They might just be the most irritating learning roadblock for new guitarists – and probably the reason why many simple give up the guitar or resign themselves to being limited by open chords (although a capo can help with some songs). The reasons why barre chords hurt fingers and wrists so much can usually be tied directly to inexperience or poor technique – often a combination of both.

Inexperience becomes a factor – primarily on the physical side. Your fingers (especially the index finger) will have some toughening up to do to deal will the rigors of playing barre chords. This can be subdivided into two parts.

First, you will need to develop enough strength in your index finger to apply the right amount of pressure to whichever fret you’re barring. The amount of pressure required to achieve a clear (no buzzing) sound from all the strings decreases as you go up the neck and the string tension becomes less. This is why barre chords hurt your fingers the most when you’re barring the first fret – the high string tension wreaks havoc on the muscles in your fingers. The good news is that all this pain will pay off faster than you think and – once you’ve developed the finger strength through practice – your fingers won’t hurt anymore! :)

The second physical reason is one that – like the last – will resolve itself with practice. The skin on the side of your index finger that you use to barre the strings is naturally soft and the strings are likely to cut into it (not literally!). This is especially true of steel strings – which is why it’s recommended that beginners learn on a nylon string acoustic. Either way, barre chords hurt a lot less once your fingers toughen up, i.e. when you develop callouses on the underside of your index finger (similar to the ones you should already have on your fingertips if you’ve been playing long enough to be trying at barre chords :p

Finally, as I mentioned before, the guitar you’re playing on matters. Steel strings hurt more but there are also a couple other factors to consider. First, the string gauge (how thick the strings are) matters. Thinner strings are generally easier to barre (up to a point) unless their thin to the point where playability suffers (not likely). Also, the “action” of your strings (how far the are from the fretboard) is VERY important. The lower the action (i.e. the closer they are to the fretboard), the less pressure you will need to apply to get a nice clean sound – making it easier on your fingers. This is why electric guitars are easier to play.

Oh! I almost forgot to mention! Barre chords should NOT hurt your wrist! Keep it as relaxed as you can! I explain this better in some of my other posts but – whatever you do – don’t allow your wrist to get too tense. Tendonitis is no joke!

Barre chords hurt a lot when you’re starting out but they WILL get easier and eventually stop hurting completely! :) You can find lots of useful articles like this one (even a couple videos!) to help with them if you go through the categories in the sidebar. :) Also, be sure to share this post if you like it and found it useful! (Lots of options to do that below *wink wink*) :D