Thumb strength & endurance on a song with only barre chords

Hi guys,
I’m learning Creep by Radiohead is a simple song with 4 chords in barrè shape, one of this is in minor E shape.
The problem is that after a few seconds staying in this barrè shape, especially in the higher frets, causes pain in my thumb muscle. I already played songs with barrè, but not a full barrè one. I am sure enough to say my barrè shape is ok, but if you think my problem could be there I can post a video/photos. Or maybe my minor barrè is not good. Any tips?

Giuseppe, I think some photos or videos would be helpful.

I’m not sure what you mean by that.

I will post a video as soon as I can.
I mean that in this song you play every chord in barrè. I learned other songs, but with only 1 or 2 barrè chords so that my thumb could rest in the open chord shape.

Right, that would make for a serious work-out compared to previous songs played. Perhaps it is just a matter of developing endurance.

Unless of course if you feel some pain right from the outset when playing the minor barre chord, in which case perhaps it is technique related.

I think you are on the right track, pick a song with bar chords in and keep practicing :+1:

If I get chance I’ll post my version of hotel California, it’s like a finger style bar chord workout.

Picking individual notes will help you identify where you need to adjust your hand position. Sometimes you find that you don’t have to hold on so tight with all fingers.

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OK well you need to develop some muscle strength in that hand/thumb but…

You are likely clamping way too hard. It should be possible to play without using your thumb at all, your strumming arm should hold the guitar steady and against the pressing of your fretting arm

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Excellent song to learn barrés!

Yes, it will strain you.
Yes, you might feel a sting or a burn (it’s normal but stop and and lift your hand!)

Go for full barré’s in this one; make it your practice song.
See it as your Currahee, the hill you must climb :smiley:
the first days you probably only last a couple of seconds but it gets better!
Enough rest, sleep, practice, rest, sleep, repeat…
Don’t overdo yourself but build up gradually and have patience with yourself
Learning barré’s really tests your PATIENCE!


I just (literally this morning) listened to Justin’s grade 4 E shaped barre and E shape minor barre cord modules. These are the first two in grade 4 and they are on exactly this.
He recommends doing just what you are doing, which the appropriate cautions regarding just what you are experiencing.
Maybe that will be helpful, even if just to help you realize you are on the right track and exercise can leave you sore.

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Hi thanks for the replies.
Yeah, I think that for sure I press too much sometimes. I probably put more pressure on the minor barrè rather the normal one, so is likely that this hurt my thumb muscle. But I think the shape are ok, but I post a video to be sure.
It’s just an attemp, the strumming pattern is by ear, not the correct one probably, and it is not in time, the focus is to show the shape of my hand.

Skuilla, thanks for taking time to make the video.

I’m not into Radiohead at all and only know the song from others who’ve posted it in AVOYP before. I can say it sounded just right to me.

The chords all rung out clear, I didn’t hear any muted notes, noting my ears are not challenge for the ‘Acutest Ears in the Community’ award.

Hand position looked good to me. I particularly noticed your wrist angle which seems just right to me.

I did hear string noise between chords. That’s neither right nor wrong, a matter of taste, but perhaps worth trying to reduce pressure and contact on the strings a little more as make the changes. I wouldn’t say it’ll give the muscles a chance to rest between chords but perhaps just the extra relaxation will help a little.

On the Em, perhaps consider supporting the index finger barre with the middle finger. I tend to always lay my middle finger down over the index. Not sure how much difference it makes but perhaps it changes the use of the muscles slightly and helps with endurance.

I’d say experiment a little with reducing the pressure to determine if perhaps there is excessive pressure but otherwise to my eyes and ears all looks good. So maybe just a matter of regular practice to develop endurance over time.

I have the same problem with thumb pain probably for the reason you have noted. I have tried to play with no thumb but that just doesn’t work. I can’t put enough pressure to get the chord to ring out.

The thumb pain is as others have said because you’re gripping it too hard…it will ease as you play more and relax that hand a little. Whilst it is easier to play barre chords between Fret 3-9 it can become harder at either end. Probably better at the start to play songs that mix in barre chords then that’ll give the hand a break. It does come but just takes time. It’s also a lot harder on an acoustic than an electric.

In terms of your version I didn’t hear anything muted. Tempo started to speed up towards the end. I think someone has already mentioned it but Justin has or had a good lesson on this…picked to start with before it goes into the full on strum.

It may sound weird, but try playing open chords without any thumb on the neck at all in practice (just fingers on the front and a floating thumb). It will make you realize something. If you hold onto your guitar more firmly against your body with your right arm it is possible to pull into the fretboard with the fingers and have the chords ring. If you try it for an E-shaped bar chord you will notice it’s very difficult to do that without a bit of squeeze, but it doesn’t take that much if you are pulling a bit. The slightest amount of squeeze will allow it to sound. The chord doesn’t have to come out of a firm squeeze. Just concentrate on giving a little pull at the precise time you strum. That little bit of tension makes the thumb pressing into the neck pretty insignificant. I think it helps to discover how little pressure is actually needed. For fun you can also try playing songs without using your thumb. That will go a long way to relieve you of any worries you have about where you place your thumb. It could literally be anywhere or nowhere.

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Excellent suggestion.

And I think one can also use the weight of the arm hanging down along with the pulling.