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Thread: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

  1. #1
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    Default aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    I just hit my 69th birthday and my playing has gotten so sloppy. I can't hit the strings they way I used to nor can I play with any accuracy. I was never a top knot player, but it's hard letting go of what I used to be able to do. Have any of you run into this? Are there any remedies other than peaceful acceptance and resignation? Having played for 45-50 years, it's quite a jump to think of not playing any more.
    Daniel Kaufman

  2. #2

    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    I used to play a lot with Lloyd LaPlant, who is a great builder and almost 100 now. He talked about this often, namely that his fingers just didn't do what they used to do anymore. To adjust he and his band slowed the tempo down on more complex songs. However, they didn't on others and Lloyd always said it didn't matter as long as he was having a good time playing with friends.

    Now, Lloyd is probably the nicest, most easy-going human being that has ever lived, and I don't think he even knows the word ego, but his ability to just accept it and be happy regardless was enviable.

    I don't know how much this post helps, as you're describing what is really a nightmare for musicians to endure, but when it inevitably happens to me I plan to just try to think about Lloyd.

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    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    You don't have to age to think that you may not be able to play anymore.

    A long time ago, certain situations caused me to think about me being neither able to sing nor to play an instrument (any more). Those were trying times, as I had the road of life before me. I said never give up and was able to turn the situation around.

    Over the years your playing changes anyhow, from playful, crazy, uneducated via intelligent, insightful, elaborate to translucent. Neither is necessarily better or worse.

    Listen to Bill Monroe over the years, to Jesse McReynolds to Bobby Osborne... I do think that speed (slower) the material (more accessible) that you play and the arrangement (simpler) could help you to draw out the point of retiring your music skills.

    Trying to keep body and mind connected and keeping physically fit helps also. Not that I am near your age. And of course no-one is created equal. But I hope that I can give my dear dad a run for his money.
    Olaf

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    I am a few years older than you. I have noticed that I am slowing down and probably can't quite play as accurately as I used to especially at break neck speeds. OTOH I think you might just give yourself a break. I don't mean taking time off from playing though that could be beneficial but that you derive what you can from what you have. I think the feeling that you may be losing things might add to the anxiety of doing so. I say ignore those voices in your head. I have been playing as long as you and will never be a virtuoso and yet I can still play music and it keeps me going. Keep things simple. Derive beauty from playing slowly and savoring the notes. I also do genre hopping to get my ears cleared.

    I dove deep into Quιbιcois music in the last few years and now have also discovered and have been exploring traditional dance music from France. And I do go back to my old time and still play for dancing which is a real joy as well. And I get the greatest joys just from getting together with friends and playing together. I have a friend who is approaching ninety and he just started learning fiddle in the last few years. He is a real inspiration to me not because he is a phenomenal player but because he still maintains that enthusiasm for all kinds of music.
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    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    I have some similar problems, but a very different history; I'm a retired music professor, so I have high musical standards in my mind. But I never played a string instrument with any serious intent, my work was vocal, choral, and theory. I never really played a mandolin until I retired, and now I am dedicated to my mandocello. Since I started so late, I am held back by mild arthritic joints and by the fact that I didn't play when young; now I'm 75. Here's my solution and advice, totally in line with my master teacher Fabio Giudice.
    Play slow. And quietly. Concentrate on tone and phrasing rather than speed and difficulty.

    Now, when I started with the mandolin I jumped into bluegrass jams and banged away on chords and scales, playing loud and sloppy with little of the musicality I had trained other young choral students to embrace. When I picked up the mandocello and joined an orchestra, I found the MC parts in the music less frantic, with lots of long sustained notes and occasional lyrical melodic lines. Of course, the mandocello is a beast to finger, but the music was less demanding--fewer runs of rapid 16th notes and chords that I saw in Bluegrass.
    I will never be a great player, but I am getting better, and studying with a great teacher who understands my challenges. He is always telling me to slow down and make each note beautiful.
    I am not suggesting you take up the mandocello, or classical orchestral music, but that you look into whatever kind of music you enjoy and find pieces that emphasize tone and tune rather than blistering scale runs. That, as opposed to trying to play like a teenaged Chris Thiele and beating yourself up.
    Hope that helps.
    jim
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  10. #6

    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Imhoff View Post
    I am not suggesting you take up the mandocello,
    jim
    I am suggesting that. It's awesome.

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  12. #7
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    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    Daniel,

    Last August, I started having trouble curling the fingers of my left hand and started wondering if my short time with the mandolin might be winding down. I turn 68 this year and I started to realize that playing a couple hours a day was getting difficult. In short order, playing for a half hour was very uncomfortable. Fortunately, I went to my regular physician, who sent me to a hand specialist, and I found out that I was beginning to deal with a type of arthritis. I also found out that there was a treatment that might help. I am back to roughly two hours a day of playing, and although I cannot say that I have improved, I do think I am back to where I was. During the time when my hand was still fighting me, I was told that it would not hurt my hands to keep playing, so I did. Not as long every day, but as long as I wasn't damaging anything, I did keep playing. Slower and with lessintensity, but still playing. All this to say that I'd suggest you check with your own doctors and see if there is something that would help, and if not, find out if it will hurt anything if you do keep playing, and if you can keep playing, perhaps just slowing down a bit and enjoying the music.

    I wish you luck. Take caer.
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    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    There was an interview with Norman Blake from a workshop where he talked about playing slow. Unfortunately I cannot find it now but he talked quite a bit about the different sensibility required and how challenging it was to play slower and sound nice. If you listen to Norman's playing from 1968 or 1975, he really played hot and fast. In the last 25 years or so his playing has become slower and elegant. Some of it has been due to the mini stroke he suffered. Some of it may be due to the things you are talking about. And a lot of it has been due to a change in his musical outlook and sensibility.

    The change in Norman's playing provides a good model for how to age gracefully in music.

  14. #9

    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    You might try taking off one course of strings (basically making your mandolin a four string instrument) and playing for a while. It will make it easier on your hands, but keep them moving.
    Last edited by Mandobar; May-16-2022 at 11:22am.
    Sorry, I am no longer suffering fools

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    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandobar View Post
    You might try taking off one course of strings (basically making your mandolin a four string instrument, and playing for a while. It will make it easier on your hands, but keep them moving.
    Or check the set up on your mandolin and possibly use lighter strings with lower action.
    Jim

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    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    What we lose in athleticism we have opportunity to gain in musicality. We have experienced more and felt more and understand more and can better circumscribe that which cannot be known, and all of this is available to us as tools to play more musically.

    We perhaps lose some of the "look at him play" accolades, but we can gain many "listen to that beautiful tune" accolades.

    Perhaps age has given us a chance to play music more authentically and present music with less of us in the way.


    Or not. I tried...
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    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    I saw Les Paul play at the Iridium when he was in his 90s. He talked a lot about the gradual loss of his hands and re learning the entire instrument to work with what he had left.

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    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    In my professional life there was agreement, among those of us approaching and after 60, that it took a lot longer to warm up to our expected level of facility.
    At 70, that is very much the case, but I can now choose what to play. The approach that keeps me engaged is polishing repertoire but especially learning new stuff.

    If you have to play the same athletic tunes as before, plan to warm up a lot before performing. Don't play through pain, either. Change your grip, finger lightly, etc.
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    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    In my 70's and still playing out, but can tell I am not as good as I was the year before. This happens each year. Still hanging in there and played a dance with Chirps Smith last weekend and managed to keep up, but some nights it's not as easy, and I know it is coming. Arthritis in thumbs and wrists will take their toll. I still play every day and will gig every weekend thru the summer. See what next year brings.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    Quote Originally Posted by NotACreativeName View Post
    I used to play a lot with Lloyd LaPlant, who is a great builder and almost 100 now. He talked about this often, namely that his fingers just didn't do what they used to do anymore. To adjust he and his band slowed the tempo down on more complex songs. However, they didn't on others and Lloyd always said it didn't matter as long as he was having a good time playing with friends.

    Now, Lloyd is probably the nicest, most easy-going human being that has ever lived, and I don't think he even knows the word ego, but his ability to just accept it and be happy regardless was enviable.

    I don't know how much this post helps, as you're describing what is really a nightmare for musicians to endure, but when it inevitably happens to me I plan to just try to think about Lloyd.
    Lloyd is an inspiration in so many ways.

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    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    I made my debut as a triangle player with a local community symphony orchestra yesterday. If I do reach the point where I can't play mandolin or violin family instruments satisfactorily, I hope I'll still be able to hit things with sticks.
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    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    Then there are those of us who took up mandolin in our sixties. Just as we're starting to speed up, we're slowing down.

    I think if you watch older professional musicians, you'll see that, except for a very few who are spared arthritis, muscle tension, and such, they slow down as they age. I've noticed that as members of a couple of my favourite traditional music bands from Prince Edward Island, get into their fifties and sixties, they have taken younger family members into their groups. The younger people seem to carry quite a bit of the weight in their public performances. The older people still shine when they play, but they play less.

    All the best with your playing and with your musical path.
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    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
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    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    Quote Originally Posted by j. condino View Post
    I saw Les Paul play at the Iridium when he was in his 90s. He talked a lot about the gradual loss of his hands and re learning the entire instrument to work with what he had left.
    He solved the problem by hiring a pretty girl to play a lot of the parts he used to play.
    "The paths of experimentation twist and turn through mountains of miscalculations, and often lose themselves in error and darkness!"
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  29. #19

    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    At 79 lite strings and CBD CREAM.Play all nite bluegrass is the cream is best out .

  30. #20

    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    I just turned 70 two weeks ago and having taken up the mandolin in my early sixties I have nothing to compare as far as speed and loss of ability. I’m happy with two finger cords and just modeling around. Now let’s take a step or two back. I have been a life long surfer since I was fourteen. The last 3 or 4 years I have not surfed and it does bother me since it was such an important part of my life. I feel that it was better to have gone out on top and remembered as a pretty competent surfer than being looked at as the old guy making a fool of himself. I will give it an attempt or two this summer just to see before throwing in the towel. To sum things up play within your ability and don’t look back. Having fun is much more important.

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  32. #21

    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    I'm 75 and still playing with no problems.

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  33. #22
    Registered User Bren's Avatar
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    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    I'm just a couple of years behind you Daniel but my playing has never been great at speed.
    At least now I can claim it's old age.
    Bren

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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    Bren, so well put. Next birthday I will be 78 and yes, I definitely attribute my lack of speed to my fingers not moving fast enough! Age? Not if I am honest, but at sessions I can fall back on this when the young guns let rip. Seriously, I think those of us still playing at a reasonable level as we advance in years can be so grateful for this asset still being with us.
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    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    Well done John.
    Can I just say you don't look a day over 77!
    Bren

  37. #25
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    Default Re: aging fingers just can't cut it anymore

    Three things:

    1: B.B.

    I've gone to a lot of B.B. King shows, from the sixties to the new century. Last time I saw him he was in his nineties. Was he as fast as when he was younger? No. Was he voice as dynamic? No. Did he sound great? Yes. He was sitting, not standing. He couldn't do an encore because coming back to the stage would'be been to much work.

    But B.B.'s magic wasn't about speed or accuracy. It was about involvement with the music. He played and sang like he meant it and know what he was trying to say. And he was right there - as always.

    That's what I shoot for. I know there are better players and singers (and writers, because that's my real talent). But being great isn't the point, right?

    So, Option 1: Just keep doing it like you mean it, and throw away the excess expectations.

    2. Joan:

    I went to hear Joan Baez on her farewell tour a few years ago. Her voice didn't have the old bell-like purity — in fact, she had a terrific young backup singer with her to hit the highs. But like B.B., she still sounded great, for all the same reasons.

    But it was a farewell tour for a reason: She'd had a good run, had said her piece, and was ready to call it good. Instead of mourning the past, she was looking forward to the future.

    So, Option 2: Call it good, hang up your axe, and see what else life has to offer. You could even sell off your gear and put the money into something you've been putting off for lo these many.

    3. Me:

    Though I'm a little older than you, my fingers are holding out. But fifteen years ago, I didn't know they would. So, planning for future finger failure, I went to the local pawn shop and got a cheap squareneck resonator guitar, which requires no left-hand fingering and no hard right-hand strumming. I'm not a hot player (yet!), but I do have my moments.

    I also began working more seriously on my blues harp playing, which turns out to be good not just for blues but for bluegrass, too, even it it is an unorthodox approach to the High Lonesome — and, obviously, needs zero fingering. And harps are even more portable than mandos!

    So, Option 3: Find an instrument that will be easier on you.

    Good luck! You're bound to solve it one way or another.
    Gibson A-Junior snakehead (Keep on pluckin'!)

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