The Nitty Gritty: Calluses

1 04 2010

Learning how to play bass can teach you a lot about your pain thresholds.

It takes definite desire and motivation to learn any instrument, but bass is especially difficult for those of you out there with un-callused fingers: Bass strings are notoriously fat and rough, and the action of a bass (the space between the strings and the fretboard) is a lot higher than most regular guitars (requiring you to build up finger strength to be able to create a clean-sounding note).

Also, (if you’re a purist like me) your right hand is doing a lot of finger work as well because you’re not using a pick like a guitarist would: Therefore, the pads of the fingers on both of your hands are going to be screaming for mercy.

Until you build calluses, that is.

Building calluses isn’t that hard (it just requires repetition, basically), but here are some tips and tricks that might help you along in the process:

  • You don’t want to blister. Trust me: Blisters only set you back, and sometimes they’re so painful that they will prevent you from being able to play at all. If you do get a blister, pop it with a sterilized needle, flatten it out, wash it with antibiotic soap, and super-glue it. It stings, but if the show must go on, it works. (Warning: I am not a doctor! Watch out for infection, and when you’re done playing, wash the area again and apply antibiotic ointment and a Band-Aid!)
  • Practice ever day. Make yourself sit down and play bass for 15-30 minutes every day. That’s not so long, you can do it! Practicing every day is the only way that your fingers will naturally start to build up skin layers that will eventually form good calluses.
  • Don’t give up. The first few months of learning how to play bass can be frustrating. You’re teaching your brain to tell your hands to do things they’ve never done before; you’re trying to play consistently and establish rhythm, which is tough; your fingers hurt, and the ladies aren’t buying tickets to see you play yet. But keep on truckin’, because I promise: It will get better, and once you have nice thick calluses, you won’t feel a thing, groove-machine!
  • Remember: with calluses comes finger strength. As you begin to fall into the habit of practicing every day you’ll start to develop both calluses and finger strength that will noticeably make playing much easier. Your fingers (unless you started out playing guitar or another instrument structured the same way) are most likely much weaker than you think: Practicing scales and focusing on creating clean-sounding notes (the closer your finger is to the fret bar, the cleaner the note will be) will slowly strengthen your fingers. You can also use one of these gizmos to help you strengthen your digits when you’re away from your bass.

Have fun creating calluses, young grasshoppers! You’re well on your way to bassic bliss!

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