is to learn how to tape your fingers for guitar playing.
To tape your fingers for guitar playing you carefully wrap your fingers and other parts of your hand that come into contact with the strings in medical tape to protect them. You normally only tape your playing hand, but you could wrap a cut on a fretting hand finger with tape to protect it.
Let’s go over the right and wrong ways to tape your fingers for guitar playing, look at why it might or might not be a good idea, and also look at what else you can do to help with finger pain while playing.
Why Tape Your Fingers For Guitar Playing?
One of the essential things to remember when taping your fingers for guitar playing is to make sure you can still distinctly feel the string through the tape.
Your goal is to give your fingers some cushion so you can play without getting too sore, while not giving up critical finger dexterity.
One wrap of tape should generally be enough. What you want to do is offer another layer of protection for your skin.
That’s because, depending on playing technique, strings can be quite hard on your playing hand. If you palm mute frequently, for example, the vibration of the strings against your skin can eventually rub part of your hand nearly raw.
Players use tape as a barrier to keep that friction, which is an essentially part of the palm muting technique, from causing too much pain.
Tape can also be useful when dealing with dry skin on your playing hand. That’s because dry skin doesn’t have the same protective barrier as healthy skin, which means less resistance to friction.
Using tape, as noted above, helps keep that friction away from the skin, preventing abrasions and allowing you to play for longer.
Tape wrapped around the pad of your finger can also help fingerstyle players by giving them some cushion, helping to prevent blisters from the friction of the string against the skin.
If you primarily play with a pick, taping the index finger and thumb of your playing hand might help reduce the possibility of a blister and add more grip, as well.
Other players who use a pick, primarily metal guitarists — think Kirk Hammett — tape their knuckles. They do that to protect their knuckles from repeatedly being dragged across the strings as they play.
And classical players, who generally use the nails of alternating fingers to pluck strings instead of a pick, find that tape around the top of the finger can help stabilize and secure the fingernail, giving them the tone they want and keeping the nail from breaking mid performance.
As I mentioned above, though, you should only ever be taping up the fingers on your playing hand.
Should You Tape Your Fingers For Guitar Playing?
Some players, especially when they’re new to the instrument, see other guitarists using tape, hear it can help keep a player’s fingers from getting sore, and decide to wrap the fingers of their sore fretting hand in tape, hoping to use the tape until their fingers get tougher.
There are a few problems with that idea, though. First, while it is definitely very hard on the fingers of your fretting hand, at least at first, using something like tape to absorb that friction means the skin won’t form a callus as quickly.
So while the idea might be that the tape will help until you can stand more pressure from the strings, it’s keeping you from being able to handle that pressure, because you aren’t growing a callus. I’ll explain more about how to build calluses shortly, but I also want to go over other reasons not to tape the fingers on your fretting hand.
One major reason is the dexterity required to change chords as well as moving fingers from string to string for lead or solo playing. As I noted above, too much tape can interfere with your playing hand’s dexterity when it comes to playing different strings.
The fretting hand requires more dexterity, because your fingers have to land on the correct fret and the correct string, while the playing hand is mostly concerned with playing the correct string. Even a relatively small amount of tape can interfere with the feel you need to move your fingers to exactly the correct position.
And more than a little bit of tape adding to the thickness of the finger makes it more likely that you’ll accidentally play or mute a string when you meant to do the opposite.
Anyone with a bit of playing experience reading this knows that the dexterity issues I mentioned above can be overcome with practice, but those people also know that calluses can build fairly quickly — far more quickly than the time it takes to substantially improve your finger dexterity.
There is a situation when it’s OK to tape or otherwise use something to protect the tip of your finger: when you’re dealing with a cut. For the most part, you should wait until a cut starts to heal before playing guitar, but you can start before it’s fully healed.
In that case, it’s OK to use a bandage, some tape, or even a fingertip protector to cover the cut and keep it from reopening while you play.
This video looks at one kind of fingertip protector.
How Do You Build Finger Calluses While Playing Guitar?
A callus is any thickening of the skin that happens in response to friction or, in rare cases, chemical exposure. It’s a way for the skin to protect itself, and the ideal way to stimulate callus growth is repeated, minor abrasion injuries to the skin.
That’s a long way of saying that one of the best ways to build finger calluses is to play guitar — something you no doubt already knew — but how long does the process take?
The time frame will vary some depending on the person and a few other factors, but, in general, it takes a few weeks of daily guitar practice for calluses to build up. And, like I noted above, while it might seem like a clever idea to try and use tape, the fact is tape protects your skin from injury, so you’ll be building up calluses very slowly, if at all.
Instead, there are a few things you can try to speed up the process, or at least minimize your discomfort until the calluses are formed.
First, make sure your action is as low as it can be, which will make pressing strings easier on your fingers. The exact ways to do that are beyond this article, but this video explains how to check your setup and adjust your action for beginners.
Second, start by playing 15 minutes at a time, three times per day. Doing this allows your fingers some time to rest while still spending as much time as possible playing, and thus building up calluses.
Don’t overdo practice, though, because you’ll be making your fingers sore but not building calluses any more quickly. If you have the discipline to stick with it despite that, you’ll be OK, but it can discourage some players.
A final thing you can try to reduce finger pain in your fretting hand while you build up calluses is to use a lighter touch. Many new guitar players think they need to hold the strings down against the fretboard with all their might, but, in reality, that is just tiring out their hands and making their fingers hurt more.
You can use a much lighter touch than you might think at first. Try this as a way to see exactly how much force your guitar takes.
When playing your guitar, make a chord shape with your hand and hold your fingers just above the strings. Move your hand down until your fingers are resting on the strings but not pressing them down and strum.
You should hear a muted sound, because the strings can’t vibrate freely.
Keep adding pressure with your hand a little at a time, testing each time with a strum. You should be able to tell from the sound when you’re actually playing the strings and that will give you an idea of the force you’ll need to play.
Using less force will mean the strings don’t dig into your fingers so hard, which should lessen the discomfort.
Guitar strings can be pretty hard on the skin, especially after repeated contact. Higher strings, in particular, can cause pain because of how thin they are, acting almost like a blade against skin, especially at the wrong angle.
In some cases, you can develop calluses that will help protect your skin from serious damage while playing. In other cases, though, taping your fingers is an excellent way to cushion your skin against friction from the strings.
I’ve been a musician, particularly a guitarist, for more than 25 years. I love writing about guitars, gear, recording, music in general and more.