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right arm tension

(41 posts)
  1. Matt
    Member

    whenever i practice or am picking, i generally find that my right arm tenses up a little bit; not so much to make it impossible to play, but enough to notice that i relax after practice. even at slower tempos, i find i am slightly tense.
    the reason this concerns me is that 'shredders' (who have phenomenal technique) seem to advise being completely relaxed, and i, for some reason, feel like i should be technically perfect.
    my question is if i should slow down to a ridiculous tempo and relearn my technique, or i should (by other means) correct this problem or ignore it. thanks for any insight.

  2. david6strings
    Member

    matt welcome to "the club". i have exactly the same problem. it will make you a contracture. i think is a problem that begins in the body, how you rest on the chair and belive it or not in the guitar body shape too. try to study a week with a stratocaster and then tell us. my advice, begin every day with a strumming patern and a melodic cross string patern both at ridiculous tempo, total time, lets say 30 min, then play normally. these 30 min focus strictly in relax neck shoulder and forearm and write the tempo. i think you can relearn all in 3 months if you do this 7 days a week.
    good luck i understand you, this problem made me to stop playing a year

  3. You could tryin learing how to pick from the wrist. Basically the arm does has no reason to be tense if you are using the wrist. I practiced this playing picking tremelo on a single string, concentrating on the wrist movement and relaxation of the arm. YOu will realize that as your tremello picking gets more consistent and smooth, it feels natural for the arm to be relaxed. Watch JOe's picking wrist at 3minutes!!! that's all wrist, not much arm.

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  4. Matt
    Member

    @jason i do firmly use wrist for picking. I believe the upper-arm tension is caused by a requisite for smaller motion from the wrist that should come naturally.
    I will be taking a little under a week off (gonna be in NYC!), so hopefully when i get back home i will have a nice clean slate to experience the guitar. I do practice with pretty lousy posture.

  5. JorgeRubiales
    Member

    What do you mean by lousy posture?

    I recommend you to do an exercise called "speed bursts", it's widely used in classical guitar and can help you with your right hand.

    Put a metronome slow enough so you can play 8th notes effortlesly. Then play this:

    8= 8th note
    16 = 16th note
    Time signature = 4/4

    88 88 88 88 | 88 88 88 88 | 88 88 88 88 | 88 88 88 16161616 :|
    |: 88 88 88 88 | 88 88 88 88 | 88 88 88 88 | 88 88 16161616 16161616 :|
    |: 88 88 88 88 | 88 88 88 88 | 88 88 88 88 | 88 16161616 16161616 16161616 :|

    Etc. You get the idea. The thing is that you gradually increase the lenght of the 16th section, so when you finish the exercise you'll be playing 4 bars of 16 notes. Then you can put the metronome a notch up and start again.

    This should be done with a special focus on relaxing!

    Hope it helps Matt!

    EDIT: Thanks cdub for noticing the typo ;)

  6. Matt
    Member

    for lousy posture, i mean i almost lean over my guitar (i play a solidbody; similar to a les paul style). I'll try the tremelo seeds slowly and work back up. thanks again you all.

  7. JorgeRubiales
    Member

    I would recommend you to try playing imitating the classical posture. It's not completely doable in a solid body the boy will be lower than a classical guitar), but the key is to find a right hand position that helps you to get speed without any tension. Experiment with several neck angles to see how it changes ;)

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  8. david6strings
    Member

    the only guitar shape i feel confortable is the stratocaster shape, the others are less ergonomic and i feel i have to tense my shoulder

  9. meanmud
    Member

    I have begun playing with 99% wrist; however, I am taking huge steps backwards in the fact that I cannot move my wrist very fast at all, in fact it is VERY slow. The upside, I can feel EVERY note MUCH better.... Hoping that one day my wrist will release into a wonderful flowing mechanism....lol

  10. Matt
    Member

    it seems to me like guitar technique is so difficult...a sax player can pretty much rip it if they learn the scales, i feel. but i maybe grossly underestimate other instruments.

  11. jorgemg1984
    Member

    No its true, its much harder to play fast on a guitar than on a sax... thats why so many players like to show off speed, because its so hard...

  12. JorgeRubiales
    Member

    Well, I've made the test and I can shred better on my archto than on my Ibanez rg (superstrat kind of). I think it has to do with the wrist position on flat top guitars, in my archtop I have to have the wrist "bent" inwards (just a little, like playing classical), and with the flat top I have the wrist almost the opposite, which also hurts my back and shoulder a little....

  13. Matt
    Member

    YES, that position seems to work best.
    I noticed that by simply improving my posture, my arm is so much more relaxed...and i've not lost a whole lot of technique.

  14. david6strings
    Member

    hey can you tell me if you notice a rotation forearm motion playing that way

  15. JorgeRubiales
    Member

    With the archtop there's a little bit. The problem with the solidbody I think is also that there's a sideways movement

  16. Matt
    Member

    so far, it seems to have gotten better...a little bit.

  17. Matt
    Member

    alright i dunno how to attack this. my arm isn't tense anymore but now the top of my forearm gets tense...my picking isn't sloppy though. my wrist doesn't get tense either, so i suppose i've made some progress. i have to isolate that area now...

    also, having never before been a strummer, my strumming has gotten better.

  18. JorgeRubiales
    Member

    Hold on a little with that. Changing your posture always introduces some unwanted tension somewhere. You should notice a gradual release of tension in the next weeks. If not, then check out what's happening.

  19. EvanM
    Member

    This may be a dumb response, but are you sure you're breathing properly?
    Most of my injuries occurred because I was holding my breath or breathing very shallowly, and the resulting tension gave me an inflamed rotator cuff in my left shoulder. Hope things improve!

  20. cdub
    Member

    Hi Matt,
    I've had a few muscle problems before and I know how how frustrating it can be trying to lift your playing to the level you want it.

    Here are a few tips:

    Breath. As Evan M points out this is super important. If you sing your phrases as (or before) you play them you will notice a big difference.

    Do more non-playing practice - singing, rhythm work, composition.

    Practice less and perform more. Practice tends to be very narrowly focussed. I really think that the brain and body work much differently in performance situations.

    Speed bursts are great. (I'm sure the earlier posting simply had a typo)

    Sort out your posture. Go on, you know you need to!

    Check out other picking styles. One word (I think it is one word): Youtube

    Spend some time with gypsy picking. Check out birelli lagrene and stochelo rosenberg.

    Think about downstrokes. A lot. And the way they move in towards the face of the guitar, and how this increases the bass frequencies in each note.

    Invent a way of playing beautifully that suits your fingers. Not everyone can be Usain Bolt or Steve Vai or (insert appropriate name here)

    Good Luck!

  21. Hey Matt, may be a bit of an odd question but what sort of mindset are you in when you begin practicing? For me (as many many others have pointed out) so much of what we do is mental preparation, and that translates into the physical. Have you checked out Kenny Werner's "Effortless Mastery" at all? That had a big impact on me when I was in school and helped with a lot of the same issues (and many others!). A lot of professional musicians I know use meditation techniques (before/during practice), practice yoga, etc. and that all comes to the practice room. Which then comes to the gig!

    Hope that helps.

  22. Matt
    Member

    yes i usually stretch but sometimes i do get in a pretty frustrated mindset, which is never good!

    my new theory is that i've just never focused on getting rid of tension (seven and a half years to figure out i need to!). so this morning i worked on a classical piece for an hour and then did some strumming and scale studies and i noticed a huge improvement in relaxation. my technique wasn't as fast and sometimes i feel like i dont have quite the control i maybe did, but i think this is a result of lack of tension.

  23. silverwater
    Member

    I'm in the same "club". Lots of great tips and advice has been posted already...and I'll agree with others who have said that focusing on relaxing and breathing as an exercise is important.

    If you can focus on relaxing your body from your face down to your hands while playing something simple and repetitive, it can help to train your body to be relaxed while the guitar is in your hands. The body gets so used to being in a certain state while the instrument is in your hands, it's hard to unlearn that habit.

    Also, one thing that hasn't been mentioned yet is practicing playing really slow. I've been practicing playing whole notes and half notes, and simple melodies with. Playing these kinds of melodies with near-perfect time is a lot harder than one would think (at least for me anyways), and it really gets you back to focusing on the technique you're using to play just one note, as opposed to a series of notes.

  24. Matt
    Member

    i dont think i've gotten any better with it really.... i feel like i have no control over dynamics, accents, and just overall playing without my tension now. i am extremely frustrated and considering just giving using a pick, as i only use one for single-note lines. i use my fingers for just about everything else, and feel i get out better ideas and am more conscious of articulation with my fingers.

    why is a damn pick so hard to use!?

  25. Matt
    Member

    i can hardly even play sixteenths at 80bpm without getting tense. this is extremely discouraging.

  26. jimjazz
    Member

    Hi Matt,

    I did my first gig in 2 months last Friday. I'd picked up a weird nerve injury called 'adverse mechanical tension', which is just what it says on the box. Bad posture caused excess tension in my upper body snagging the nerve and badly affected my left arm and hand.

    Besides undergoing physiotherapy I've started studying 'Alexander Technique' and after last Fridays gig I am utterly convinced of its effectiveness in reducing tension throughout my entire body and improving my performance focus. After the gig my left hand didn't hurt at all, where as normally it does, and my playing on the gig was surprisingly good (even if I do say so myself) considering my practice time has been greatly reduced in the last 2 months.

    I wouldn't say I was a sceptic of AT, as I had always thought of at least checking it out, but my recent problem forced me to seek answers and I just wish I'd sought it out earlier. I can't recommend it enough.

    On the subject of guitar technique I always found string skipping exercises helped me sort out my right hand.

  27. JorgeRubiales
    Member

    Well Matt, I think to get past this point you should borrow a webcam and record yourself playing a little bit, so we can see what's really going on. Nonetheless, here are some thoughts in no particular order:

    - Werner's book is a nice companion for tense players.

    - It's not mandatory to play guitar with a pick. It helps with speedy single note lines though.

    - Music should be a joy.

    - We can't be creative when we aren't in a good mental shape. We can't play effectively when we aren't in a good body shape.

    - Coordination exercises are always good. Have you tried picking upwards only?

    - Dynamics are made by the plucking hand. Work on those on isolation.

    - Patience is the mother of science.

    - Use the force (ok, I should really hit "send post" now...)

  28. jorgemg1984
    Member

    How much legato do you use on the left hand? The more you use it the less you depend on your right hand.

  29. Matt
    Member

    You guys are right. i think i just need to use more patience and go slower. really work at it. sometimes i expect results too quickly!

  30. david6strings
    Member

    hey jorge, what werner, kenny werner? can you tell me what is called that book? thanks a lot, by the way, awesome performance yesterday in madrid with aaron parks and two guys i've never heard of them, i think the drummer called Justin plays with bradford marsalis, the masterclass was good too, Kurt told me "THE BOOK" is at 70 per cent finished hehehe.
    i'm dealing with the tension problem too, so im gonna post my stretching exercises for you to check them, it takes me 10 min before play


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