Barre chord fretting hand fatigue after 16 years of playing

Hi Everyone,

I have long waited to post this question for advice here.
I have started following Justin’s Youtube channel somewhere around 2006/2007 and basically learned playing via him.

My main focus has been fingerstyle and of course all the classic pop songs.
I can do fingerstyle reasonably well (some slow Sungha Jung arrangements for example)

The barre chords have always been a challenge. Especially songs which are made up of barre chords only.
After a couple of bars the spot between my thumb and my index finger starts fatiguing and starts hurting a little bit. This makes it impossible to continue to play very quickly.

I have learned that I have quite a heavy grip, also with fingerstyle.
This has been improved by practicing to push down the fingers really soft.

However with the barre chords, I cannot manage to achieve this.
I have looked up quite some videos / guides how to improve like:

Pulling with your arm instead of squeezing your hand.
Let gravity pull your fretting hand into the chord.
Keep the middlefinger bent at all times (I learned after 15 years I was doing this wrong the whole time!)

I think I really need to practice to soften my grip with barre chords or something else is wrong.
Do you have any tips or tricks to practice to soften my grip a lot for the barre chords?

Now I think of it, I have the same issue when playing powerchords sometimes.

I hope someone who had the same experience as me can give me some tips to improve.


Love your intricate question! Prob is hand pressure across the strings and to the fretboard. I say, “if in doubt, lighten up.” I wish I could fingerstyle. Me, I play opens, Barres, and some arpeggios. justin is a special teach. If you want to strenghthen your Barre, try The Pixies “Where Is My Mind.” Justin has an up vid. Soft boy, James Blunt has some great vids of it, but the original by The Pixies is it. Wish you coulld wish your finger style for my solid Barre. Play often, like every day man. Peace R


I’ve been playing a lot less time than you, however I think I’m pretty decent at the most common barre chords.

Playing barre chords is part technique and part strength & endurance. You need to build strength up over time. Like any strength routine, you need to start easy and build up.

This is what I did. I started by playing power & barre chords on electric - lighter strings so it’s easier. Then as I moved to acoustic I started with songs that only had a few barre chords. Then more and more, until I was tackling songs with 100% barre chords.

Near the start I couldn’t even get through a song with all barre chords without my hands aching. As I built the hand strength up I was finally able to play the song, and now I could play many songs in a row with all barre chords.

Oh, and I did it every day, like going to gym every day (not that I do that though!).

Maybe it will work for you.


You could also check the action height on your guitar, a bit trickier to adjust on the acoustic but it can be done

Alternatively you could try a lighter string gauge and / or stick on a capo and play a bit further down the neck.


I’ve been playing for over ten years now and have experienced the hand fatigue you’ve talked about. Like you mentioned, I knew I was trying to improve my barre chords by pressing harder which worsened the fatigue. Over the last few years, maybe 2 or so, I’ve noticed my pressure on open chords is much much lighter and over the last year I’ve noticed the pressure is less on my barre chords.

There was no deliberate effort on my part to accomplish this, it just sort of happened organically.


Thanks for all the replies, very much appreciated!
I think my main problem might be a too strong grip in general.

After posting this I tried playing Creep (Radiohead) and noticed that i’m struggling more the higher I get on the neck.
Also the B string sound muted sometimes, which causes me to intensify my grip even more, resulting in my hand starting to ache quickly.

So I probably need to spend a lot of time to practice easing my grip.

The action on my guitar is okay I guess, about 3mm at the 12th fret.


As a comparison, the action on my Les Paul-style guitar is ~1.75mm at the 12th fret. I use 9-42 strings.
You may want to consider having your guitar set-up with a lower action. However, a lower action may cause more fret noise when you are playing fingerstyle on the guitar.

1 Like

I would definitely have the action/relief checked and sorted. 3mm is a tad high,but that of course depends on how much relief there is on the neck.
Recommended (I had to look this up) is around 2.5-2.75mm. Also check the frets if the guitar is old - dents and divots will make you need to press harder, and a fret level and crown could be required.

Other than that, it is also important that the angle of your barring finger needs to change the further up the neck you go (unless you have an extra joint in your arm :crazy_face:) so getting the B to ring out is going to be a bit more of a struggle, as that part of the finger may well not be toughened enough.

I’m just learning this stuff as a beginner. I have couple of electric guitars, and find the strings on the longer scale length (fender style) is better for the barre chords.
Mind you, when I set the guitar up properly that may all change!

1 Like

I also struggle with this, a common problem it seems.

I think one area I need to work on is the idea that I need to squeeze or pull harder to make the b string ring out well. Instinct and our natural tendencies to try and brute force things tells us this.

However, it is really more of a finesse thing. So we need to work consciously on finger position and technique. For example, I have a playing habit that is to allow my ulnar (pinky side) palm to drop away, making me stretch further to reach and making a good C shape curve of the fretting fingers more difficult and harder to land the tip of the finger.

It also makes me want to lay my barre finger a titch too low on the fretboard landing the b string in my knuckle crease. If I correct the first problem, the finger lands better and everything is easier, including successfully holding the 3 and 4 fingers down.

But, it is hard to remember to do this among all the other things. Easier to try squeezing and my animal brain likes that!