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Index finger hurting while barring chords on guitar

Dear Toneway Community,

I have started to play the mandolin about 4 years ago and about 1 year ago also started learning to play the guitar and sing. For some reason I find it easier to sing with the guitar than the mandolin, even though I am better at playing the latter.
I usually play open guitar chords and use a capo when needed. A month or two ago I started learning more and more songs that require barring chords (with the index finger). I noticed that if there are more than 2 or 3 bar chords in the song (or if all the chords in the song have to be barred) my index finger begins to hurt very quickly (after 5 minutes of playing sometimes).
I am playing a Jasmine S-35 steel string acoustic guitar, the action on 12th fret is 0.9mm (0.35 in), so it is not too bad. I believe the strings are “light”, although last time I changed them was last March when I bought the guitar.
I recently got my hands on a very good classical guitar. Even though the action is a bit higher (1mm or 0.39 in) because the strings are nylon and light gauge it is much easier on the fingers. But even with this guitar playing bar chords for 15-20 minutes makes my index finger hurt.
I looked through the online videos on barring techniques (since I never took any guitar lessons) and I seem to be doing most of the things right.
As you can see I've been playing for a few years now (around 1 hour/day on average), so it is unlikely that my fingers have not yet developed the required strength.
I like the slimmer neck on the steel string, but I spend more and more time playing the classical as it is easier, less buzzy and does not hurt (if not played for too long).
Did any of you have the same problem? What did you do to solve it?
If I get a ¾ size guitar, would it be easier to fret bar chords?
I am not performing, just playing for myself, but I would not want to develop any long-term problems with my hands.

Thank you,
Yuriy
from distant Ukraine :)

Edited Jan 12, 2015 by Yurii Medentsii
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Yes I had been playing a ¾ since I was 10 until I was about 15/16 and I recently started playing my grandfathers Takemine. Much easier for me.

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Yes I had been playing a ¾ since I was 10 until I was about 15/16 and I recently started playing my grandfathers Takemine. Much easier for me.
I am a bit biased, as my acoustic is a low-end model, but I think your improvement might have something to do with the guitar itself, i.e. to put it simply good guitars are often easier to play than not-so-good ones. But of course not always. Takamine started making entry-level models just recently, up until now they were all about middle and high-end instruments.

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Yes they have always called the Takemine a “Poor man's Martin” al least I think but they are nice guitars, my brother bought a custom one with a custom case from a guy paid less than half price, he definitely could not have gotten a better deal (except the deal I got for my banjo.)

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Hi Yurii,

I have been a beginner on several different instruments over the years and guitar was the hardest in terms of having pain in my hand. What I noticed is that when you try a new thing (and bar chords are new for you, even though you're an experienced player) there can often be added muscular tension or some little quirk of how you're holding or applying the chord. For example your wrist might be too bent or not bent enough, or your palm might be too close or too far from the neck.

I think its a good idea to check in with other people. Find a local music shop and talk to the employees…show them what you're doing and ask what they think. Or ask them to play a bar chord on a shop guitar and compare your hand to theirs. Most music shop people are also musicians and they're happy to help. If not, talk to someone else. Getting a few different people to look at your hand can be really useful.

When I was first learning guitar I had pain in the back of my hand any time I needed to play a lot of C or F chords. It turned out to be because I was putting my thumb on the back of the neck instead of wrapping it around the neck. I though I needed that position for extra reach, but I was just creating added tension and exertion, which makes for pain. I asked a friend at a jam and he corrected my hand position, which got rid of my pain.

Also, I know this is obvious but it bears repeating, try to be as relaxed as possible with your hand…only apply the minimum pressure for the minimum time you need to get the sound you want. Sometimes when you're learning a new technique you press extra hard or long, and a lot of tension can creep in. Be sure to let up with your left hand in between beats, for example.

Good luck! -Jessica

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Hi Yurii,

I have been a beginner on several different instruments over the years and guitar was the hardest in terms of having pain in my hand. What I noticed is that when you try a new thing (and bar chords are new for you, even though you're an experienced player) there can often be added muscular tension or some little quirk of how you're holding or applying the chord. For example your wrist might be too bent or not bent enough, or your palm might be too close or too far from the neck.

I think its a good idea to check in with other people. Find a local music shop and talk to the employees…show them what you're doing and ask what they think. Or ask them to play a bar chord on a shop guitar and compare your hand to theirs. Most music shop people are also musicians and they're happy to help. If not, talk to someone else. Getting a few different people to look at your hand can be really useful.

When I was first learning guitar I had pain in the back of my hand any time I needed to play a lot of C or F chords. It turned out to be because I was putting my thumb on the back of the neck instead of wrapping it around the neck. I though I needed that position for extra reach, but I was just creating added tension and exertion, which makes for pain. I asked a friend at a jam and he corrected my hand position, which got rid of my pain.

Also, I know this is obvious but it bears repeating, try to be as relaxed as possible with your hand…only apply the minimum pressure for the minimum time you need to get the sound you want. Sometimes when you're learning a new technique you press extra hard or long, and a lot of tension can creep in. Be sure to let up with your left hand in between beats, for example.

Good luck! -Jessica
Hey Jessica,

Thank you for sharing your wisdom!
I'll definitely try out some of those things you mentioned.

In fact I've learnt about 5-6 songs of my favourite punk rock band (The Offspring). I know, I know, this is not really the type of music typical for this forum. But guess what? Most of chords in punk usually being bar chords and me playing the acoustic guitar I have a practice bar chords a lot, whether I wanted it or not. So after a few weeks of daily practice it feels much much better. Who knew, right? Good things can be found in every genre of music. You one just needs to look for them :)

Thank you again for your help,
Virtually fingerpain-free Yuriy

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