Left Hand Tension

  1. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    I'm having a terrible time with my left hand. My teacher has had me working on C major scale exercises and tunes for some time now. I thought my left hand position was pretty good, but now we're working on separating 2nd and 3rd fingers on the G and D strings and I'm having a terrible time of it. I keep adjusting my hand position, trying to relax, but now feel I'm having to relearn what to do with my wrist, my thumb and each of my fingers, not to mention thinking about keeping my 2nd finger planted. If anyone else has experienced this struggle, I'd like to know how you overcame it.
  2. HonketyHank
    Sherry, I have to say that I don't remember having that problem.

    Have you done exercises like these?

    Of course, the repeat sections are repeated ad infinitum ad nauseum ad fingerbustium and ever fasterum.

    These are the kind of stuff I work on with my 3rd and 4th fingers when my pinkie doesn't want to cooperate but no reason they can't help with 2nd and 3rd finger.
  3. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Can you give a little more information, Sherry? I'm not 100% sure what you mean by separating your second and third fingers. Chords or melodies?
  4. FredK
    Sherry, of the 4 courses, my struggle with scales is always with the G when it comes to the 3rd and 4th fingers - especially above the 7th fret. It's probably due to the neck thickness and my average size hand. Finger planting can be a problem if I let technique slide. What helps me is to keep the neck up and make sure the arch in is my wrist on the lower courses. It's a regular part of my practice routine which is helping to strengthen those fingers. Some finger-buster exercises help to work on flexibility, too.
  5. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Henry, unfortunately, a lack of exercises is not my problem. I have plenty and have been working on them for a while.

    Louise, I'm talking about having space between the knuckles, say when there's a fret between 2nd and 3rd fingers and both are planted on the string. You may recall my teacher is a classical violinist, not a mandolinist. Since you play both, I'm wondering if your left hand position is the same for both.

    Fred, I presume by "courses" you're talking about strings. I'll see about finger-buster exercises, although I don't know that exercises, per se, will help with my issue.
  6. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    I'm practicing now and would like to clarify. Yes, there's tension in my left hand - and shoulder. But, as far as left hand position, I'm doing OK with G, D and A major scales and tunes. Where I struggle with C major, and you can probably guess this, is stretching, for instance, from F natural to G (1st position), while keeping 2nd finger planted on F. Another example is 3rd position, G and D strings, keeping 2nd finger planted on D and A, respectively. I'm also pressing too hard on the strings. Mark Gunter, Jon Hall and others have said the action on my instrument is fine. I've looked at some videos this afternoon for how I might correct this aspect of my playing.
  7. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Ah yes.

    Many factors here. Pressing hard creates tension, and that affects everything else—not in a good way.

    Third fingers tend to have minds of their own. First and second move together, as do third and fourth. Co-ordinating second and third works against the hand's natural inclinations.

    G-string in particular is a longer reach.

    Tension in your shoulder will create tension down the rest of your arm and into your hand.

    So what to do? First, try to eliminate the extra tension caused by pressing too hard. Next, is your teacher insisting you keep your second finger pressing hard enough to fret while engaging the third? Could you release some of the tension in the second finger? Then, check the position of your elbow. When playing violin (this is easier to visualize than mandolin, I think) your left elbow should be more-or-less under the bridge. To reach the G string, though, you move the elbow forward to bring the left hand into a better position. At the same time, your thumb moves a bit towards the bottom rather than the side of the neck. These are small, automatic adjustments, but they make a huge difference. Is your left arm situated so you can swing you elbow forward a tad? Are you adjusting your hand position to get over the lower courses, rather than just trying to reach from a static position?

    Last fall I took an afternoon class with Radim Zenkl. He suggests stretching the left hand by putting the fingers of your right hand between adjoining fingers on your left, then opening the fingers on the right hand, slowly and gently, of course. With any sort of hand exercises you want to be careful and go slowly, but there are about three million hits if you Google "hand exercises."

    I know you said your setup is fine. How's the neck width? Even a sixteenth of an inch wider or narrower at the nut can make a huge difference. The depth and shape of a mandolin neck can be very different also. What feels great to one person is clumsy to another.
  8. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Louise, it's easier to respond to you by email, so that's what I'll do.
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