Whether I'm comping with jazz chords or playing power chord rock, my hand always cramps. I don't get cramps, however, when playing leads or open chords. Specifically, I get cramps in the muscle/tendon/fat area between my thumb and index/pointer finger.

Online, I've seen recommendations to supplement with potassium and/or magnesium, stretching beforehand, and playing through pain to build muscle. I tried all of these, but I'm still cramping.

Is there any advice on how I should fret chords? For example, where do I place my thumb and at what angle? How hard should I press between my thumb, fretboard, and fingers? How can I make notes sound clear while minimizing hand pressure? Etc.


  • 1
    Sounds like you should seek private lessons with a teacher to see exactly what you are doing. Different chords have different hand positions. You shouldn't have to press hard. Let someone experienced look at your guitar for string height and adjustments.
    – r lo
    Apr 4, 2018 at 18:02
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    An image that shows your current position would be helpful
    – Xetrov
    Apr 4, 2018 at 18:14
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    Be sure to check the action (distance between frets and strings) of your guitar. A higher action leads to a higher required pressure on the strings. This guide might help. Beware: The action should not be set too low as it will cause the strings to vibrate against the frets even when played normally.
    – Ian
    Apr 6, 2018 at 9:40

1 Answer 1


Open chords tend to be easier to play without cramping mostly because you are able to rely on the nut to "finger" any of the open strings that are part of the chord. Barre chords or "jazz chords" played up the neck tend to be harder in many cases because you must press down multiple strings with a single finger.

While any particular chord may be easy or difficult and some difficult chords may lend themselves to more than one configuration of your fingers, the issue of cramping is primarily one of strength and practice. The more you practice, and the more strength you gain, the less your fingers will cramp. This is probably as much a consideration of athleticism as one of fingering and what works for you may not work for someone else with longer or shorter fingers.

If you have specific chords in mind, you might post them and ask for advice, but generally speaking practice is the solution to this matter. You might consider buying some kind of grip exerciser but I don't find these particularly helpful.

EDIT: I might add that it is discouraged to wrap your thumb around the top of the guitar neck, but some folks (e.g., Jimi Hendrix) do this anyway. Generally, your thumb should be planted in the middle of the back of the guitar neck. This dude made a whole video about it.

  • The thumb part is what I'm struggling with now. I mainly play acoustic and my thumb, while not wrapping over the top to use the E string, it does always stick up above the fret... It is hard to keep it nicely in the middle of the neck. Thanks for the video link!
    – BruceWayne
    Apr 4, 2018 at 23:21
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    Whoah, thanks! I saw the video and tried moving my thumb directly behind my index finger on the neck like he advises. It feels so much looser already. Previously, I was placing my thumb behind my middle two fingers. I'm going back and forth between the thumb placement and I can feel the difference. I feel I finally have it right.
    – alfonso
    Apr 5, 2018 at 2:16
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    I wouldn't recommend thumb position just based on classical form. Different people have different hands. Different neck shapes also lend themselves to different thumb positions. I am an advocate for placing your thumb wherever it is most comfortable.
    – Ian
    Apr 6, 2018 at 9:37

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