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Thread: Help for decreasing RH tension!

  1. #1
    Mandolinist out of Atl
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    Default Help for decreasing RH tension!

    I'd love to play fluidly with minimal tension and pain in my right arm and hand.

    I understand prolonged tension can cause tendinitis and wrist problems. Reason for me to now ask how others keep tension in the picking hand at bay.

    I have:
    1) tried armrests
    2)I always try to maintain a lose grip on the pick
    3) Tried playing softly.
    I even preach the ladder two points to all my guitar students, for sometimes these techniques have helped me a lot in the past.

    I am wondering, is anchoring so bad?
    Could a tone guard help? In the sitting position I do try to keep the instrument off my stomach so it can ring loud and clear

    Could my armrest make it worse? Any tricks of the trade that help you could be useful for me...please post them below. As an instructor I know that just telling someone not to be tense is like saying, "don't think of an elephant." Not super effective for the end goal.

    I am sure everyone has a different means to the tension free end. I need help finding mine.

    Thanks

  2. #2
    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help for decreasing RH tension!

    Armrests are fine, they keep your forearm off the top. A Tone Gard does the same for keeping your body off the back. But I doubt either have much effect on RH tension.

    The loose grip on the pick is the key and it takes work. I read a Chris Thile quote to the effect that your whole RH should be like a limp dishrag. Compton says that you should think about using the pick more like a violinist uses a bow, "brushing" the strings. I know that's is hard to do at speed and when you are trying to get volume. I think most of us struggle with that. The great players have it mastered.

    Anchoring is controversial. I've had several very good instructors and read many threads here on this topic and it seems there is no consistency on anchoring. Some good players anchor the pinky on the top. Some with the heel of their hand on the bridge. Some not at all. A classical teacher I had insisted on his students having a pickguard and "brushing" it with the pinky, but never actually planting.

    MHO is that you should do what works for you and follow your personal preferences. My personal preferences and thoughts are:

    1) If you are worried enough about freeing up the vibrations on the instrument to consider an arm rest and a Tone Gard, why then kill those vibrations by pressing your fingers on the top or you hand on the bridge?

    2) Anchoring anywhere holds you back from exploiting all of the picking area. You can get a Monroe sound back near the bridge. You can get a really mellow sound picking up over the fretboard. Anchoring either sticks you in one spot, or causes you to need multiple different anchors at different places on the instrument.

    3) It took me years to kick the anchoring habit. I am not going back. I think not anchoring causes less tension and gives you more freedom. But again, do what works for you.

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  4. #3
    Registered User SincereCorgi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help for decreasing RH tension!

    The best looseness tricks I've gotten have been from a hotshot violin instructor. (As with mandolin, looseness in the right hand is vital to getting a good violin sound.) The first one is to practice holding the pick very gently- then you gradually lessen your grip bit by bit until the pick falls out. This is to get yourself accustomed to the feeling of relaxing your grip and also to figure out just how loose you can go before you drop the thing. On violin they have you drop a pencil, and when I feel myself tightening up it can be a helpful exercise to remind myself.

    The other thing that works really well (this was new to me) was to set a timer for two or three minutes after getting your grip where you want it, then resume your practice. When the timer goes off, you check your grip to see if you've tightened up. You probably have. Relax, reset the timer, and keep going. It's a pain in the ass to actually do it, but it works and over a few sessions you will start to become more conscious of it.

    A thing that Joe Walsh turned me on to is that a lot of mandolin players try to play too much out of a single anchored hand spot, so they sound great on D and less so on G and A and lousy on E. He suggested minuscule movements of the right hand with string changes to get the best sound. Doing that has released a lot of tension from my right hand and improved the volume.

    I'd get a Tone Gard no matter what you do with your hand; they work really well.

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  6. #4
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    Default Re: Help for decreasing RH tension!

    The best advice I got on pick grip was ... " If you don't drop your pick every once in awhile you are holding it too tight"... The more tension from a tight grip you have in your fingers the more tension there is everywhere in your picking wrist elbow and shoulder. To avoid it all you start with your pick grip. That starts with how you are holding the pick........ Luck R/
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

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    Default Re: Help for decreasing RH tension!

    Yep

    Death grip = bad. Relax, shake your RH out (like you're flinging water off of it). Relax.

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    Unfamous String Buster Beanzy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help for decreasing RH tension!

    I would say always keep in mind that it's the arm that holds tha pick. Sounds kind of bonkers, but the muscles are in the arm and they're transferring the main forces via tendons to your hand and it's only the smaller detailed stuff that happens locally. If you have your arm in an awkward position to begin with you will be introducing tension and you'll be limiting the ability of your arm to respond in a relaxed way.

    So along with making sure the little stuff at the hand is right, make sure your basic arm positions are right for the playing position. If you're holding the arms up, or elbow out or pulling it in then the muscles you want to use are under tension or extension before you even begin a single spick stroke. Many pople I see tend to hold the neck in too close to their body and both arms end up in compromised positions before they begin. The right arm ends up having to reach around the mandolin body meaning the elbow is lifted out and over to get to the front and they're looking really tense before they even begin.

    I'm a great believer in first looking at your arms and hands without anything there and getting a feel for how they want to be placed. When you understand the best position for them, having considered everything from the neck and shoulders down, especially letting the elbows relax and touch your sides, then introduce the mandolin to that, rather than bending yourself or reaching out to fit some pre-conceived position you saw someone else playing.

    I would say always start with getting the big stuff right and you'll find the small details will tend to follow along as long as you work with what you really see/hear your body telling you rather than what you think it should end up like.
    Eoin



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    Middle-Aged Old-Timer Tobin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help for decreasing RH tension!

    I absolutely agree that you should occasionally be accidentally dropping your pick. If not, you're holding it too tightly.

    But keep in mind that, like Beanzy mentioned, it's not all about the hand or wrist. Some of the best advice I got, which really helped me loosen up, was from Steve Smith. Relaxation of the hands requires relaxation of the whole body. Tension in your neck, shoulders, even your face, will translate to your hands. So you have to take a holistic approach, and start by relaxing your face (no pursing your lips, gritting your teeth, etc.). Let your neck muscles relax, then your shoulders, upper arms, forearms, wrists, and finally your fingers. Take some time to just sit there and focus on relaxation, and learn to feel tension so you can let it go.

    If you're only focused on your wrist and hand, you're not going to truly get to a relaxed, loose, tension-free style of playing.

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  13. #8
    Mandolinist out of Atl
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    Default Re: Help for decreasing RH tension!

    Great advice, keep em coming! Already seems to help during my practice session today. It seems advice above reiterates that marathon practice is less helpful than 10 concentrated mindful minutes.

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    MandolaViola bratsche's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help for decreasing RH tension!

    I don't mean to barge in being obtuse (though maybe it sounds like I am), but for all the mentions of holding the pick so loosely that it inevitably falls on the floor from time to time, am I the only one who has noticed that the more loosely you hold the pick, the noisier and more obnoxious it sounds as it contacts the strings? You have to have a firm enough finger pressure on it, it would seem to me, to make a good tone and not have to hear all the clickiness your pick is capable of (and this goes for every material and brand of pick I've ever tried). I don't think you should ever be in danger of dropping it. That's too loose to even sound good, IMO. Pressure does not have to equal tension, either. The trick is to maintain that solid hold, and relax the muscles at the same time. Easy? No, but what is?

    FWIW as a violinist/violist for many years, I never heard it suggested that one should drop a pencil in order to get the feel for the right bow hold. It is similar to a pick, but not identical, though, in that when you hold a bow loosely, the instrument itself is helping keep it in balance, where a plucked instrument will not do the same with a plectrum. And then, there is the additional matter of the excessive pick noise, as I mentioned.

    BTW, I love my arm rests. I don't know how I ever played without one. It really gives me a better angle and keeps the heel of my hand from smothering the bridge. A tonegard or similar device would be of no use to me, though, as I hold the instrument quite out from my body when I play (only making contact with the instrument's lower back rib).

    bratsche
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    Registered User SincereCorgi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help for decreasing RH tension!

    Quote Originally Posted by bratsche View Post
    FWIW as a violinist/violist for many years, I never heard it suggested that one should drop a pencil in order to get the feel for the right bow hold.
    Yeah, so what? The number of perfectly good clarinet-teaching tricks that I don't know would fill an encyclopedia, and I certainly wouldn't discount a technique because I hadn't heard of it. Are you suggesting a tight bow grip? The guy I got these exercises came out of Juilliard and went through Mimi Zweig's string pedagogy program at University of Indiana, which is like the West Point of clever violin teaching tricks.

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    MandolaViola bratsche's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help for decreasing RH tension!

    Quote Originally Posted by SincereCorgi View Post
    Are you suggesting a tight bow grip?
    Of course not. That should have been self-evident had you read the rest of my post. Just saying that there are many (infinite?) shades of gray between "tight" and "so loose you can drop it". Why must we seek extremes?

    bratsche
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    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help for decreasing RH tension!

    I had an op.for 'Trigger finger' in my left hand several years ago.After the stitches were removed,i had to have a couple of weeks physio.on it. One of the things i still use today to ease the small degree of Tendonitis that i have in both hands is :- Run a basin full of water hot enough to be bearable & soak both hands init for a couple of minutes. Take a facecloth,soak it in the water & wring it out as hard as you can a few times until your hands feel really relaxed. It's the old trick of applying tension & then relaxing & it works really well,
    Ivan
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    Registered User Mike Snyder's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help for decreasing RH tension!

    Pick choice is certainly a personal choice kind of thing, but I've found that the big triangular picks like Wegen TFs and Trimus or a BC TAD are much easier to control in a loose grip than a teardrop. The way you're gripping it makes a huge difference with tension, too. A finger tip grip always caused me tension, while the more knuckle-ish grip gets more skin on the pick and allows a looser grip without loss of control. YMMV.
    Mike Snyder

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    Middle-Aged Old-Timer Tobin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help for decreasing RH tension!

    Quote Originally Posted by bratsche View Post
    I don't mean to barge in being obtuse (though maybe it sounds like I am), but for all the mentions of holding the pick so loosely that it inevitably falls on the floor from time to time, am I the only one who has noticed that the more loosely you hold the pick, the noisier and more obnoxious it sounds as it contacts the strings? You have to have a firm enough finger pressure on it, it would seem to me, to make a good tone and not have to hear all the clickiness your pick is capable of (and this goes for every material and brand of pick I've ever tried). I don't think you should ever be in danger of dropping it. That's too loose to even sound good, IMO. Pressure does not have to equal tension, either. The trick is to maintain that solid hold, and relax the muscles at the same time. Easy? No, but what is?
    Pick noise is, to some degree, inevitable. But it can be reduced by striking the strings at an angle (with improved tone to boot, especially with a good bevel). If you're hitting the strings with the flat of the pick, I can certainly understand why you'd be complaining about noise.

    But regardless of what angle you pick at, a loose grip is still recommended. It is compensated by a lot of skin contact using the "knuckle-ish grip" that Mike Snyder mentioned, with a large area of the thumb on one side and the side of the finger on the other. The pick will sort of rotate back and forth loosely between them.

    Too tight of a grip leads to a twangy sound, and will affect speed and cleanliness. The pick has to be loose enough to allow you to move "through" the strings. And since thick, stiff mandolin picks create better tone than thin, floppy ones, the only way to move through the high-tension courses of strings is to keep a loose grip. Each person has to find the grip that works for them, of course, but the goal should be to have as loose a grip as they can possibly muster.

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    Default Re: Help for decreasing RH tension!

    Butch B: Let the pick do the work

    Lou M: Let your right and left hands hang for that ancient tone

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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help for decreasing RH tension!

    There's another thing leading to tightness, and that's coordination overload. Trying to play faster or louder than comfortable inevitably makes the body brace for sudden turns it might be required to unexpectedly take but feels inadequately prepared for (just look at your white knuckles clutching the wheel when you drive faster than you can handle).
    Learning a piece of music at a self-controlled pace is the key. You haven't played it a thousand times slowly yet? Don't even bother to try it fast. Don't let anybody tell you when you should be ready.
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    MandolaViola bratsche's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help for decreasing RH tension!

    Quote Originally Posted by Tobin View Post
    Pick noise is, to some degree, inevitable. But it can be reduced by striking the strings at an angle (with improved tone to boot, especially with a good bevel). If you're hitting the strings with the flat of the pick, I can certainly understand why you'd be complaining about noise.
    We all find what works for us, ultimately, and go that way - which is why there's so much diversity among players. Personally, I've never obtained any good tone whatsoever from striking the string at an angle (it's markedly duller and less resonant, in my case), so yes, I will now only use the flat edge approach unless I'm looking for a temporarily dull effect. A flat edge is also the most natural with the way I hold my instrument, rather high compared to some, with my right arm often actually cradling it, and crossing the top of the tailpiece, which is why my armrests must cover the tailpiece. (Bear in mind that I play Bach and classical music, which has different demands than bluegrass, etc.)

    So for me, an absolutely loose hold on the pick is not optimal. I'd say that on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being "fall-out loose" and 10 being the proverbial death grip, I hold my pick anywhere from 2 to 6, depending on what kind of passage I happen to be playing at the time. And even a firm 6 under the right circumstances can be done with all other muscles, apart from the fingers in question, being totally relaxed - it doesn't mean that I've "tensed up" at all. I have for the most part conquered the issue of playing tension, which took a lot of doing, and which is why I commented about this. My right hand lagged for the longest time behind my left, since I first began picking with an already highly developed left hand technique in place, but it's catching up, finally. I've learned that tension in terms of the pick hold that one chooses is not the black-and-white issue of absolutes that some will make it to be.

    (Yes I am very analytical about my playing, and also probably the first 4 letters of that word, as well! )

    bratsche
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    Registered User Bill Baldridge's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help for decreasing RH tension!

    Quote Originally Posted by bratsche View Post
    We all find what works for us, ultimately, and go that way - which is why there's so much diversity among players. Personally, I've never obtained any good tone whatsoever from striking the string at an angle (it's markedly duller and less resonant, in my case), so yes, I will now only use the flat edge approach unless I'm looking for a temporarily dull effect. A flat edge is also the most natural with the way I hold my instrument, rather high compared to some, with my right arm often actually cradling it, and crossing the top of the tailpiece, which is why my armrests must cover the tailpiece. (Bear in mind that I play Bach and classical music, which has different demands than bluegrass, etc.)

    So for me, an absolutely loose hold on the pick is not optimal. I'd say that on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being "fall-out loose" and 10 being the proverbial death grip, I hold my pick anywhere from 2 to 6, depending on what kind of passage I happen to be playing at the time. And even a firm 6 under the right circumstances can be done with all other muscles, apart from the fingers in question, being totally relaxed - it doesn't mean that I've "tensed up" at all. I have for the most part conquered the issue of playing tension, which took a lot of doing, and which is why I commented about this. My right hand lagged for the longest time behind my left, since I first began picking with an already highly developed left hand technique in place, but it's catching up, finally. I've learned that tension in terms of the pick hold that one chooses is not the black-and-white issue of absolutes that some will make it to be.

    (Yes I am very analytical about my playing, and also probably the first 4 letters of that word, as well! )

    bratsche
    I was struck by the late Butch Baldassari's comment on his "Butch Baldassari's Bluegrass Mandolin Workshop" video that he attributed his good tone to a flat pick attack across the strings. This in contrast to other greats recommending attacking the strings at an angle to achieve good tone. So, as with many other issues concerning this fascinating instrument, there are many ways the task can be accomplished.

    Now, back to the "death grip" or "let it flop" debate.

  24. #19
    Middle-Aged Old-Timer Tobin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help for decreasing RH tension!

    Personally, I've never obtained any good tone whatsoever from striking the string at an angle (it's markedly duller and less resonant, in my case), so yes, I will now only use the flat edge approach unless I'm looking for a temporarily dull effect.
    If that's the tone you prefer, that's cool. I only mentioned it because one of the side-effects of a flat pick attack is that it seems to produce more pick click.

    And for the sake of accuracy, an angled pick attack isn't a drastic angle. Even just the slightest change in attack can retain most of the tone, while minimizing click and twanginess. For me, I have to continually monitor my pick angle to get that best tone (or at least what I consider the best tone for the style of music I'm playing), or I'll revert back to a flat pick attack.

  25. #20
    Economandolinist Amanda Gregg's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help for decreasing RH tension!

    Let me turn this discussion around a bit. I think it's a given that you must release tension in your right hand, because if you do not, you can cause injury. However, tension in the right hands increases when you are not confident in your right hand accuracy and you compensate by increasing grip. I find that when I'm pushing beyond my comfort zone, tension increases in both my right and left hands. After a week or two of consistent and conscious effort on left hand strength, right hand accuracy, and coordination between the hands, the tension goes away. In other words, I do not believe in just thinking "Relieve tension!" You've got to practice stuff. Then, you will find you can do more with less, and you'll feel more at ease.

    All this is about economy. Economy of motion and tension saves your muscles for difficult passages. Knowing the fingerboard inside and out gives you economy of mind so you can save your brain to think of new ideas. And so on, and so forth.
    Amanda

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    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help for decreasing RH tension!

    From Bill Baldridge - "......a flat pick attack across the strings.".That's what i always aim for.In fact,i sanded all the bevel off my Wegen picks to achieve that. I've found that 'for me',a bevel is too 'slidy' & smooth to tranfer all the pick power to the strings. Something's lost,& the larger the bevel,the more that IS lost (IMHO),& rounded edges such as those on the Dawg & Golden Gate picks are the worst (again,IMHO). You can achieve decent power using those picks,but i found that i had to really dig into the strings to allow the 'flat' of the pick to hit the strings instead of the rounded edges. In other words,achieving the same result as a pick without bevels does without any extra effort required,
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