I had a student some time ago who had the sweatiest hands I have ever seen. But it wasn’t just ordinary sweat…this was like battery-acid-sweat. He would leave little puddles on his fingerboard, and would have to get his fingerboard planed every year. He would rust out his E-string in a matter of days, and he corroded the shoulder of his violin and his bow.
(If you’re grossed out, believe me, the correct response is pity!)
Excessively sweaty hands can be a disadvantage to playing a stringed instrument, but many professional players deal with this problem, and it does not have to hold you back. There are a lot of things you can do to minimize the hassle.
First and foremost, preserve your instrument! Take your instrument in to a luthier and ask them to place clear tape on the shoulder of your instrument and on the frog of the bow where your hand will make lots of contact with the wood. The tape will protect your instrument and bow.
Plan to change your strings more frequently than other people, because sweat will cause them to go dead. I have found that a gold-plated E string withstands the corrosion from sweat much better than any of the other metals.
Next, consider medication for excessive sweating. My niece took Inderol, the drug well-known to musicians for its effectiveness in dealing with stage fright. Inderol is a beta blocker, and part of the biological functions it slows down, besides our respiration and heart rate, is perspiration. Of course, this requires a visit to your doctor, and while there, you might ask for other suggestions.
Next, take a look at your diet. Your diet can contribute to the amount you sweat and to its acidity! Just think….if you could just neutralize the acidity of your sweat, your strings would not go dead as quickly, your E strings will last much longer, and the varnish on your instrument will not be damaged as much.
Foods that are high in proteins and sugars tend to acidify your body, and hence your sweat. Try eating less of those types of foods and more vegetables, which are alkaline and can help neutralize acid foods. (See? Your mom was right! Eat your broccoli. Here’s my source. )
Keep a clean, absorbent cloth with you whenever you have your instrument out of its case. Take it with you to practice, concerts, lessons, etc. I actually found a nice, soft, absorbent cloth that was BLACK, making it perfect for on-stage. Check out a fabric or craft store. Chances are very high that you’ll find some black cotton cloth.
Some people swear that putting anti-perspirant on their palms works well. Wash first with soap and water and then apply generously before performances. Let us know what works for you.
My finger tips turn black . Is this acidic skin problem ???
Nope. Your hands are normal. The black fingertips are caused by 2 things, aside from being a hot-shot violinist:
The brand of strings. Different metals in the wrappings will shed various “pilings” or dust….and some strings make your fingers more black than others. (Dominants make my fingers black) Brand new strings are the worst….as they break in, the shedding is less.
The other thing that causes this is those same dust/shedding/pilings from your strings deposited on your FINGERBOARD….and then they get on your fingers. So, take a cotton ball, dampen it (barely) with alcohol, and clean your fingerboard. Get under the strings the best you can. BE VERY CAREFUL NOT TO DRIP ALCOHOL…if it gets on your varnish it will leave a permanent scar.
So, new strings, the brand of strings, and a dirty fingerboard.
Have fun, and be careful!
The best idea is to use an iontophoresis machine! Best one on the market for the price is http://www.iontoderma.com
I looked these up. WOW, thank you for this incredible insight!!! If I had the extremely sweaty hands that I see some people have, I would totally invest in one of these, if they truly work. Any idea how they work? (and how well they work?)
Wow, amazing. Thanks Maxime!
for me, i have found these not to work at all.
Gosh, I’m sorry none of it worked for you, and I really appreciate your honest and blunt input!
Well, so the best thing you can do is to learn how to function and live with sweaty hands.
I have a student who keeps alcohol wet-wipes (in little foil-packets….like for eye glasses) they clean off her hands without leaving a residue, and it evaporates quickly. So you might try that.
Wash your hands with warm soap and water before every time you play.
Clean off your fingerboard weekly with alcohol swabs.
And finally, your strings will need to be replaced more often, especially your E string. So, if you can afford it, keep a spare set at all times.
Good luck! LOTS of people have this issue, including successful professional players!
My 7-year-old suffers from extremely sweaty hands and at the same time her skin is very dry. Pools of sweat (not from the hard work:-)) on the fingerboard and bow frog, luckily not corrosive enough to damage the strings. We would not dare to use such hard medication as beta blocker for skin problem.
We used Urea (Excipial U Lipolotio) to moisture the dry skin and when the skin was prepared, a mild bath of hands in warm decoction of oak bark (Quercus cortex) to destroy a few sweat glands. It is not permanent solution but it helps.
AMAZING! THank you for this folk-wisdom! (and I mean that in the BEST possible way)
I am amazed at the home remedies that are available to us…..if we only have someone to show us the way!
Yes, I would NEVER EVER use beta blockers on a child…..in fact, I hesitate to use them on myself….after talking to Noa Kageyama about stage fright, I realize what I always suspected…..it is not just something we can “numb” with medications….it is something we have to work to overcome, just like learning a difficult passage of music!
But I also cannot sit in judgement over those who choose to take the beta blockers. To each his own!
Thanks for sharing the tip!
I got a gold-plated E string (Evah Pirazzi) and I really don’t like because in 1 month it was dyed in black due to my sweats and also whitles alot!
Hi Filipe–thank you for your questions. One of my students LOVED the gold-plated E strings, because they were the only ones that didn’t “corrode” from his sweat. Maybe your sweat is a different pH!
If I were you, I would try a DIFFERENT E string every time (if you can afford it, order a bunch of different ones). I am looking in my Shar catalogue, and I see E strings plated with tin, chromium, gold, and multi-layered. There are also “wound” E strings, but I felt like they whistle, but the last time I tried one was in High School, and it was probably just my fault! 😉 The Wound strings are supposed to prevent whistling.
If you find a “magical” string for your hands that don’t corrode as much with sweat, PLEASE share with us! If I find a better answer for you, I will email you!
I looked on “Violinist.com” and 1 E string kept coming up as people’s favorite, it is the Goldbrokat. (Heifetz’ favorite!)
Try that one, and try the Westminster Stark E string. (I have tried it, and it’s pretty nice, but will be LOUD)
Regarding the corrosion from sweat, I’m still researching. There are SO MANY to choose from, there has to be one out there resistant to sweat corrosion.
Thanks! It’s funny, owning a violin can be an interesting hobby, some people like to collect stuff, and my new hobby will be finding the best E string 😉 I will give a shot on that two strings referred.
Corn Startch is the best!
Yvette–THANKS for a unique solution that I had not heard of before!!! I’m going to add this to my article!