How to deal with blisters
A blister is a raised portion of skin filled with fluid. In drumming, blisters mostly happen when you hold the stick too tightly. As the stick slides across the skin, a tight grip creates extra friction and the extra friction produces extra heat. Try this for a (painless) demonstration. Rub your palms together quickly while pressing them together. You’ll notice a quick build up of heat, but you’ll also notice that it takes a lot more of your effort to move your hands as you press them together. Bother the extra effort needed and the build up of heat are the result of friction.
When drumming, the sliding action and the heat work to separate the layers of skin, and once separated, they fill with fluid causing a blister. If you’ve gotten these during a show, you know the torture every note becomes when you get a blister in exactly the wrong spot. And of course, the blisters always occur in the wrong spot! The very place where the stick is pressing into your hand the most is the part that begins to tear apart.
Of course, the very best thing you can do to deal with blisters is to develop an excellent and loose grip. This will prevent blisters but also enable you to play better and for longer, and hep to prevent other types of injuries down the road. You do want to do this. However, this takes time, and if you are in the middle of a show, this doesn’t help you at all. Here are a few things that will.
Change Your Grip French Grip, German, American, middle finger fulcrum, index finger fulcrum, pinky and of course traditional grips all have their won way of moving the stick about… meaning that they all contact the stick in different ways. You might be able to get a different grip to work for a while – bringing relief to the blister. Switching to traditional grip is especially useful when it is possible, but pinky grip can also be a great choice because the way you hold the stick is so different.
Of course, changing your grip like this might make things more awkward, and the adjustments you find yourself making might end up with bigger problems down the road, so you don’t want to stick with this fix if it is awkward. As something to get you through the show it can be a life saver, though.
Loosen Up While you don’t have time to develop an excellent grip, you will want to consciously loosen your grip as much as you can while still keeping your head in the song.
Tape The tactical use of a bit of tape on your hand can be a great way to relieve the pressure at the blister. Just put a dab just before or after the blister so the stick slides across the tape instead.
Lack of Tape Stick grip tape will increase the friction – and the cause of the blisters. Same with dipped sticks or other devices to add grip. While they may potentially allow you to hold the sticks even looser than they without them, in practice it doesn’t really work like this. The target market for stick tape is drummers who are afraid of dropping sticks. The best grip is to be found riding the line just before actually dropping sticks. It is something you will want to become comfortable with in your development of excellent grip. It will feel strange to allow the sticks to be that loose – you are likely to feel like the stick is out of your control – but that is exactly what you are going for.
Hand Chalk Talcum powder, hand chalk, and the like can go a long ways to prevent blisters from forming and for relieving the pain of blisters as you continue to play on them. Diaper rash ointment or Vaseline or other lubricants can also work,if they are comfortable for you.
Hand Hardeners There are a variety of products that will toughen up your skin. These include vinegar and surgical spirits (rubbing alcohol). I tried a few of these when I was playing 7 days/week with bad technique and in my experience, it is difficult to say exactly how much they helped.
Ice A blister is basically a burn. As you play the heat hangs out under your skin and continues to damage you. The ice will counteract the heat that is under the skin and slow the continuing damage. It will also help to prevent future damage as you continue to play on the blister.