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Barre chords can be a pain – literally and figuratively. Still, they’re a necessary evil of becoming a guitarist of any caliber so it’s all about dealing with whatever pain you can’t avoid and fixing what you can. One example of pain you can fix is barre chord wrist pain.
Often, beginners find that their wrist – and often the entire fretting hand (eventually) – cramps up after trying to play barre chords for a very short time. This is partly because the muscles involved are not used to the extensive demand being placed on them but – more importantly – because your wrist position is probably very bad.
Beginning guitarists tend to “grip” the neck too much when first starting to learn barre chords. This is probably out of an instinctive effort to apply more force in the hope of getting a cleaner – buzz free – sound. Unfortunately, too much wrist tension does more harm than good and really doesn’t help at all as far as getting a clear sound. Here’s why :
1) Too much wrist tension disrupts blood flow to the muscles involved – actively weakening them – and preventing them from executing as much force as they could (making you work harder).
2) The fretting hand position that you’ll typically be in if your wrist is positioned badly is absolute terrible for fretting barre chords – from a physics perspective.
In short, not only does poor fretting hand position make barre chords hurt your wrist, but it also actively slows the process of mastering them by making you work harder to achieve the same result. With that in mind, let’s talk about how you can fix this problem!
First, RELAX your wrist! This is the most important thing! A tense wrist attracts all the negatives I described above and does no good whatsoever. The idea is for the guitar neck to rest comfortable in your palm with your thumb supporting it from behind – at the middle of the neck (basically behind the 3rd and 4th strings) – and your remaining fingers hitting their respective frets on the front. The guitar neck should NOT be gripped with the palm of your fretting hand! The only support should come from your thumb and your fingers!* Hope that’s clear enough!
*This is why you use a strap or sit properly if you’re playing an acoustic. Whether you’re playing barre chords or not, you should be able to completely let go of the neck with your fretting hand without the guitar falling.
There we go. Relax your wrist and make sure that the position your fretting hand is in feels completely natural. Barre chords hurt enough as it is and it’s worth the effort to read this properly and effect changes that will help you master them faster and reduce the difficulty in the process!
Here’s my complete guide to barre chords to help you play them better!