guitar thumb pain

Welcome to a new Monday post with 3 random thoughts on all things guitar, music, and life, including guitar thumb pain, the 80/20 rule, and more.

#1 – The 80/20 rule

This is something I have found fascinating for a long time, and I come across an article on it the other day.

It is the 80/20 rule (also known as the “Pareto principle”).

The rule states that 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes.


I have heard about this a lot over the years in many contexts, but never really in a musical context.

Here are my thoughts on this.


80% of songs are built around 20% of chords and chord progressions.

20% of the things you play probably give you 80% of the most enjoyment.

When jamming or improvising, 80% of the time, most guitarists use the same 20% of chords, patterns, licks, or notes.

80% of your frustrations come from 20% of things that hold you back (i.e., a certain chord buzzing, a specific part in a song, or a certain chord change – such as C to D).


The 80/20 rule really highlights a few things…

Like the fact that most people waste 80% of their time.

Aim to get rid of what doesn’t matter and focus more on the 20% of things that do matter.

If you do, you will have more fun and make more progress.



#2 – What makes a good song?

I was reading about what makes a good song from one of my old favourite music books the other day (Guitar Zero by Gary Marcus).

The author talks about a screenwriter who wrote a book with a formula for making a great movie…

Where all movies can be broken down into a series of rules.

Gary Marcus argues though, if all movies had a formula, classic endings like The Sixth Sense, Seven, and the original Planet of The Apes, with their twists, would never have been made.


What if we apply formulas to music?

Many modern radio-friendly songs do have a distinctive formula using the I V vi IV chord progression (the chords of G D Em C in the key of G Major).

Most of these songs probably won’t stand the test of time.

If all great music was formulaic, then songs as diverse as ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘April Come She Will’, ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Blackbird’, and 1000s of other gems would never have been written.


It just goes to show having a formula is handy, but breaking those rules is often where the magic happens.

I think this is one of the reasons why great songwriters usually know the rules but enjoy breaking them where it feels right to.



#3 – Achy, breaky thumb

In the Fingerstyle 101 Group, we got a good question from Dylan about having a persistent muscle spasm in the fleshy part of his thumb.

This is the big muscle that controls the thumb.

Another member named Bert responded with a good answer.


He said Dylan may be squeezing the neck too hard when playing chords…

He should try using less pressure or changing the thumb position.


This is solid advice.

I have found many beginners do this causing thumb pain when playing guitar.

Even more often though, I have found this happens with guitarists who are trying to play barre chords…


Barre chords require good technique OR lots of pressure.

Lots of pressure equals possible injuries, strains, niggles, and bad habits.

Good technique equals minimal pain, fluent fingers, more enjoyable playing, clearer notes, and smoother changes.

Ensure you prioritize good technique and remember this…

The thumb should not be squeezing hard, if this muscle ever aches or if you experience thumb pain from playing guitar, stop and reduce the pressure.


If you want to find out more about technique, exactly what you should be doing, and the specific step-by-step techniques needed to be able to play barre chords well, check this out below…

The Ultimate Guide to Barre Chords


I hope you found this enjoyable and have a great Monday!


Dan Thorpe

Guitar Domination


P.S. This post was originally taken from Dan Thorpe’s private email list. To get blog posts like this sent to you which are full of great tips to make fingerpicking, strumming, and learning guitar more enjoyable (especially if you are over 40) join Dan’s list. It’s 100% free, HERE.

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