Thumb pain with barre

Classical Guitar technique: studies, scales, arpeggios, theory
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szurcio
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Thumb pain with barre

Post by szurcio » Fri Nov 30, 2018 5:11 am

What can I do to reduce the pain of my left hand's thumb when playing a sequence of arpeggiated barre chords? Some full barre positions are killing me (or rather my thumb) after a while.

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Christopher Langley
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Re: Thumb pain with barre

Post by Christopher Langley » Fri Nov 30, 2018 5:17 am

Try rolling the guitar slightly forward. Definitely don't let it lean back on ya. This makes barres harder.

Only squeeze as hard as you need to grab the specific notes you need.

I do a lot of massage therapy on the muscles of left hand thumb which inevitably get knotted and upset with repetitive use.
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georgemarousi
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Re: Thumb pain with barre

Post by georgemarousi » Fri Nov 30, 2018 8:59 am

Hold the guitar tighter with your body and right hand
play scales without the use of your left thumb 8)
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Rick Hutt
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Re: Thumb pain with barre

Post by Rick Hutt » Fri Nov 30, 2018 2:04 pm

I am wondering how long you have been playing. If you are just starting out, say a year or less, you will probably find your wrist and associated ligaments will become more flexible and the pain will subside. If you have been playing long,er I would second both suggestions above. Good luck.
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simonm
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Re: Thumb pain with barre

Post by simonm » Fri Nov 30, 2018 7:56 pm

Hi Jarek,

I had a quick look over your posts to date. The solution to your problems is ultra simple: get a teacher. Here you are having problems with the left hand, and in your other posts it is the right hand. You haven't mentioned back pain or shoulder pain yet but I guess that will come. :-)

George's suggestion illustrates the problem. You should be able to play barre chord's with little or no force from the thumb. It sounds like you are using the "group of death" approach when you are using you thumb and fingers as a clamp. Rather than your thumb, you use the weight of the right arm to give much of the pressure necessary.

There is another recent thread about barre chords illustrating how you may only need to hold down a few strings not all six. My guitar teacher doesn't even introduce full barre chords into his standard approach for an average student until he/she has been learning for 2-3 years. For much repertoire there is not need. However, in the very first class much of the time is given over to a series of stretching exercises for the fingers. The other major theme was posture and holding the guitar.

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Steve Ganz
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Re: Thumb pain with barre

Post by Steve Ganz » Fri Nov 30, 2018 8:45 pm

What part of the thumb ?
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Frank Nordberg
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Re: Thumb pain with barre

Post by Frank Nordberg » Mon Dec 03, 2018 12:14 am

One good idea is to practice barre chords without using your thumb at all. It'll be really awkward at first but you can do it!

The pressure on the strings when you play barre should mainly come from the weight of your arm, the thumb grip only adding a little bit on the top. As Christopher Langley said, angle the guitar slightly forward so your hand falls naturally onto it. Depending on your physical build, it may also be a good idea to angle the fretboard alisghtly upwards. You probalby have to experiment a bit to find the perfect playing position for you - we're all built slightly different after all - but those are the basic principles.

Precise fretting is even more important for barre as for anything else. Make the fretting surface of your barre finger as flat as possible (most people need to bend the top hoint of it ever so slightly for this) and make sure none of the strings end up in the "grooves" at the finger joints. The idea is to get as even a pressure as possible on all strings.

Of course, the guitar's setup is important too. Poor frets or too high action can make barre chords much harder. If you have a reasonably new guitar, the frets shouldn't be much of a problem, but the action may well be. 3.5-4 mm action (that's the distance between the 12th fret and the sixth string) is generally good for a nylon stringed guitar. If it's higher than that, you probably want to get it adjusted.

Ledhand
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Re: Thumb pain with barre

Post by Ledhand » Tue Dec 04, 2018 6:04 pm

Kevin Gallagher has an excellent video on this topic at

I hope that you find it helpful. When I began studying with him, I would apply a powefurful pincer grip when playing barre chords. This was not only painful, but also made it difficult to shift fluidly from the chord being played to the next passage, given the amount of tension that first needed to be released.

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Julian Ward
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Re: Thumb pain with barre

Post by Julian Ward » Wed Dec 05, 2018 6:58 pm

No matter how they are taught, the barre is difficult and if you look at the classical guitar exams from the two boards in the UK, the barre is only introduced at grade five! And mostly this is a half barre. I remember learning Cavatina at a young age, all of the barres hurt all of the time, and a lot sounded poor for a long time!

You do need some thumb pressure, some does come from the body this is true. But, unless you teach a lot of students, as a player you forget how difficult it truly is to acheive perfect barre chords because it is something that we improve upon over years of playing. There is no way that you will go through learning how to do it without some pain and discomfort. Lower tension strings help.
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szurcio
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Re: Thumb pain with barre

Post by szurcio » Sat Dec 08, 2018 2:30 am

simonm wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 7:56 pm
I had a quick look over your posts to date. The solution to your problems is ultra simple: get a teacher.
Well, I don't think I can afford a teacher now unfortunately. I'm here to use as much advice and tips as possible. And see this: https://www.classicalguitardelcamp.com/ ... 6&t=124195

szurcio
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Re: Thumb pain with barre

Post by szurcio » Sat Dec 08, 2018 2:33 am

Ledhand wrote:
Tue Dec 04, 2018 6:04 pm
Kevin Gallagher has an excellent video on this topic at (...)
I hope that you find it helpful.
This video helps a lot, thanks!

dtoh
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Re: Thumb pain with barre

Post by dtoh » Sat Dec 08, 2018 6:44 am

The barre is pretty easy. What's difficult is placing and moving the other LH fingers when your index finger is holding the barre. Teachers, technique, etc. all count, but what is critical is well developed lumbrical and interossei muscles in the hand. Any advanced classical guitarist has the equivalent of Schwarzenegger biceps in their hand muscles. It takes years of training to develop these muscles especially if you are older. Thinking you can master barre with technique alone is like thinking you could bench press 300 lbs if you just had the proper form.
Last edited by dtoh on Sat Dec 08, 2018 11:04 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Julian Ward
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Re: Thumb pain with barre

Post by Julian Ward » Sat Dec 08, 2018 2:26 pm

Yes exactly this^ It is what a lot of players forget.
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Atocha5
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Re: Thumb pain with barre

Post by Atocha5 » Tue Dec 11, 2018 4:26 pm

:merci:
Ledhand wrote:
Tue Dec 04, 2018 6:04 pm
Kevin Gallagher has an excellent video on this topic at

I hope that you find it helpful. When I began studying with him, I would apply a powefurful pincer grip when playing barre chords. This was not only painful, but also made it difficult to shift fluidly from the chord being played to the next passage, given the amount of tension that first needed to be released.

I had been having a difficult time with the barre chord on 9th fret and this video FIXED THE PROBLEM! Thank you so much.

Ledhand
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Re: Thumb pain with barre

Post by Ledhand » Sat Mar 23, 2019 1:36 am

I haven’t logged in in some time, I’m afraid. I’m so glad that you found the video helpful. Kevin is indeed an incredible teacher and performer. He has generously posted a number of informative videos that are well worth watching. Enjoy!

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