#1
Ok, so I've been playing guitar for about 10 years, since I was 15. From the moment I picked up the guitar and learnt to play, till today, I've had a problem with my left hand cramping, while attempting barre chords. Now, I can play them alright, I can play Sitting On The Dock of The Bay going up and down the frets (G->B->C->B->Bb->A) well and without any buzzing and all chords sounding well, but I can only play it once a day, otherwise the pain in my hand gets way, way too much and I have to stop playing altogether.

I've had this problem for ages and have tried changing my technique for clamping down when barring, but this hasn't really helped all that much. I was just wondering if there's any specific stretches or workouts I could do when not playing to strengthen the muscles I should be using? I've asked this question before, and people have just said 'play through the pain and it'll get easier as your hand strengthens', but as I said I've been playing 10 years and it's pretty much not changed at all.

It's irritating, because I love playing, but any time I start to learn a new song, if there's an awkward barre-chord (not F or Gm! I don't have much problem with either of them), I either have to rearrange it to find the chord somewhere else, or find an alternative chord, or just not practise and play the song as much as I'd like. The problem with that is every now and again I want to play a song that I love that is a progression of Gm->Bb->Dm(on the 5th)->F->Eb. To even attempt to rearrange that has caused me a headache, so I'd prefer to stop avoiding the problem and instead try and fix it.

If anyone knows of stretches or exercises that I can do to fix this, or of good websites that have examples of what I can do, I'd really, really appreciate it.Thanks all. (I've an acoustic Gibson by the way)
#2
bar chords are harder on steel strings... have you done any setup on the guitar? lowered the action etc? that can help a lot. The most important thing though is that you dont want to think of it like clamping down on the guitar. you want to pull on the neck (not too hard of course, especially if you ever pick up an electric...you'll bend the neck and put it out of tune while you play the chords...). Your thumb should be as slack as possible, the muscle leading up the thumb etc. This goes for barre chords or just playing lead etc. You should have your forearm tense and pulling on the neck while you balance out the guitar with your right arm. This is what i brought with me from my classical beginnings (and why i still play with the guitar on my right knee when sitting and keep my strap relatively high when standing)...

How are you playing 5th string route bar chords? i know most people like tp play with just two fingers and lift up the inside of their ring finger so it doesnt dampen (usually...) the E string. I always play by putting down my ring/middle/pinky when doing 5string-route so that a: i dont have to work as hard aside from moving my fingers more b: gives me more options to hit notes around the chord for a bit of variety etc c: its just consistently cleaner sounding to me.
"If we were really professionals we'd hang the microphone from the chandelier." ~Bass player
#3
thanks for the response, Dan.

ok, so after talking on board what you and a few other people have said, I think it's a combination of things that are wrong. I've always thought the action was a bit high on the guitar, so I will drop it into a shop I know that will do that for me. I also think that my technique is a bit off, I taught myself from a beatles guitar CD, so I don't think it's ever been the best, if I'm honest, so I think I might actually book myself in for a few 'improver' type lessons.

someone also recommended those hand exercise things,

but from what I think you're saying, the strength that that would build up isn't really necessary or right for barring correctly. am I right in thinking htat?
#4
yep.

Now, i mainly play nylon and electric guitars. Electric guitars are super easy to bar... I've only recently been playing steel which does require a bit more pressure, but i think i could do a whole set with it. If you are going to take lessons, find a good classical guitar teacher, they are the best for technique in my experience. The last time i went for lessons (about 6years ago now) he used to tap my thumb every time i would play a song and tell me it was too tense while i was playing - chords or otherwise.

i can play with my thumb not even on the neck. Now, this isnt comfortable nor efficient because my hand isnt anchored, but it demonstrates that you do not need to clamp down on the neck for bar chords. Yes, the tool you have there will help a little bit, and extra strength couldnt hurt, but you shouldnt need it to play more than or two songs. I think that is mostly because of technique. I remember a long time ago i used to have cramps all the time in both hands. My right hand would cramp because i held it at an angle (finger picking) and my left hand because my wrist was cocked - not a straight run to my forearm, and because i clamped down on the neck.

there is a book called "Pumping Nylon" that is a great book for technique. Obviously geared towards classical guitar, but there are some good fundamentals in there.
"If we were really professionals we'd hang the microphone from the chandelier." ~Bass player
#5
that's something that I've actually been thinking about doing anyway, Classical guitar lessons. I love that finger-picking technique, my favourite (and best songs that I play) are Blackbird, You've Got a Friend and a classical arrangement of Mad World, so I may just do that.

I'm in Dublin, Ireland, which I've noticed there are a few people on here from Ireland too, is there a list of known good teachers on ulitimate-guitar somewhere, do you know?

once again thanks for the help and advise, I really do appreciate it.
#6
Cant help ya with lessons etc, probably good to ask that in another thread so it gets seen. But im glad was able to help.

I grew up playing classical. When i transitioned to blues/rock/jazz, i never picked up a pick. Even on my strat i still use finger style. Definitely opens you up to a lot of different possibilities IMO.
"If we were really professionals we'd hang the microphone from the chandelier." ~Bass player
#7
ha! despite playing a few songs, I still don't use a pick, at most, I'll grow my thumb nail long, or I have a thumb pick, but I never really got used to that either.
#8
Stretches won't help, since you're not stretching for bar chords, you're holding a static position which requires raw strength in your hands.

Play them more, a lot. Exercise more. Build up those muscles. Practice on a steel string acoustic with mediums.
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#9
If your hand is cramping, basically it means you are using too much pressure. To find out how much pressure you need, put your hand in a barre chord shape and just rest your fingers on the strings. Then strum repeatedly while slowly pressing down on the strings until the chord rings out clearly. Lowering your action would probably help but just make sure it's not too low.
Quote by Geldin
Junior's usually at least a little terse, but he knows his stuff. I've always read his posts in a grouchy grandfather voice, a grouchy grandfather with a huge stiffy for alternate picking.
Besides that, he's right this time. As usual.
#10
Dan,

I see you posted this a couple years ago, but I have recently ran into this too. Left hand cramps badly when playing barre chord songs. your little explanation helped me out. specifically

"Your thumb should be as slack as possible, the muscle leading up the thumb etc. This goes for barre chords or just playing lead etc. You should have your forearm tense and pulling on the neck while you balance out the guitar with your right arm. "

I always squeezed with my left hand which im sure was causing the cramps. but balancing out with right arm/elbow on the body of the guitar allows you to create that leverage on the neck without the squeeze!. cant believe i didnt think of that sooner...

Thanks!