Bailey wrote:I've just started to play in positions other than first and am now working with 5th position using a barre. With the barre in 5th position, when I do scale work on the above 3 frets; particularly on the bottom strings; for instance, working a C, B, C, D, E, F, G sequence, I get a bad cramp in between my thumb and index finger; bad enough to make me stop, shake my hand out (sometimes massage it a little), then go back. It gets worse with continued playing in that position. ...
Is this a normal part of getting used to playing in other positions while using a barre? If so, is there a way to deal with the cramping? Will is go away with continued practice? Any suggestions?
Yes it will go away with continued practice! Yes it is a normal because you are a beginner and are developing the necessary muscular strength to form bar chords. Duncan recommends 7-10 minutes of intense bar chord practice daily. Both Duncan and Andreas have strength development exercises
that are similar to your holding a bar and playing a scale, but instead of a scale they use some other arpeggio.
You perfectly describe the location of the muscles that are used to keep the bar down. There is nothing that would prevent your experience because the web muscles between thumb and index finger must develop. These muscles are necessarily used to press the index finger into the fretboard or equivalently to prevent the force against the index finger from bending the index finger back into an unplayable position. Duncan, Jamie Andreas, and Parkening are all on record by stating that bar chords take strength. So strength must not be discounted at least for beginners. There are pain lines one shouldn't cross, but some transient soreness from lactic acid build up is normal and to be expected.
Charles Duncan wrote:
Most guitar players can remember all too clearly the struggle to master the bar-chord grip. The challenge of bar chords never really goes away, because at successively higher levels of repertoire, we encounter more and more taxing bar-chord demands. (An excellent and well-known example is the Albeniz "Leyenda," especially measures 38-46.) The ability to execute such passages cleanly and confidently depends upon the available strength in the first dorsal interosseous and adductor muscles -- respectively, the outer and inner muscles between the first finger and thumb. Given sufficient work, this muscle area enlarges visibly over a period of several months, while the difficulty of bar-chord playing diminishes in turn.
baily wrote:I've tried using as little thumb pressure on the barre as I can get away with and still get a good sound from the strings, but that doesn't seem to help.
It didn't help because your issue is a sore web muscle whose use is a given. The soreness of the web muscle can fool one into thinking that the thumb is sore. To see if this is the case for you, hold a bar for an extended period with the thumb off the neck. If you think the thumb is getting sore you are being fooled by the web discomfort. You don't want to press the thumb too hard for the thumb's sake, but excessive thumb pressure would also increase the demand on the web in counteraction.
Duncan also has a great hint concerning the thumb's position.
Charles Duncan wrote:Important; do not press too hard with the thumb! The function of the thumb is to supply counterforce to the first finger, but some counterforce is also supplied by body pressure against the back of the instrument. Moreover, be especially sure that the thumb lies somewhat on its side with the tip turned back. This position, with the bones of the thumb locked into passive support, allows the most efficient use of the correct muscles, while preventing needles exertion of the thumb.
: If you don't believe that bar chords take strength consider the following quote from someone that has big and naturally strong hands to begin with.
Christopher Parkening wrote:Strength does play an important role in bar chords ...
If you have played bar chords for a long time, form a bar chord with the index finger alone and with only the minimal amount of pressure needed to sound all six strings. Reach over with the right hand and feel the web of the left hand. You will feel a rock solid and bulging web muscle. This shows that even the simplest bar chord takes strength despite all efforts to minimize exertion. You can compare the left and right hand web muscles by pressing the index fingers onto a horizontal surface. You get a bulging web muscle for the left hand but nothing like that for the right. Once one has developed the web muscle so that the strength needed to form bar chords is well within its capacity, the lack of discomfort can easily lead to the mistaken impression that no strength is needed.
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