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Teachers: How Do You Know What's Safe?


Kramer Ferrington III.

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I was thinking about Leo Kottke and how he wound up with a lot of hand problems or whatever they were, and how the same sort of thing happened recently to Ani DiFranco.

 

Both of them are guitarists that one would think had their act really together. I would imagine a lot of people have tried to copy their style and yet, it was ultimately unsafe.

 

If two brilliant players like them were making fundamental mistakes in their technique, how do teachers know what is safe and what isn't?

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I think if you work your hands hard every day for years and years arent you bound to end up with hand trouble? I have accepted that if I get to be older than 30 ill probably have pretty bad arthritis... But hey BB can still strut his slow bluez rythms at a ripe ol age.
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I don't think 30 is the age to worry about Trucks. :D

30 sounds pretty freakin young to me.

 

I think anyone can develop hand problems as they age. I don't think technique is going to stop that altogether.

 

I do know that we all slow down as we grow older. Each at a different rate. It's no different than athletes.

I was reading a recent interview with Eric Clapton and he talked about how he really can't do what he used to be able to do.

 

So far, my hands are pretty well pain free, but they are about the only body part I have that doesn't ache. I hope that's a good sign. ;)

bbach

 

Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder.

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I screwed up my right hand recently...as I pulled on something with my hand, I felt a sharp snapping pain shoot up from my pinky & ring finger on up through my elbow.

Plus...there is a progressive soreness that I believe is being caused by the years of "mouse" use at the computer.

 

In the mornings...I can hardly close my hand to make a fist...though it loosens up a bit during the day...but I can't bend back my pinky even a little without feeling a very nasty pain in the joint at the base of the pinky.

 

I'm having it checked out...I may have torn a ligament and then on top of that, could be some repetitive motion/carpel tunnel kind of stuff happening.

 

The wrist and fingers are very sore all the time.

 

Luckily...it has not affected my guitar playing...as I can still hold the pick without any trouble...

...but when I play keyboards...my right hand gets sore quickly.

miroslav - miroslavmusic.com

 

"Just because it happened to you, it doesn't mean it's important."

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There are some finger exercises called do-in, they are very cool. I also have several sets of Chinese baoding balls, the steel things with bells inside. Playing an instrument (and using a computer) is asking your hands to do work, it makes sense to warm them up before, cool them down after. If employers think that`s wasting time they`re idiots.

Same old surprises, brand new cliches-

 

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Kottke himself said his problems were technique related. Using fingerpicks caused him to place his picking hand in a wierd bent wrist position that put too much stress on the tendons. He dumped the fingerpicks and adopted a more classical rh position.

 

There's actually been a lot of research done in the CG world on how to avoid injuring your hands. Shearers entire method is based on the idea low stress positioning and John Duarte has written a book called "The Guitarists Hands" that goes into detail about how our hands work.

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Originally posted by Justus A. Picker:

Kottke himself said his problems were technique related.

Precisely. Hence, my question. :)

 

I guess no matter how you play, problems only show up if you play a LOT, but that's just a guess. I'm self taught and have only ever had problems once (a left wrist ganglion about 25 years ago) but then I don't play as much or as intensly as the young Kottke.

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A very good rule of thumb is: if you feel pain when you play, stop playing for the day. If the pain returns everytime you play see a doctor, but mainly, don't ignore the pain. I recall reading about Kottkes problem at the time and it seemed to be a case of being on the road playing long shows every night and feeling obliged to do them all despite the pain. Apparently the fingerpicks didn't help. When I was teaching I always told all my students to pay attention to any pain from playing. I had one student that worked all day typing and eventually had to give up guitar(eeeaaahhhhh...nooooooo!!!!). She switched to vocal lessons and seemed happy with that.

 

Jim

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I think I have *fairly* good technique. A few years ago, if I didn't spend much time practicing, it was either out of frustration, laziness, or being occupied by being in school, doing schoolwork, or trying to get dough to put food in my stomach and pay the bills. I used to take pride in the fact that I could practice for 10 hrs. if I wanted to (provided I had the time to do so--taking breaks, of course), w/o hurting myself. Well, one day I did (after basically spending like 9 months w/o practicing almost anything, only play in lessons I taught), but my left hand was really tired and a bit slippery--I had been doing the dishes and stopped in the middle of taking care of a greasy pan, and my hand was a bit greased up--, and I screwed it up by letting a 60-pound combo somewhat slip off my hand. It wasn't apparent immediately. Only a few minutes later, my tendons were hurting all over my hand and some well into the forearm. Had to stop practicing for a while, although I still went to some rehearsals I was having and teaching, etc.

 

Now, two years later, it's finally practically back to normal. I'm 29 now, and I doubt I'll ever spend so much time doing such intense practice ever again. Not to mention, I'll double-check the slippery factor on my hands next time I decided to move around such gear.

"Without music, life would be a mistake."

--from 'Beyond Good and Evil', by Friedrich Nietzsche

 

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Let me try to answer the initial question: I try to make my hands work being the closest to their most normal, relaxed, natural position. I try not to fret anything w/o proper resistance from the thumb, try not to hold the pick in a way that would feel unnatural, or fingerpick doing weird angles on my right-hand wrist. I said I TRY TO, by the way. I've formulated my techniques based on these principles.

"Without music, life would be a mistake."

--from 'Beyond Good and Evil', by Friedrich Nietzsche

 

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A book I can recommend: The Art of Practicing by Madeline Bruser. It was written for classical players looking for a career, and addresses some problems they face, both psychological and physical. But whether we play classical or not, our anatomy is the same, and it address questions of good posture and the use of the hands in a way that is not overly stressful. Come to think of it, although the classical musicians are taught differently from the rest of us, basic human psychology is the same too... e.g. worrying unduly whether someone is "better" than you.
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Let me recommend "Effortless Classical Guitar" by William Kanengiser. It is an old video that has recently been reissued as DVD. It's about technique, pure and simple. So, 100% beginners or advancd players can benefit from it.

"Without music, life would be a mistake."

--from 'Beyond Good and Evil', by Friedrich Nietzsche

 

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There's a big difference between musically good technique and physically good technique.

 

The symptoms like Carpal Tunnel usually fall into the category of Repetitive Motion Syndrome. Holding your hands or feet in a position that a hunter-gatherer normally wouldn't for hours on end over a lifetime is likely to cause trouble.

 

The best way to avoid it, in addition to learning low-stress playing techniques, is simple cross training.

 

I work on a computer all day (lots of typing), and play piano and guitar a lot. Each one of these is seriously prone to RMS, even when playing technique is good by musical standards. Yet I'm 50 and the only time I had RMS symptoms was for a time when I was playing too much Doom using the cursor keys.

 

It's likely that one reason I don't have symptoms is that I do all three, rather than just one.

 

In any case, avoid very repetitive practice, which is one of the real killers. (And something I do a lot of.) You can still do it, but be sure to break it up; practice for a few minutes and then practice a very different technique or just play stuff where your hands have a wide range of motion, and then go back.

 

Avoid the particularly bad postures, especially having wrists bent much. Avoid tensed muscles (and relaxed muscles is better technique musically anyway).

 

Good picking/strumming technique is probably good for hands, since the correct motion involoves swinging the wrist in a nice arc with muscles relaxed andlots of complex small motions rather than a contorted position. I think it's best to let the other 3 fingers "fly" relaxed, although I do have a problem accidentally hitting my volume knob.

 

Fingerpicking is more problemati, and the best posture for classical style (thumb at nearly right angles to strings, allowing the tip of the thumbnail to strike the string) is actually more contorted and RMS-problematic than the typical pop style, with thumb nearly parallel to strings and striking with the edge of the nail. I use both styles, which I think helps (but also makes me less adept using either style).

 

Also, if you watch Leo play, you notice his hands don't move much -- at least, not compared to all the sound coming out. (That alone was a big clue to me and helped me to play a similar though simpler style.) My guess is that players like EVH, whose hands are all over the place (despite the economy of motion that all experts have), is less likely to suffer.

 

Learning to play fast and cleanly teaches us economy of motion. But that very economy of motion can be one of the big enemies regarding RMS, so watch it.

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In any case, avoid very repetitive practice, which is one of the real killers. (And something I do a lot of.) You can still do it, but be sure to break it up; practice for a few minutes and then practice a very different technique or just play stuff where your hands have a wide range of motion, and then go back.
The repetitive practice of fine motions call also lead to Focal Hand Dystonia (bascially a cross circuit of the messages the brains sends the fingers) which is very difficult to get rid of. It's usually found in virtuoso's who practice short difficult sections of music for hours on end.

 

Also, if you watch Leo play, you notice his hands don't move much -- at least, not compared to all the sound coming out.
The same thing if you watch Doyles right hand. It appears as though his fingers are barely moving!
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For those who aren't in the know:

 

The "typical classical" right-hand position nowadays has little to do w/ Segovia's technique.

"Without music, life would be a mistake."

--from 'Beyond Good and Evil', by Friedrich Nietzsche

 

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For those who aren't in the know
-- That would be me! I learned the Segovia method. How is it different now?

 

I never had lessons, but back in the late 70's I had a neighbor who was a classical guitar student and who loaned me a book written by a Segovia student, and it really helped me for a wide range of things, not just classical style guitar. I guess any method is better than just winging it!

 

The vertical thumb thing is still difficult for me especially on steel strings, but it gets the biggest sound and most tonal control, by far.

 

I wouldn't be too surprised to hear that most of what I learned hasn't changed much, not ever going to advanced levels myself. After all, a free stroke is a free stroke and a rest stroke is a rest stroke. But did they ever find a use for the little finger? ;)

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Learjeff:

 

Vertical thumb? Not sure what you're talking about. The wrist now is more straight, the fingers attacking at an angle, moving mainly from the knuckles, etc. My former main teacher at the Conservatory taught me this way from stuff he had learned in France in the 70's, which was stuff people had learned from certain Spaniards in the 50's, which, etc, etc...

 

Here's a clip from one of the quintessential "modern" players, playing Isaac Albéniz's "Leyenda in E minor":

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxI5v_v5ras

 

It contrasts quite a bit from this, the "pop position" I'm familiar with. (Possibly not the one you suggested):

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7n5Zp3vU7h4

"Without music, life would be a mistake."

--from 'Beyond Good and Evil', by Friedrich Nietzsche

 

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By the way, maybe the method book you're referring to is Cristopher Parkening's?

 

I make my students skip the photos/instructions on right-hand technique when using that book. Parkening's RH got messed up, by the way. That's how I convince them to listen to me on that subject, not to Parkening.

"Without music, life would be a mistake."

--from 'Beyond Good and Evil', by Friedrich Nietzsche

 

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