If you have more going on in your life besides your guitar practice, you’ll likely get sore hands or an injury at some point.
Whether it’s from…
- too much scrolling on Pinterest
- too much typing on your laptop (my personal bane)
- rough-housing with the cat
- or simply opening a particularly stubborn jelly jar,
…it’s easy to strain or bruise the little muscles in your hands, or get minor wounds that take some time to heal.
When your hands hurt, how do you practice guitar? You need to keep practicing, but you also need to give your hands time to heal. So how do you balance those opposing desires, and what do you actually do in guitar practice on those hurt-hand days?
Do you have chronic guitar injuries?
First off, if you’re perpetually getting guitar injuries in your practice, you may have a flaw in your technique. If you use improper form or positioning, you can cause wear and tear on your connective tissues and strain your muscles (or something worse).
Always be on the lookout for ways to improve your fundamental form, positioning, and movements, and you’ll gain increasing comfort and safety in your practice. But assuming you have a run-of-the-mill hurt hand….
How to Practice with Guitar Injuries: Basic Strategy
In the most general sense, when you have a hurt hand, focus your practice time on the other one. If your right hand is hurting, focus on the left, and vice versa.
If both hands are hurting, spend your time with more intellectual study and mental practice.
Rest is Job One
Perhaps the worst thing you can do is to just “work through the pain”. This notion was popularized by the sports field before they knew better. But now the best trainers recognize that it doesn’t make sense to sacrifice the long term for some short term, low-stakes practice goal.
Rest your hurt hand as much as possible.
Instead, your best course of action is to rest your hurt hand as much as possible. The body is generally good at healing, given the opportunity and conditions.
Some nurturing, care, and rest will speed the healing and have you back to 100% quickly.
Related Article: Oh, My Aching Shoulder!
Do Other Things
If both hands are out of commission, there’s no need to abandon music altogether. You can still come leaps and bounds in your practice time.
You can focus your time on other areas of knowledge that support your playing.
- Work on Sitting Position – take the time to notice how your body weight distributes on your chair, how gravity affects different arm positions, or how comfortable or relaxed you can feel holding and touching your guitar (without actually playing)
- Observe and Release Bodily Tension – take the time to play with releasing tension in different parts of your body while holding your guitar.
- Study Music Theory – connect more dots
- History – read a biography or watch music documentaries
- Listen – sit down and listen to the great classical masterpieces.
- Mental Practice – use visualization to test your memory or learn new music
- Conduct Through Pieces – go through your pieces and sing them to yourself (or aloud) with the best phrasing you can muster. Wave your arms around and internalize the emotional core of the music. Experiment!
- Learn New Guitar Skills
– Quiz yourself on your guitar knowledge
– ID note names on the fretboard
– Work on new techniques for non-hurt hand
Isolate Your Other Hand
If you have one good hand, put all your attention and time into training it. Let the hurt hand rest lightly in your lap, or let it hang loosely.
How to Practice with a Hurt Left Hand
If your left hand is injured, focus on your right hand technique. The right hand can always use extra special attention, so your practice can still be highly beneficial.
Focus on the smallest details of your right hand form and positioning while you practice:
- I/M alternation
- String crossing
- Right Hand Exercises
- Tone quality and consistency
Work on Your Pieces of Music
You can also work on your pieces as well. You can master the right hand fingerings, focusing on small, practice sections. Or you can work through your trickiest spots in need of polishing and detailing.
- Small sections of your pieces
- Tricky spots
- Test your memory
- Slow practice
As a bonus, when working on the right hand parts of your pieces, you’ll be practicing visualizing the left hand, which is a useful skill in and of itself.
How to Practice with a Hurt Right Hand
When your right hand is hurt, focus your time and attention on the left.
Many people have a hard time playing the left hand alone. The right hand “wants” to sneak in and start playing. Keep the ever-watchful eye! If you must, use one finger or the right-hand thumb to sound the strings for left-hand practice.
Left-hand-focused practice may include
- Scale patterns
- Independence exercises (1234s)
- Digital slur patterns (i.e. 1234-4321-1434-2434)
- Chord changes
Work on Your Pieces of Music
As when you isolate your right hand, you can also practice your classical guitar pieces with just the left hand.
Review and Recap
Just because you have a guitar injury doesn’t mean you have to abandon your guitar practice. There is still plenty of work to do.
Be willing to change your routine to favor your hurt hand. Rest is usually the best treatment for minor hand injuries.
Focus on practicing the non-hurt hand, as well as on skills that don’t require both hands. Expand your wider musical knowledge. And gain deeper clarity and insight into the minute details of movement and how you use your body.
Have a list of options available for when you need to rest one or both hands for a practice. You can download a list below.