Left Hand cramps

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Left Hand cramps

Postby Bailey » Tue Jan 03, 2012 11:28 am

Here I go again; new territory with an unpleasant outcome.

First it's left hand gets tired, which is improving with some of the suggestions that I received, then fat fingers that hit more than one string at a time, which I'm working on with a more vertical attack on the strings, and now cramps.

I've just started to play in positions other than first and am now working with 5th position using a barre. With the barre in 5th position, when I do scale work on the above 3 frets; particularly on the bottom strings; for instance, working a C, B, C, D, E, F, G sequence, I get a bad cramp in between my thumb and index finger; bad enough to make me stop, shake my hand out (sometimes massage it a little), then go back. It gets worse with continued playing in that position. I've tried using as little thumb pressure on the barre as I can get away with and still get a good sound from the strings, but that doesn't seem to help.

Is this a normal part of getting used to playing in other positions while using a barre? If so, is there a way to deal with the cramping? Will is go away with continued practice? Any suggestions?

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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby Blondie » Tue Jan 03, 2012 1:43 pm

Pain is nature's way of telling you you are doing something wrong, it will not go away if you just carry on and you could do yourself an injury.

It sounds like you are doing lots of scale practice whilst holding a barre - might I ask why? Even with good barre technique its a good rule of thumb to avoid full barres where possible and hold them for as little time as possible. Why do you want to practice scales like that?
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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby DanielDiVita » Tue Jan 03, 2012 2:06 pm

Yeah, be careful when you feel anything that you don't consider comfortable or relaxed. I can't really comment on your technique as I don't have a video or pictures to go by; so what I can tell you is that you aren't ready for what you are trying to do.

I've had that pain before and I ignored it and basically had to stop playing for about 5-6 months. Don't take the risk!

You may need to build up more strength. I have a little "accessory" that I really like to use. It's like those "finger exerciser" devices, but better, imo. Search "Magister Eggsercizer" on Amazon and you'll find what I'm talking about. I've got the blue egg which is medium strength. This thing has really helped my barres because you can train the thumb just like it's on a guitar.

Anyways, it'd be useful to see a video of you doing the exercise you describe above, and we could maybe evaluate your technique to see if you've got any problems. Other than that, just remember to ALWAYS stop when you get uncomfortable or feel tension as that's something you can control in order to avoid injury.
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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby washburn » Tue Jan 03, 2012 6:37 pm

Bailey

Douglas Niedt has an article on this at his website that has helped me out trememdously. Learn to do a barr with your forearm muscles instead of trying to squeeze it with your fingers.

Hope this helps...

Bing
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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby lagartija » Tue Jan 03, 2012 7:29 pm

Blondie wrote:It sounds like you are doing lots of scale practice whilst holding a barre - might I ask why? Even with good barre technique its a good rule of thumb to avoid full barres where possible and hold them for as little time as possible. Why do you want to practice scales like that?


I'm with Blondie. Why would you want to practice that particular thing? Are you playing a piece that requires that particular scale in that particular place? And why hold the full barre while doing the scale instead of using finger one to fret the appropriate note at the appropriate time? Your body is telling you something really important about doing this as an exercise. It is too aggressive for your strength at this time.

If you are doing this to improve left hand finger mobility whilst holding a barre, perhaps there are other exercises you could do first. Holding a barre immediately reduces the mobility of your fingers. My teacher nearly always advises me to put the barre down last --after the other fingers have been placed-- just for that reason. Over time, your left hand strength will increase, but this is like going to the gym for the first time and lifting the same weights that people have left at the station, who have been doing it for two years or more. You could hurt yourself.
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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby Tarbaby » Tue Jan 03, 2012 9:42 pm

I respectfully disagree. When I was at the Conservatory, our teacher had us practicing scales with a full barre. I think it was from one of the Emilio Pujol books, but I'd have to look that up. I viewed this not so much as a scale exercise, but a way to strengthen the barre by holding it down for a long time.

I do agree with lagartija, however, that this might be too much for your left hand right now. Take it slow.

I've been wanting to start a thread about left hand cramps for the past few weeks, because it's become a real problem for me lately. I've even had to leave a few of my gigs early because I just couldn't play anymore. I had problems with tendonitis in the 70's and 80's and saw a couple of different doctors about it. Tendonitis is a big problem here in Oregon, because of the tree planting industry. Doctors seem to disagree on whether it's best to immobilize the hand and arm for a few months, or keep doing what you're doing until it works itself out.

I've been trying to work through it. My first thought was potassium, since runners eat a lot of bananas to avoid cramps. I find them hard to digest, so instead I drink lots of juices that are high in potassium. That helps a little bit, as does drinking high protein drinks. But it's still a problem...

The only thing I've noticed that is different in the past two months is that it's really cold outside! By the time I get to the gig, my hands and arms are freezing. It takes at least an hour for them to warm up and even then all the muscles feel stiff and weak.

I see that you are in Massachusetts, Bailey. Could it be the cold weather that is affecting you?

Good luck,

Alan
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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby Bailey » Wed Jan 04, 2012 12:40 pm

Thanks for the comments everyone; it's good to know that this pain that I'm experiencing is not just and event isolated to me.

I'm doing the exercises as part of a progression to begin playing with a barre. The one that gives me the most problems is an exercise written in 1st position, but now played in 5th with the barre. On a simple up and down scale with the barre, it's not much of a problem (very slight pain). When my 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers start moving around in other ways, then it becomes a real problem.

I'll take everyone's advice and stop when I feel the pain. I believe that this will improve over time; as my left hand gets stronger and I want to give it the proper amount of time to do that. I've also tried using the forearm to hold the barre; to the extent of having no thumb pressure at all, but I still have the pain. I think I'm going to try the eggserciser; thanks Daniel.

I talked this over with my teacher yesterday and we agreed that I should only use the barre if my left hand felt normal and that, otherwise, I should forget the barre for now and finger it with the index finger, as Lagartija suggested.

I do want to be able to play with a full barre, but I'll take it easy.

I have another related question.

When I play with a full barre, some of the notes stemming from the barre sound nice and clean and others sound muddy. It this just the nature of the fingers on the fretboard? I realize that the fingers have recesses at the knuckles and that this means, inherently, less pressure on the string(s) that are sitting under the knuckles. If that's correct, then it makes sense to take the time to look at your left index finger, figure out how to place your finger so that the knuckle recesses are in between the strings and not over them (if this is physically possible) and use this as the basis for practicing barres. Does anyone else find this?

I have also noticed that some people play their barres with the side of their index finger instead of the bottom and curve their index finger so that it's closer to the frets on the E strings and further from them on the D and G strings. Ana Vidovic is one who uses this type of barre. Is this the way that I should be practicing barres, or is it all a matter of personal choice/style?

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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby lagartija » Wed Jan 04, 2012 2:27 pm

Bailey wrote:When I play with a full barre, some of the notes stemming from the barre sound nice and clean and others sound muddy. It this just the nature of the fingers on the fretboard? I realize that the fingers have recesses at the knuckles and that this means, inherently, less pressure on the string(s) that are sitting under the knuckles. If that's correct, then it makes sense to take the time to look at your left index finger, figure out how to place your finger so that the knuckle recesses are in between the strings and not over them (if this is physically possible) and use this as the basis for practicing barres. Does anyone else find this?


Yes. This happens to me as well. I spend a significant amount of time in pieces with lots of barres to find the best place to put my index finger. Sometimes it must be higher (with the tip well above the E6 string), and sometimes lower. All to eliminate the "thuddy" notes that occur when the crease of my finger joint just happens to fall on a string that the barre is supposed to fret. You can move the finger because there are times when the other strings are fretted by other fingers and that is not where the first finger pressure is needed. I have even found a solution in HVL Choros #1 where I "roll" the pressure of the barre as I play the ascending notes of the chord to get the cleanest sound. By this, I mean that most of the pressure is initially on the tip of the index finger, but as I play the chord, I let off that pressure and put more of it on the base of my index finger. It was all a matter of timing. Every person has this sort of problem unless you have sausage like fingers. The side of my index finger has a slight callus, but even turning my finger does not always work because I have a bony first finger joint and nearly always the crease ends up on a string and I have to modify the way I play that barre. I try everything for the particular barre in the piece. I move the index finger up or down, I try the side, I curve it, I try the rolling barre..... no one way of barring works for me in every case. Each one is different. I adjust and do what I have to to get the clean notes. It has taken a year of playing some pieces to finally get the clean notes at tempo. The two pieces that were and still are a challenge are Villa Lobos Choros #1 and Asturias by Albéniz. Playing those two pieces has taught me to try every barre technique that is out there!
So don't be surprised if it takes a long time to get the clean notes for some pieces, Baily. Just work at it slowly but surely. It will come with time. Sometimes, a lot of time.
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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby sonialiew » Wed Jan 25, 2012 4:34 pm

Hi I'm Sonia and I've been playing for about four years. I am a mature student started out at a late age of 30 prior to that I never had a lesson on musical instruments in my life! So yes I have the same problematic cramps in my left hand as yourself. Especially bad when I barre chords. So I did these few things I brought my guitar to a shop and got them to check out the string height basically got them to lower the string action for me. Also when i bought my guitar i made sure that the guitar neck was sort of flat in the back and the fret board not too wide. That helped me a lot though i'd probably last 1 hour before my hand started cramping again.

So....My teacher taught me that barre-ing doesn't necessarily mean your finger has to be straight like an actual bar...it can curl a little so that the other fingers have a little more strength to move more accurately. So the first few months or so of practice if you're a slowmo like myself the buzzing will be there to annoy the heck out of you until one day I got it! Also warm up before you start a class like play scales or just strum various chord changes.

And most importantly daily practice helps a lot! I practiced about 3 hrs daily when I can if not at least an hour. Phew cause I am really crappy! I still can't barre properly there's the occasional buzzing sound sometimes but That's ok! Don't worry you'll get there!
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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby anthony dossi » Thu Jan 26, 2012 11:16 pm

Julian Bream had a lot of problems with his left hand in the early 70's.
He talks about it in the film " Life inthe country" made in 77".
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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby Bailey » Fri Feb 03, 2012 8:51 pm

Thanks Sonia; I'm taking it easier on playing with a full barre and it's working out better now than before.

AD, I guess I'm in good company with the problems that I have described, but I doubt that I'll ever get a guitar playing outcome even remotely close to that of Julian Bream.

One of my favorite Bream pieces is actually a duet that he plays with John Williams; it's Debussy's Golliwogg's Cakewalk. The difference in the style between the two is amazing to me; I really like Bream on this piece.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28ksrjwn2ew


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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby kloeten » Fri Feb 03, 2012 10:08 pm

Bailey wrote: When I play with a full barre, some of the notes stemming from the barre sound nice and clean and others sound muddy. It this just the nature of the fingers on the fretboard? I realize that the fingers have recesses at the knuckles and that this means, inherently, less pressure on the string(s) that are sitting under the knuckles. If that's correct, then it makes sense to take the time to look at your left index finger, figure out how to place your finger so that the knuckle recesses are in between the strings and not over them (if this is physically possible) and use this as the basis for practicing barres. Does anyone else find this? Bailey


Scott Tennant's book 'Pumping Nylon' has some very good advice on barres. He calls it 'being selective' - which means applying only pressure to those notes that need to sound. Study the chord and find out if you can unlock a joint. This makes a lot of difference and saves a lot of strength.

If I need to play a full barre that somehow requires a lot of pressure, I sometimes rotate my finger a little bit to the left, so that the side of my finger faces the fretboard. That way you have no problem with knuckle recesses. Not sure if this is proper technique though.
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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby Jstanley01 » Fri Feb 10, 2012 5:24 pm

kloeten wrote:If I need to play a full barre that somehow requires a lot of pressure, I sometimes rotate my finger a little bit to the left, so that the side of my finger faces the fretboard. That way you have no problem with knuckle recesses. Not sure if this is proper technique though.

As far as "proper" barre technique goes, what lagartija said. Me, the only way I've found to hit the B chord cleanly on the 7th fret in Romance is to rotate slightly as you describe.
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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby Louis Xavier » Sun Feb 12, 2012 3:32 pm

Use the natural weight of your entire arm to assist the barre chord- don't focus on the muscles in your hands to get it out. Of course, this is a huge part of it, and this is what controls the emphasis you might place on specific notes. However, it really helps if you almost let the weight of your arm starting from your shoulder almost pull the neck of the guitar towards you (not literally of course), and let your hand just rest in the appropriate position against the neck of the guitar. I've heard from so many teachers that your thumb should not even be applying any pressure to the back of the neck of the guitar- if you are playing correctly, your thumb almost serves as a pivot, and is completely relaxed, while you use much bigger muscles in your arm and shoulder to play the barre chords. I hope this helps!
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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby Renlab » Sun Feb 12, 2012 5:41 pm

Louis Xavier wrote:Use the natural weight of your entire arm to assist the barre chord- don't focus on the muscles in your hands to get it out. Of course, this is a huge part of it, and this is what controls the emphasis you might place on specific notes. However, it really helps if you almost let the weight of your arm starting from your shoulder almost pull the neck of the guitar towards you (not literally of course), and let your hand just rest in the appropriate position against the neck of the guitar. I've heard from so many teachers that your thumb should not even be applying any pressure to the back of the neck of the guitar- if you are playing correctly, your thumb almost serves as a pivot, and is completely relaxed, while you use much bigger muscles in your arm and shoulder to play the barre chords. I hope this helps!


This is consistent with the way my teacher taught me. Also he told me to practice the barre chords often, but not for very long, maybe 5 minutes stretch. At any sign of discomfort, simply stop, and relax.
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