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I'm an early learner, 70 yr old, have been 'practicing' for a couple of years on a steel string acoustic guitar and I have arthritis in thumb and finger joints. For instance, it's very hard to stretch my fingers from 1st fret(C) to 3rd(D) and get finger tips properly on the string, it hurts to do so. A 'c'chord is very difficult.

So I found that capo on 5th fret makes things easier; 'c'chord is easy, note 'c' is an open string and no problem going to 'd' on same string. Frets are closer together and I can hold the neck without putting hurtful pressure on my left thumb. However, there's a slight problem hitting the 'b' on 4th string 9th fret(b that replaces open b on 2nd string), and I'm missing 6th string E,F,& G, plus those chords. I wonder if there will be more shortcomings as I progress.

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    Perhaps put lighter strings on there so you don't have to push that hard. Or even an electric guitar? However, putting a capo is obviously ok. There are no rules in music. – Valentin Grégoire Nov 28 '14 at 10:53
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The use of a capo is fine if it helps ease the arthritis pain.

One thing to consider is the scale lenght of your current guitar (basically the length of the strings from nut to saddle). Most guitars are 25.5" or so. Some guitars are 24.75". I hesitate to call these "long scale" and "short scale" guitars because they're both within the range of 'standard'. However that 3/4 of an inch can make a huge difference in the feel of the guitar.

Shop around.

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    In addition to this suggestion, has the OP considered an electric guitar or a nylon stringed accoustic, which normally takes a lot less pressure to fret a note – CurlyPaul Nov 28 '14 at 10:25
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It is absolutely OK to use a capo. You will just need to check on the capo from time to time as the strings will wear grooves into the rubber. (This happens normally, but since you use a capo full time, it will happen more quickly.)

Given your arthritis, there are some additional things you could do to make playing easier on yourself. As others have mentioned, changing the string gauge to a lighter gauge can help. Here are some other thoughts:

  • Consider purchasing an electric guitar - they typically use much lighter gauge strings than acoustic, the neck is quite often smaller, and the strings are closer to the fretboard, which is called action. A guitar with low action will take less effort to push the strings down.
  • Try to stay away from traditional chord shapes, especially barre chords. Barre chords (especially on 12-string acoustics) are rough for people as it is; if your hands hurt, then stay away! (There are enough people out there playing barre chords anyway.)
  • I'd recommend learning and adapting chord shapes that use as many open strings as possible. This allows for a full sound while putting the least amount of pressure on your fingers.
  • Consider alternative instruments. It's awesome that you're learning guitar. Given your circumstance, it would be good to entertain the possibility of playing a different instrument instead, like a mandolin or lap-steel guitar. Now, you only may be interested in guitar and nothing else, which is fine. In the end, play what makes you happy, and figure out how to make it work for you. I saw a gentleman once play guitar with his feet because he had no arms - he made it work.

Hope that helps.

  • I'd add "look at alternate tunings" to that list. It can allow more open chords more easily for instance C-G-C-G-G-C is very nice and also crazy-easy to play many chords (or passable variations) with only 2 or 3 fingers. – Mr. Boy Nov 29 '14 at 0:13
  • I don't have arthritis but I have flexible hands from years of piano playing and I can play a Bb major chord without it being a barre chord(besides, I have tried to play a barre chord, Bb major in particular, and all I get is a muted staccato, not a chord. – Caters Sep 3 '18 at 3:27
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There's absolutely nothing wrong playing with capo anyway up to 5th-7th fret if it suits you and you like the sound (it will be different obviously). It can be your style, your distinctive sound even. I personally think it can sound really nice playing some songs capoed on the 7th fret although many people say this is 'wrong'.

You could of course detune your guitar by one or two semitones to partly compensate the capo making everything higher.

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Perhaps you could use a children sized guitar. It will be easier to use the scale near the neck. The downside is that other end of the scale the space will be scarce.

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Well, if you are not going to use one third of the neck anyway, it may make sense to look for a smaller instrument altogether: I think there may be things like "tenor guitars" tuned somewhat higher (the entirely smaller ukuleles are played differently I think). If you are having "hurtful pressure on your left thumb" it may make sense to switch to nylon strings: steel strings tend to take more pressure. Also, the quality of the guitar is important: more expensive ones manage to have the strings closer to the fretboard, needing less strength for fretting the strings.

This is more an answer to your situation rather than to the question you are asking. But maybe it gives some additional venue to pursue. If you have an instrument store in your vicinity, checking through available options there might be more hands-on than a discussion here.

  • The 'hurt' in my fretting thumb results from placing the thumb pad on the neck opposite the strings, as lessons suggest. This way finger tips can reach across strings, in a curved fashion, to get at the intended strings. Since I'm pushing upward with my thumb, my arthritic thumb joint soon begins to ache. I've thought about using a brace, of some kind, to hold my thumb erect. – PATRICK OTOOLE Nov 28 '14 at 3:20
  • Alternatively, use a "3/4 scale" guitar. – supercat Jan 8 '18 at 23:04
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Well, I think there are definitely going to be some disadvantages. But it depends on what you want to play.

By the way, do I assume correct you want to play at the same tone height as normal style?

If all you want to play is chords, there shouldn't be too much problems. You don't lose chords, you just have to play them differently. For example the E,F and G chords you name, you would just have to play like the B, C and D are played normally. Basically what you would have to do for every chord is look at this: A-A#-B-C-C#-D-D#-E-F-F#-G-G# Take the chord you want to play, and go 5 steps (half tones) down or 7 up (which is the same). And then play it that way with the capo at 5th fret.

One annoying thing with this of course would be, if you want to learn something from someone else by looking at how he plays it, you have to do everything different.

Of course if you want to play more complex things, like classical music pieces, at the same tone height but at the 5th fret, that will become almost impossible. You don't have the low basses, and the fingering will be difficult/impossible, because it has been written for normal position. You can of course play them, but at higher tone. For a lot of pieces, this won't be a problem. But your range is smaller, which can be a problem for some pieces.

Actually I would also suggest you to buy a smaller guitar, and maybe some softer strings. Then everything stays the same as for a normal guitar. But if a smaller guitar is still painful, a capo in the 5th is a good solution. There will be some disadvantages, but a lot can be overcome in some way.

  • I'm not really into chords, after a while they get pretty boring. I don't plan on playing in a band, and since I cant – PATRICK OTOOLE Nov 29 '14 at 1:07
  • I can't sing. I want to learn some easy tunes to pick out, hopefully some more advanced tunes, for my own pleasure. I can plug away at "Spanish Romance" and an Irish tune "The Battle of Aughrim" with no capo. I'm still learning those songs, but I believe I get picking practice from them. – PATRICK OTOOLE Nov 29 '14 at 1:40
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I have a book that cost £5 in a discount book store. It shows all the different shapes and ways to play each chord on the guitar. There are usually a shed load.

I would suggest getting something like my book, either a book or a website that shows all the different ways to play each chord. Pick the ones that sound good and are easiest to play.

Reason why I suggest this is because its ok learning the song with a cappo 5th, but it will make it hard to sing along if it pushes out of reach of a normal voice. As a beginner I would suggest learning with a capo first as it can be easier. But then try exploring different shapes for the chords and playing in a key right for whoever is singing along.

I sometimes miss out a string or two on tricky chords, If I think the effort and chances of making a mistake are too high to justify playing it in the first place. (And it still sounds good). But you need a good musical ear for that.

You may even find this broadens your awareness of tonal quality of chords played differently and gives you an edge over other players.

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