Barre and my thumb...

Ergonomics and Posture for Classical Guitarists, Aches and Pains, Injuries, etc...
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Barre and my thumb...

Post by rinneby » Sat Sep 03, 2016 8:09 pm

Long story short. I've played the guitar for 25 years, rock, blues, pop. I'm self taught in classic, played a few years now. I can handle pieces like Bourree, Air On The G String, Adelita, Cavatina, Un Dia de Noviembre and so on pretty good by now. However chord heavy songs like Cavatina and Pathétique 2nd Movement reveals my lacking left hand technique, in the sense that my thumb gets sore after a while. I'm working on using my thumb less to push and instead use my left arm to "pull the chords" towards me and its works pretty well. Still, my thumb gets bent. Is this a problem I should work on? My thumb is "flexible" så to speak, see pics:

My thumb looks like this, its pretty bent by default:

This is what my thumb looks like when I barre:

This is what my thumb looks like when I (try to) hold it straight:


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Re: Barre and my thumb...

Post by John higgon » Mon Sep 05, 2016 8:42 pm

I'm an amateur guitarist and not a teacher, but there's three things that spring to my mind. One is to move your thumb so it is under your middle and ring fingers (rather than under your index finger). The other is to bear in mind that when you are playing a barre chord, you often don't need a great deal of pressure across all six strings. A barre Emaj chord only requires the index finger to stop the first, second and sixth strings, for instance. (But you already knew this, I guess?) Finally, it might be worth experimenting with the angle at which you hold the guitar. A more upright angle, with the head level with your eyes, can make right hand positions easier. A lower angle, with the neck pointing away from your body, can create RH tension. Think cello! And your thumb looks a bit 'hypermobile', so it may be a bit of a weak spot for you... I hope this is useful, but I am happy to defer to a qualified teacher on any of these points.

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Re: Barre and my thumb...

Post by Cincy2 » Thu Sep 08, 2016 7:27 pm

Larry McDonald. Try his website. He has a different way of positioning the thumb that may help you.

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Re: Barre and my thumb...

Post by Mr.Rain » Tue Dec 20, 2016 11:30 am

Seeing the 2st thumb picture I almost felt pain.

I had tendinitis on my thumb in the past due to making "cejilla" too hard (also had it on the index). A friend of mine corrected my position,
I think you should check for the contact point of the thumb with the neck, apart of the amount of strength applied, as they said above you do not need to make the bar sound clear in all the frets, just the ones played only by the "cejilla".

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Re: Barre and my thumb...

Post by robert e » Tue Dec 20, 2016 7:21 pm

Flexibility of the thumb tip shouldn't matter much because pressure should be borne mostly by the bones of the tip joint of the thumb rather than the tip segment. In the pictures, your thumb looks a bit too low to me for that to happen. I like that your thumb is rolled onto its side, rather than flat to the neck. Now, if you can get your joint to take the brunt of the pressure off the tip segment (and you're right it shouldn't be a lot in the first place), you'll gain mechanical advantage and ease, and it should feel more like your thumb is a passive support rather than the source of barre pressure.

That neck looks rather thin; it may just be too thin for your particular hand anatomy for the most comfortable barre.

If your thumb hurts because you're slow practicing, and/or repeating a particular passage, that's nothing to panic about. Don't apply full pressure until you're up to tempo. That means living with buzz or pizzicato [while you learn the piece].
Last edited by robert e on Wed Dec 21, 2016 2:58 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Barre and my thumb...

Post by Jacek A. Rochacki » Tue Dec 20, 2016 8:42 pm

I had similar problem with my thumb when playing barre. And I begun to practice barre without thumb. Advices from Kevin Gallagher helped me much.
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Re: Barre and my thumb...

Post by Cloth Ears » Tue Dec 20, 2016 11:24 pm

I would file your LH nails right back for two reasons:

a) they can get in the way for some positions
b) you are going to wear out your neck quicker

The first of these could affect some barres, requiring more force and tiring your thumb quicker. Always use the minimum force possible.

Of course this is just the experience of my own fingers which do look quite different to your own.

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Re: Barre and my thumb...

Post by keithwwk » Wed Dec 21, 2016 11:40 pm

You may try to barre like your 2nd picture by moving your thumb a little lower and let your elbow down force to help index finger to barre. I tried your 1st picture.. It really odd and hurt!
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Re: Barre and my thumb...

Post by Moonlighting2610 » Thu Dec 22, 2016 1:21 am

The position of the left hand thump, the position of the index finger, and the position of elbow do cause you great pain if you play piece with a lot of bar chords. Also you don't get a picture of how you hold the guitar. It is also a very important aspect.

You could watch some of those videos. It might be of help

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Re: Barre and my thumb...

Post by Lovemyguitar » Thu Dec 22, 2016 2:23 am

John higgon wrote:... move your thumb so it is under your middle ... finger (rather than under your index finger). ..
Definitely this. Your thumb is way too far to the outside of your hand -- it should be almost in the centre of your palm/under the middle finger.

Also, is difficult to tell from the pictures, but you may have your thumb too high up -- it should be roughly in the centre of the guitar neck, rather than up near the edge (so, you may need to lower your left wrist a bit to bring the thumb down where it belongs), which will help provide more leverage from your arm when you do barres, rather than putting all the strain on the hand/thumb. It looks a bit like you're doing a vice grip with your thumb and index finger, and that is not right.

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Re: Barre and my thumb...

Post by ben etow » Thu Dec 22, 2016 1:39 pm

Try not to use the thumb at all although I doubt anyone could do that during the entire Cavatina...
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