How To Relieve Finger Pain On The Guitar For Beginners
Updated: May 23
If you have had the problem of “how hard do I hold the strings?” or “is it meant to hurt this much?” then this article is for you!
The answer to these questions may surprise you.
One thing I notice from beginner guitarists is that there seems to be the reoccurring problem of finger pain when fretting the guitar. This issue will be addressed in this article as we will cover the following topics:
- What is finger pain on the guitar?
- What causes finger pain for beginners?
- What can be done to fix the pain with examples
What Is Finger Pain On The Guitar?
Finger pain can come from many sources, depending on what you are doing on your instrument.
Finger pain often feels like a body signal telling you that you are not playing it with a relaxed position a sensation that indicates that maybe you are pressing too hard or not the right amount.
Sometimes in more experienced guitarists they can experience finger pain from playing too much. I wouldn’t worry too much about that scenario. For now, we are going to be focusing on what causes finger pain in beginners.
What Causes Finger Pain For Beginners?
There are a couple of things that come to mind from teaching beginners about this subject over the years.
Firstly, the biggest thing that causes finger pain/hand cramps and or discomfort is pressing too hard. I often see many beginners exert too much pressure onto the strings and it’s not necessary.
Secondly the positioning of the hand and wrist goes a long way to contributing to finger pain. If the wrist isn’t at the right angle, it follows that the fingers have a harder time applying the right amount of pressure to each note.
Thirdly the position of the thumb behind the neck according to the need of what you are playing can have an impact on the pain you maybe feeling. Thumb positioning helps with being able to use your thumb as an anchor and a way to extend your tendons and by extension your fingers. Your thumb position also can be used to take the pressure off your fingers when pushing down into the fretboard.
Lastly id say that the fourth cause of finger pain is not being relaxed. If you are super tense with your muscles you won’t be able to move quickly and it can cause fatigue to over exert pressure onto the fretboard. Its always good to make a conscious reminder to relax when playing. This helps a lot when getting further and further into technique.
What Can Be Done To Fix The Pain?
I am going to reassure you that this problem isn’t permanent, actually its quite easy to solve with the right guidance which we will get into now.
Regarding holding the notes/barring, this seems to be one of the biggest contentions when it comes to finger pain but really you don’t have to press that hard. The best solution to this as we will see in
Example 1 is that you can and should test to see what is the needed pressure to fret a note or barre across the strings. Start by pressing softly on the string and placing your finger as close as you can to the end of the fret wire to get the best sound.
Firstly, try slowly apply pressure with your fingers above the string until you hear a clear sound, if you press harder than you need to you will make the note sound sharp. Secondly pick with your plectrum and listen to how much pressure you need to apply until you get the sound to ring out like a bell, that’s when you know you are doing it correctly and applying the correct amount of pressure to produce the sound.
The same can be done for barre chords. This practice should be done until it feels natural to know what the correct pressure is to get the sound to ring out. This should help with over exertion of force making it easier for you to hold the notes longer without too much pain.
If you feel pain shake it off and try again after the pain has subsided, maybe give it 10 minutes.
Positioning of the hand is the next thing on the list to help with minimising and removing the pain.
In the photos below I will demonstrate the optimal position for your hands. Holding the fretboard is different at the open string area in Example 2 (the first 4 frets)
and over the fretboard in Example 3.
This is due to comfort as you go further up the neck and need to stretch the importance of the thumb comes into play.
The wrist wants to be always bent because a locked wrist is going to cause injuries, I usually tell my students to try bending it 45 degrees towards the bridge in a sideways slant as can be seen in Example 4.
The next step is to allow for your fingers to hang on the notes using gravity to fret them, I’ve found doing this to improve the tone of your fretting hand by making the notes ring out more clearly.
Instead of pressing too tightly into the fretboard once you have the correct pressure dig in slightly and hang them down towards your centre of gravity.
After the previous step comes the thumb positioning.
if you look at the photo in Example 5
Some guitars have a line across the back of the neck, we call this the guiding line. If your guitar doesn’t have it then it doesn’t matter but its safe to assume that when you place your thumb and you are fretting notes on the lower sounding notes i.e., the low E string then you want your thumb to be close to the top in position.
You then slowly trace the thumb down the vertical axis of the guitar as you get closer to the high e string and usually you don’t go past the middle of the neck, but if you need a bit more of a stretch you can go a little further, but not too far to rely on your thumb to make bigger stretches.
One other thing to mention is that because of all our bodies are different, including our hands its safe to assume that if you feel more comfortable putting your fingers in a certain position then you should adopt that but the guidelines above will work for 99% of cases.
If you experience pain that isn’t fixed by these technique corrections always consult a doctor as it could be something more.
I hope that this article has helped relieve your pain on the guitar when it comes to holding notes and barring chords.