#1
Anyone else get hand cramps when playing songs with bar chords? I've been playing for years but I just can't get through a whole song without my left hand totally cramping up. I want to join a band but I am afraid I would not last a whole set list because of my hand cramps.

Do I have carpel tunnel? Is there something I can do to relieve the pain?
#2
Well, a couple of things may be going on...

First, I always recommend that anyone struggling with barre chords have their instrument set up properly. Nothing like having the action too high to make you work too hard.

Second, there's no reason to apply constant python-strangling pressure to the chord all the time.
If you're playing rythym, it's standard practice to strum the chord and then relax the hand slightly in time with positioning your right hand for the next stroke.
This also results in a pleasant "chucka chucka" sound rather than having that chord ring constantly.
#3
Quote by NickFerra
Anyone else get hand cramps when playing songs with bar chords? I've been playing for years but I just can't get through a whole song without my left hand totally cramping up. I want to join a band but I am afraid I would not last a whole set list because of my hand cramps.
Believe it or not, you can practice with a guitar that's harder to barre than the one you're tentatively going to be playing on stage. This is sort of like a baseball player warming up with 2 bats. What you're trying to do is build hand strength beyond your actual need.

If you suffer muscle cramps during sports or exercise, you might want to evaluate your electrolyte intake.

Keep this in mind, playing the guitar requires you to build muscle tissue in the places where normal living isn't going to build it, and it's in places where it's the hardest for your body to build. It's the whole "exercise in the plane of motion issue. You just don't use "guitar playing planes of motion", in everyday life.

For the record, "statin" medicines such as "Lipitor" cause muscle cramps, mostly in the legs but elsewhere as well. I take them, and sometimes have difficulty with cramping in my hands, working the clutch on my motorcycle. Particularly in hot weather, which goes back to the electrolyte issue. You sweat, you lose electrolytes, the statins exacerbate the cramping from electrolyte loss.
Last edited by Captaincranky at Jun 4, 2013,
#4
Practice to build up the relevant muscles is always needed, but I'm also going to second the guitar set up suggestion... add that even the setup may not be the problem, sometimes just a different guitar can help.

I used to play in an acoustic duo and would occasionally get cramps after a while when we were practicing. I always had both my acoustics with me, and even though they were setup as identically as possible (i.e. same strings, strap length and action) and were both the same style of guitar (i.e. both jumbos with a single cutaway, visibly identical in shape and size), I only ever got the cramps when playing one of them and switching to my other guitar always solved the problem.
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#5
Quote by GaryBillington
....[ ]..... I always had both my acoustics with me, and even though they were setup as identically as possible (i.e. same strings, strap length and action) and were both the same style of guitar (i.e. both jumbos with a single cutaway, visibly identical in shape and size), I only ever got the cramps when playing one of them and switching to my other guitar always solved the problem.
Were these both the same brand as well. Because neck profile and radius can enter into the equation also.

A lot of the electric guys love the Ibanez "Wizard" necks because they're blazingly fast, and some complain about hand fatigue because they're so thin.
#6
Quote by Captaincranky
Were these both the same brand as well. Because neck profile and radius can enter into the equation also.

A lot of the electric guys love the Ibanez "Wizard" necks because they're blazingly fast, and some complain about hand fatigue because they're so thin.

No, one was a Crafter, my backup that I switched to was a Jack & Danny. I bought the Jack & Danny because it felt pretty much identical to my Crafter, albeit much cheaper. The neck profile & radius felt as near identical as they could be, but I'm not denying there must have been some miniscule difference there somewhere that could have made the difference - just nothing you could see or measure
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#7
How are your hands with Restaurant Chords? Pub Chords? I personally find Grill Chords the most challenging.
#9
Quote by cdgraves
How are your hands with Restaurant Chords? Pub Chords? I personally find Grill Chords the most challenging.


Oh haha! Yes, the 'correct' spelling is "barre", but it's pronounced the same

Barre chords are a common stumbling block for guitarists. Yes, you can make them easier of certain guitars by having them set up in a certain way, but it really only comes down to two things:

1) Hand strength

2) Technique

When I say "hand strength", I don't mean that you should be strangling the guitar neck every time you want to barre. It's the opposite, in fact. A good barring technique will enable you to position your hand and fingers so that the least amount of force is actually being used.

Common problems that I've found students to have with this:

1) not keeping the barre finger close to the fret for the ENTIRE width of the neck (the closer you are, without going over, the less force you need- this works for all fretted notes on the guitar).

2) Not having built up the correct muscles for the job (there are a certain set that you should be using- and they're not just the tight gripping muscles of your arm. This will obviously come with correct practise and attention to technique).

3) If strings are buzzing or muted (think: the G string), it's usually not because "there's a crease in my finger at that point"- I've heard this excuse so many times! It just isn't true, and will never be the case if you have your fingers in the right places.

4) You might be pushing too hard (as I said, you shouldn't be strangling the neck of your guitar to play a barre chord- it's 90% about finger placement and positioning).

There is some more info on this on my website (which I think explains it better than I can in one post without pictures or diagrams or a video explanation).

http://chainsawguitartuition.net/blog/guitar-barre/

I hope this helps!
#10
Are you overdoing it with the pressure you're applying? Sometime overdoing the motion and adding more pressure than needed causes unnecessary fatigue. I'd suggest trying to get the chord to sound as clear as possible while simultaneously using as little force as possible. Once you figure the sweet spot, see if it's still bothering you.
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#11
Thanks everyone. I've been trying to use less pressure and it works a little better but doesn't cure the pains. I can play a little longer by using less pressure but the cramps still show their ugly heads.
Please forgive me for my ignorance but what exactly do you mean by having my instrument set up properly? When I practice I usually play sitting down in front of my laptop and the body of the guitar sitting in my lap instead on my leg. This seems the most comfortable because when the body of my guitar is on my leg I sometimes can not reach chord positions with my left hand. So when I have the body between my legs in my lap I can reach the chord positions better.
When I play standing up I don't have my guitar really low. Usually I have it on my stomach and the neck pointing up in an angle.
#12
Your technique is wrong. You are using your thumb for leverage and putting a lot of pressure on it. A lot of people do this but that doesn't change the fact that it's wrong. The strength to fret the notes should come from your fingers alone. Your thumb is only there to support the neck, nothing else. If the neck of a guitar was stronger, you could play barre chords without your thumb at all.
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.
#13
What gauge of strings are you using? If you are using a heavy gauge, then maybe you need to lighten up until your hand strength develops.
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#15
Quote by bondmorkret
Ah, I remember having this issue in the past. Get a grip master!

Do those work? I figure just practice and save some cash.
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#16
Quote by Shadowofravenwo
Do those work? I figure just practice and save some cash.

They help a bit if it's just a strength issue, but there's nothing they can do if you are using improper technique.
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.
#18
Quote by StuartBahn
Great advice guys. I also second the lighter gauge strings point. Although there is a small sacrifice in tone, for many people it's one that is well worth making.


Am I the only one who doesn't really notice a difference in tone between gauges? Any demo videos always use two different guitars. Yeah, it's clearly the string gauge in that case!
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#19
Quote by Shadowofravenwo
Am I the only one who doesn't really notice a difference in tone between gauges? Any demo videos always use two different guitars. Yeah, it's clearly the string gauge in that case!

Nope. I always use a set of hybrid slinkies (.9 to .46) and never notice a change in tone from the .10s guitars are often sold with.

If you think you need to use heavier strings to get a better tone, what you really need is a new amp.
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#20
Quote by Shadowofravenwo
Am I the only one who doesn't really notice a difference in tone between gauges? Any demo videos always use two different guitars. Yeah, it's clearly the string gauge in that case!
When was the last time you had your hearing checked....(wait for it)....

Quote by GaryBillington
Nope. I always use a set of hybrid slinkies (.9 to .46) and never notice a change in tone from the .10s guitars are often sold with.

If you think you need to use heavier strings to get a better tone, what you really need is a new amp.
C'mon Gary, you're an acoustic player, and in that context, string gauge makes a fair amount of difference.

Ibanez ships with .009 to .042 electric lights. Trust me, they sound like shit when you're trying to get a good clean rhythm tone. And as for "Hybrid Slinkys", hell. E-6 @ .046 is regular gauge anyway.l

OTOH, if you just want to bend the top three through a tube screamer, then no , (within reason), size doesn't matter.
#21
Quote by Captaincranky
When was the last time you had your hearing checked....(wait for it)....

C'mon Gary, you're an acoustic player, and in that context, string gauge makes a fair amount of difference.

Ibanez ships with .009 to .042 electric lights. Trust me, they sound like shit when you're trying to get a good clean rhythm tone. And as for "Hybrid Slinkys", hell. E-6 @ .046 is regular gauge anyway.l

OTOH, if you just want to bend the top three through a tube screamer, then no , (within reason), size doesn't matter.

Not sure I'd really consider myself to be an acoustic guy - I own a couple of acoustics and have played in acoustic bands in the past, but I actually play my electrics probably 95% of the time so I'm really more of an electric guy.

You're right though, with acoustics it probably matters more, but I still get a perfectly decent tone using .010s instead of the .012s (and sometimes more) that some people here seem to think you need for good acoustic tone. It is more noticably different with lighter strings on acoustics though.

With electrics, I know my Gibson had a set of .010s on it when I bought it, but putting the .009s on it made absolutely no tonal difference - even without all my pedals between guitar & amp. I believe if you can't get a good tone using .009 to .042 on your Ibanez then it's not the strings you have a problem with!!! (No office ) Also, FWIW those would be Super Slinkies in the Ernie Ball terminology I was using.
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#22
Quote by NickFerra
Please forgive me for my ignorance but what exactly do you mean by having my instrument set up properly?

A setup is done by a guitar shop usually. There are two places near me - one charged me $40, the other (that I didn't go to) charges $80. But the higher-priced one, all they do is guitar repair - they don't sell them, don't do lessons, etc..
They will lower the action (the distance between the strings and fretboard) and adjust the truss rod. It can make a world of difference in the pressure needed to perform barre chords. Many people do guitar setup themselves. There are DVDs and books you can buy that cover it. The manufacturer may have specs on their site on how the guitar should be set up.
For example - here's Fender's setup guide.

Also, check youtube for "guitar setup".
Here's the first one I ran across

When I practice I usually play sitting down in front of my laptop and the body of the guitar sitting in my lap instead on my leg.

Does your chair have arms on it? If so, don't use it. The arms can really get in the way of proper technique and of course, prevents you from dropping your fretting elbow into the proper position. It also seems to me that if the body of the guitar is in your lap that would be put your arm and wrist at an awkward angle and may cause undue stress. But if it works, it works...
Last edited by BlaineTJones at Jun 18, 2013,
#23
Quote by GaryBillington
Also, FWIW those would be Super Slinkies in the Ernie Ball terminology I was using.
FWIW, I'm familiar with Ernie ball as a brand, almost since they entered the business.

My point is this, the term "hybrid" has been around in many forms. "Light top, heavy bottom", being one of them.

A "regular electric" set, has a .046 bottom. So, with the "hybrid" set you mention, for most intents and purposes, you are playing a "regular" set.

This topic comes up again and again. There as a question of "tone" and "touch", involved. To a certain degree they're mutually exclusive, but certainly not totally.

But, attaching the blanket statement "all string gauges sound the same", that's patent nonsense.

Plenty of pros are heavy players, and use strings to match. The blue grass guys use special sets so they can pound out the rhythm. And well, the "shredders" like to use those extra light sets so the can say, "look how fast I am"!
Last edited by Captaincranky at Jun 18, 2013,
#24
Yeah, I just thought I'd confirm what I meant in the earlier post - obviuosly most people will know about Ernie Ball, but maybe they wouldn't all know the names they throw at their different gauges. Like you said, "hybrid" is a word that gets used for all sorts of things!

But we're getting way off topic now though - at the end of the day we're debating something which is totally subjective and doesn't actually have a definitive answer. I agree that pretty much any blanket statement on any subject is nonsense, I'm only speaking from one person's perspective.
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#25
NickFerra, I read you have played for years, and I appreciate you play in bands, and I don't have any such experience as I am only a beginner. I only started playing this year and have only recently been able to play barre Chords. My teacher told me the worst thing you can do is force your hands ( I think that was a mistake I made at the beginning, which made my thumb muscles ache quite badly). I kind of appreciate that it is an issue of building strength in your fingers coupled with the way you lay your index finger right in front of the fret. Most guitarists I have ever seen, always seem to play these chords effortlessly and I couldn't understand how they did it! I think it is partly finger strength, but more technique as to how to use less pressure but get the accuracy, which I'm sure I will find in time. I play acoustic, so thank god I had someone to tell me the importance of getting my guitar properly set up, as I'm sure this makes a lot of difference. Hope you find a way around it!
#26
Quote by cababness
....[ ]..... and I don't have any such experience as I am only a beginner. I only started playing this year and have only recently been able to play barre Chords. My teacher told me the worst thing you can do is force your hands ( I think that was a mistake I made at the beginning, which made my thumb muscles ache quite badly). I kind of appreciate that it is an issue of building strength in your fingers coupled with the way you lay your index finger right in front of the fret. Most guitarists I have ever seen, always seem to play these chords effortlessly and I couldn't understand how they did it! I think it is partly finger strength, but more technique as to how to use less pressure but get the accuracy, ....[ ]....
Teachers and everybody else like to try and convince you it's all technique. That's half truth, and half bullshit.

Playing the guitar is a series of unnatural actions, and barre chords are one of the most unnatural of all.

Let's put that aside fo now, and talk about the guitar. Cause difficulty with barre chords is many times, (but obviously not all), the combination of a poorly set up guitar, and a lazy player. If we excuse the "my fingers hurt lament", as perhaps somebody didn't encounter the ease at which he or she imagined learning to lay would be, that still leaves the guitar.

Different horses for different courses. Which is to say, there are very few players capable of playing shredding leads on a 12 string, and those few do have enormous hand strength. Most people who play them, (myself included), prefer a folkier approach, with a lot of arpeggios and open chord forms. Because if you try and barre a twelve all day, your hands will cramp.

With that said, the importance of having your guitar setup, and equipped with a gauge of string set commensurate with your innate grip strength, cannot be overstated.

For me, (and I played an electric for years), I almost think it's laughable when we get complaints about problems with playing them. I can assure you, switching from an electric to an acoustic with even a standard "acoustic light" string set, will open your eyes to a new level of pain. And the bigger the body, the harder the strings are to hold down. (Setup, action height, & string size all being equal, of course).

To the contrary, many people struggle for years with an action that is too high, simply because they don't know any better, and don't think there's anything to be done about it

So fix the guitar first, then work on technique. But, keep this in mind, playing the guitar is a physical activity, and taking all the effort out of it with an action that is too low, or strings that are too light, won't help you down the road when you encounter instruments which require greater hand strength, and can't be made as easy to play as you think you're entitled. If all a person wants to ever play is a solid body electric guitar obviously none of this applies. However, many top notch players can bounce back and forth between electric and acoustic with seemingly the greatest of ease

Here's a good guide to setup an acoustic guitar: http://thbecker.net/guitar_playing/guitars_and_setup/setup_page_01.html

If you want to learn about setting up an electric, by all means search for something that resonates with you, and then link it back to us. I'm sure someone here will be happy to check it over for you, to verify the information.
Last edited by Captaincranky at Jun 20, 2013,