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Thread: Left hand position

  1. #1

    Default Left hand position

    Hello all. I知 a novice ..rhythm player but starting to shift to playing breaks and riffs and all the fun stuff but I知 guitar player and I keep moving into bad positions for barre chords...I immediately move my thumb behind the neck which is not where it belongs and when I am reaching with my pinky I知 collapsing my wrist. The result is getting cramps in that area between the thumb and index finger .. at which point I switch back to open chords which is limiting. Movable chords then become quite a mess .. I can稚 figure out how to hold that correct position.... you guys make it look easy. Any tips ?

  2. #2
    Mandolin user MontanaMatt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Left hand position

    Lots of deliberate practice. Try to force your left thumb to stay rounded and on the side of the neck. Good luck breaking guitar habits!
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    Default Re: Left hand position

    It's not easy to diagnose without seeing you in action.
    However, going by what I often see, my guess would be that you're holding it too much like a guitar, which means it's starting with the big muscles.
    Often people use up too much of the muscle slack just holding the mandolin poorly and the symptoms you notice are possibly from trying to compensate for this.

    As a rough guide, don't fit yourself to the mandolin, it's designed to fit the average body. So first get set up to see what's what without holding the mandolin.
    Hang your arms so you don't carry any weight of the upper arm, relaxed shoulders with the upper arms just loosely suspended, with elbows relaxed by your sides.
    Imagine a straight line passing through your body between the elbows with neither elbow behind or in front of the mid line. Shrug & drop your shoulders a few times to get a feel fo the loose weight just hanging with no effort. That's where you want to be once you hold the instrument; no muscular effort holding the upper arm forward or backward of the mid line. Get familiar with that feeling as we all tend to get excited in the moment and let some tension creep in.

    Next, again without the mandolin, bring your left arm up from the dangling elbow with the palm upwards and tap your shoulder, drop it back lightly to sit relaxed in front of you so there's a nice open angle on the inside of the elbow. Do this a good few times and feel for the most easy angle left to right and up and down, so there's no feeling of tension just the most neutral suspension of the hand in front of you. I'll probably be a slightly raised angle rather than parallel to the floor. Reset your self from the shoulders down and find that combination a few times until you're fairly sure it's the most relaxed up down & l-r .

    Next do the same with the right arm but with the hand side on to the floor (like a relaxed karate chop for now), remember, no tension.
    Once you're happy with that, without bringing the elbow up or around your body just swing the hand to point towards the upturned left hand.
    Do that a good few tines and notice the angle the right forearm makes across the body when everything is relaxed; that's where the mandolin will fit your body in the most relaxed manner for you.

    Repeat the position finding for both arms a good few times, first singly, then together & give the shoulders a good shrug and drop at the end of it to make sure you check for no tension. Next pick up the mandolin with your hand loosely supporting the underside behind the neck-body join. get your relaxed Left hand in place and then bring the mandolin up and across to let your right hand fall into its relaxed position placing the edge of the neck across the left palm at the index knuckle. Get a good image of where everything sits when it's relaxed. Keep checking that you're not bringing either elbow forward or holding them out more than they fall naturally.

    When you loosely curl your left hand around the neck (which will have the neck at quite an angle out from your body if you're still relaxed) it should naturally curl into position with the knuckles pointing towards the nut this will give you a good relaxed hand position to start from. the wrist shouldn't need to collapse at all if you've not used up all your muscle strength and tendon length trying to fight tense large muscles in the shoulders and upper arms.

    Now as for playing barre chords at the start, I would say you've got four fingers and four courses so to begin with use those and (except for single finger two course barre) learn the non-barred shapes until you get really used to your good relaxed position. Once you're well up on covering all the chord shapes with individual fingers, then you'll probably be settled in enough to try them without introducing tension in your hand. But I would really leave them out for a long while until you're really at home in a good relaxed position.
    Eoin



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  4. #4

    Default Re: Left hand position

    I think you are on to something with the notion of relaxing .... I find I have a death grip on that neck.

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    Default Re: Left hand position

    Quote Originally Posted by Eclectic1 View Post
    Hello all. I’m a novice ..rhythm player but starting to shift to playing breaks and riffs and all the fun stuff but I’m guitar player and I keep moving into bad positions for barre chords...I immediately move my thumb behind the neck which is not where it belongs and when I am reaching with my pinky I’m collapsing my wrist. The result is getting cramps in that area between the thumb and index finger .. at which point I switch back to open chords which is limiting. Movable chords then become quite a mess .. I can’t figure out how to hold that correct position.... you guys make it look easy. Any tips ?

    The simple answer is: you don't hold the mandolin. The role of the left hand is to stop the strings, not support the neck.

    In other words, you first secure the mandolin in place, using strap, point and a small portion of your right forearm, then you bring your left hand to the instrument and start playing. You don't place the thumb anywhere, it goes where it has to go. In my case the thumb will slide in under the neck when barreing, and going up the neck it will trail behind.

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  7. #6
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    Default Re: Left hand position

    The death grip is a battle that many of us fight. I've been playing for more than a dozen years, and left hand tension is one thing that I work at constantly. The first step is to make sure that the set-up of your instrument is optimized for easy playing. After that, I find that the important thing for me is to find that amount of pressure that is just enough to play cleanly, and work to ingrain that feeling in my brain. Then, when I'm playing and start to get that cramp or twinge, I remind myself to ease up and search for that easy grip.

    I also tend to play a lot of barre-style chords, so my thumb shifts often, but it's never really at the back of the neck like with a guitar. The mandolin neck is small enough that the barre shapes work with the thumb still on the top of the neck. With enough repetition, you don't even think about it, the thumb just goes where it's most comfortable. One thing that I try to be conscious of is not letting the neck fall tightly down into the web between the thumb and first finger. Ideally, there should always be some space between that web of the hand and the back of the neck.
    Mitch Russell

  8. #7

    Default Re: Left hand position

    leaving a space Between the hand and the neck works on open chords. Once I go up the neck all bets are off. That’s going to take a lot of practicing in a new way.. lots of work to do.

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    Registered User archerscreek's Avatar
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    Default Re: Left hand position

    The light came on for me watching the Northfield videos with Mike Marshall and Emory Lester. Great music and up close video. What did I notice? They move/rotate their hand around quite a bit. They never seemed to "hold" their thumb in any one position.

    Love the playing on this video.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=MM3ha4HX9zM

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  11. #9

    Default Re: Left hand position

    Quote Originally Posted by Eclectic1 View Post
    Hello all. I’m a novice ..rhythm player but starting to shift to playing breaks and riffs and all the fun stuff but I’m guitar player and I keep moving into bad positions for barre chords...I immediately move my thumb behind the neck which is not where it belongs and when I am reaching with my pinky I’m collapsing my wrist. The result is getting cramps in that area between the thumb and index finger .. at which point I switch back to open chords which is limiting. Movable chords then become quite a mess .. I can’t figure out how to hold that correct position.... you guys make it look easy. Any tips ?

    A member here provided this link, and the short #4 and #5 videos provide detailed left hand position/movement instruction:

    http://www.petimarpress.com/mandolin...%20videos.html

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    Default Re: Left hand position

    Quote Originally Posted by onassis View Post

    I also tend to play a lot of barre-style chords, so my thumb shifts often, but it's never really at the back of the neck like with a guitar. The mandolin neck is small enough that the barre shapes work with the thumb still on the top of the neck. With enough repetition, you don't even think about it, the thumb just goes where it's most comfortable. One thing that I try to be conscious of is not letting the neck fall tightly down into the web between the thumb and first finger.
    With proper technique, as sketched above, you shouldn't have to think about that. Using the two points on the floor side my mando will sit firmly in place leaving my fretting hand free to roam the fretboard.

  13. #11
    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Left hand position

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    The simple answer is: you don't hold the mandolin. The role of the left hand is to stop the strings, not support the neck.

    In other words, you first secure the mandolin in place, using strap,
    A minority of us never use a strap when playing mandolin, sitting or standing, including bowlbacks.

    Even then, the left hand merely supplies a small part of the support that also comes from the right forearm and the back of the instrument.

    Some traditional postures:



    https://www.mandolin.be/napolitaine/...e-plectrum.pdf

    a traditional mandolin method book's POV



    Now I know the common style, particularly with archtop carved mandolins, is to use a strap, and I am not trying to stop anyone from doing so. I just want to offer the idea that mandolins do not NEED a strap.

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    Default Re: Left hand position

    Wow.!!! that video really helped me see that my hand is nowhere near where it’s supposed to be, he has his thumb wrapped all the way around at some points. That was some pure inspiration there !!!! Thank you

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    Registered User Marc Berman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Left hand position

    Here you go. Mike Marshall explaining left hand position.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NmagoBQunZI
    Marc B.

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    Default Re: Left hand position

    Quote Originally Posted by Marc Berman View Post
    Here you go. Mike Marshall explaining left hand position.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NmagoBQunZI
    I am greatly in sympathy with the technique shown in this video!
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  18. #15

    Default Re: Left hand position

    While I greatly admire Mike Marshall, I would caution about the thumb position, in that Mike has very large hands. Many folks, such as me, would find moving the thumb that much over the edge of the neck could aggravate preexisting thumb problems or create a new one. I don’t think it’s important to get your thumb that far over neck, just make sure you don’t use the classical guitar hand position.

    If your hand begins to hurt, your hand position or grip tightness is wrong.

    My $.02.
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  19. #16

    Default Re: Left hand position

    Quote Originally Posted by Marc Berman View Post
    Here you go. Mike Marshall explaining left hand position.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NmagoBQunZI
    This was extremely helpful. And I am much more solid on single notes in that position...dare I say a bit smoother. I totally get this but barre chords still collapse my wrist as does pinky I involvement. I need a different pinky with an extra half inch.

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    Default Re: Left hand position

    Quote Originally Posted by Eclectic1 View Post
    Once I go up the neck all bets are off.
    And those are almost exactly Mike Marshall's words from his instructional DVD. Leaving some space between the hand and the back of the mandolin's neck is good practice because it avoids the death grip. But with chords, it's only natural for the hand to twist and turn, and for that space occasionally to disappear. Don't focus on this aspect so much that it ruins your relaxed stance. The goal is simply to keep the left hand as mobile as possible rather than use it to hold the mandolin. I know because I'm still fighting the same battle.

    The same argument applies to Mike Marshall's thumb position. As Bill said, Mike Marshall has unusually large hands. His thumb position may not be the right one for you, so don't try to imitate it. Stick with the goal of keeping the left hand as free as possible. Everything else will depend on your anatomy.

    EDIT: Also note how Mike rests the body of the mandolin between his thighs, which makes it much easier to avoid using the left hand to "hold" the instrument. I usually feel like resting the body of the mandolin on my right leg (I'm right-handed) like the examples in David's pictures. That's a disadvantage for stability and requires a strap or more left-hand involvement.
    Last edited by Gelsenbury; Feb-01-2020 at 5:49am.

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  22. #18

    Default Re: Left hand position

    Quote Originally Posted by DGtryin View Post
    A member here provided this link, and the short #4 and #5 videos provide detailed left hand position/movement instruction:

    http://www.petimarpress.com/mandolin...%20videos.html
    This series is excellent in showing both left hand position and how use the pinky finger.
    Thanks!
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  24. #19

    Default Re: Left hand position

    Quote Originally Posted by tjmangum View Post
    This series is excellent in showing both left hand position and how use the pinky finger.
    Thanks!
    I just watched the videos and can recommend them. They are super easy to understand and clearly explained. I am beginning to focus on my pinky, and I expect these exercises will really help me.

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    Default Re: Left hand position

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    A minority of us never use a strap when playing mandolin, sitting or standing, including bowlbacks.

    Even then, the left hand merely supplies a small part of the support that also comes from the right forearm and the back of the instrument.

    I always play seated and never use a strap. The last two pictures are very instructive.

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    Default Re: Left hand position

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    While I greatly admire Mike Marshall, I would caution about the thumb position, in that Mike has very large hands. Many folks, such as me, would find moving the thumb that much over the edge of the neck could aggravate preexisting thumb problems or create a new one. I don’t think it’s important to get your thumb that far over neck, just make sure you don’t use the classical guitar hand position.

    If your hand begins to hurt, your hand position or grip tightness is wrong.

    My $.02.
    "thumb position", "moving the thumb", "don't use the classical guitar position" "grip" ??? Again: the thumb lands where it lands. The classical guitar position is on the back of the neck of a guitar.

    In an accident 12 years ago I tore one of the two tendons that control my left thumb. I have almost no control over it; if I extend my left hand, palm up, it will stand at a 45 degree angle to the plane of my palm. That in no way affected my left hand technique on mandolin, because it was natural from the very beginning.

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    Default Re: Left hand position

    Quote Originally Posted by Rdeane View Post
    I just watched the videos and can recommend them. They are super easy to understand and clearly explained. I am beginning to focus on my pinky, and I expect these exercises will really help me.

    What I really like is his natural and logical explanation of diatonic fingering. But I question the idea of bringing the mandolin to the hand and having the left arm parallel to the floor.

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