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First off, I'm very new to guitar, and pretty sure my strumming is not working. The thing is, after a few months I never noticed any issues with my right-hand fingers while I strum. Then recently, after I attempted "palm-muting" with my right hand, I began to feel some pain/irritation on the top-side of my fingers (right around the top-moist joint, close to the nail).

I'm wondering whether or not that's supposed to happen, similar to how one builds calluses on the left-hand fingertips, or perhaps it is actually that any pain in the right-hand fingers is a bad sign...

My jam sessions don't last more than 30 minutes usually, so I don't think it's exertion. Given the problem only started after trying palm-muting, I'm thinking it's faulty technique. I'm just following a few tutorials on palm-muting, suggesting to place the side of the palm near the pickups and further up to choke the sound more.

Maybe it will resolve itself as I get a feel for the technique and the muscle memory wins out, but it's been a few days and thought I would throw this question out there just in case.

Question

What is the pain I described symptomatic of, and what are a few first steps I can attempt to trouble-shoot my technique?

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  • This Is something i don't know that anyone could diagnose without watching you pick. The varieties of picking are so significant that it could almost be anything. All fingers? Just index and middle? Are you hitting your fingers on the strings? Bad wrist angle? Watch your playing and start trying to work it out. Sep 14 at 7:41
  • Yea, I'm hitting my fingers on the strings, all fingers except for index finger. Will double check wrist angle, thanks Sep 14 at 8:06
  • Do you play with a pick? If so, then your fingers generally shouldn’t hit the strings when you strum. Sep 14 at 10:28
  • @ToddWilcox Yeah, I am using a pick, so I guess fingers hitting the string is a red flag after all, good to know Sep 14 at 11:41
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Palm muting doesn't really use the palm, and you really shouldn't be hitting the strings with all your fingers.

The palm mute is really an edge of the hand mute. On my six-string guitars my hand position is such that the edge of my little finger touches the top E if I use my little finger as an anchor as in the picture below, but all the other strings are damped by the edge of my hand. And the touch point for me for something like a chuggy Metallica number is almost over the bridge pickup.

palm muting on electric guitar

This position means I don't need to rotate my hand - as mentioned by Tim this may be part of your issue. Rotation seems like the only way you could irritate your skin so avoiding it will help.

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It's hard to give a full an accurate answer to this question, because it depends in a lot of matters. As a guitar player, but not professional, over several years I also have experienced different episodes of "physical" problems, related with or partially influenced by guitar practicing time, so I will try to give you my point of view in these matters, hoping this could be helpful for you now, or in the future.

It could be hard to find a specific cause for the pain you describe, starting not even for the necessity of watching you playing several times to evaluate your "attack" to the string, and describe if it's a good or bad practice, but even more for the shape and physical appearance and form of your fingers. It's always useful to have professional or experienced guitar player advice watching you playing, to learn how to avoid bad practices, and streghten your way of playing. But, it is a true fact, that this should'nt be enough and could not solve your problem.

On the other hand, because each one has it's own muscular complexity and physical structure, and it would be really hard, but not impossible, I guess, to find someone who a physical profile in common with you, tand hat could register same feelings or trouble. On the other hand, it's possible that other person have experiencied same pain even having physical differences, and that is the most important thing, because, from my side, and based on my experience, most people that have not experienced same problem as yours, would find it difficult to help you solving the exact problem.

Maybe the best option, if the problem persists over, let's say, a year of daily practice, should be to ask to a traumatoloy specialist, or even a physical therapist, with some experience on string intrument playing, but I'm afraid this professional profile it would be really hard to find.

Bearing in mind all of this, and taking the problem as my own, I would consider doing the following:

  • Find a good guitar teacher that could analize you particular case and give you advice about good posture, ergonomics and fingerpicking best practices (I found that good classical guitar teachers usually take care about these issues) and invert in some on-site (recommended, if possible) classes, to try to find out.
  • Keep your daily practice time, and maybe add some more exercices aimed just for fingerpicking, to help generating calluses and reinforce skin on the fingers.
  • Find out if there is any physical exercise that could help you develop muscles around the affected area (helped me a lot in some cases, but couldn't be sure if this is possible in your case, as I'm far from an expert on this matter), or just to warm-up before fingerpicking exercices.
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Virtually impossible to pinpoint what's going wrong here, but a few ideas.

Palm-muting is most effective when the palm (that part of your hand used for karate chopping) is just over the bridge saddles. By starting with it behind the bridge, and gradually moving it to the left, over the bridge, you'll find that once it's moved towards the bridge pup, it's not effective. for starters, it's putting strings out of tune, and there's too much sloppiness in the strings at that point.

Palm-muting can go from hardly touching the strings to pushing down and heavily damping them, but all around the bridge.

I guess it's an electric guitar you're using? The gauge strings will have an effect on how much muting is needed as well.

I also guess the problem is when you try to strum all strings, rather than play just one? Get used to muting one, then two, for a while. To strum all means your hand has to rotate, which is maybe where your fingers are getting in the way. If you hold the pick so very little is protruding, that's another problem. It needs to stick out more, but not so much that it flaps about. Experiment.

On calluses - if you get them, maybe you're pressing too hard, or the guitar needs a better set up. Neither I nor my students get them - or need them! They're not a badge of honour!

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