Left Hand cramps

Classical Guitar technique: studies, scales, arpeggios, theory
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Larry McDonald
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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby Larry McDonald » Wed Feb 15, 2012 2:59 pm

If you really want to experience all the muscles that can help you to barre, experiment by playing one of your exercises without the thumb on the back of the neck. You should immediately notice how much the right-arm can help.

All the best,

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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby Luis_Br » Wed Feb 15, 2012 9:24 pm

Before you practice pressing keeping all strings ringing all the time, I recommend an exercise I've learnt from a Pavel Steidl masterclass. Learn to press each string individually with the barre. Focus pressing 6ht string as you begin the scale. When going to next string, release 6th string and press 5th string while keeping the full barré. Learn to move the pressure to each string individually moving pressure point in the barré's finger.
Then you try keep pressing/ringing 2 strings each time, then 3 strings and so on.

Also try pressing with thumb tip (use forearm muscles) releasing thumb knuckle muscle tension (which uses palm muscles and hinders other fingers movements).

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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby mascania » Wed May 23, 2012 8:42 pm

I really appreciate the information here on barre technique. I confess though, that I have not quite gotten the hang of it yet.

Recently I visited Kevin Gallager's website to review his video on barre technique as well as acquire the exercise he so generously supplies.
He really is very encouraging and supportive and I may even look to him for a lesson or two, even if it is on-line.

However, the concept of "arm-weight" is still not quite connecting with me. I find myself pulling on the poor guitar, squeezing the body against me under my right arm, ( which impedes hand movement ) and pulling back on the neck with my left arm like I'm reeling in a 30 pound lake-trout. If I keep that action up, I'm afraid I'll damage the instrument. I don't think the wonderful luthiers who made my guitar braced it to be played by the Hulk.

I feel it in my shoulder, neck and forearm. I even, "raise the knuckle," of my index finger to flatten my finger across the neck, but all that action simply hurts my hand and only produces a clean sound occasionally.

If anyone can suggest any other methods of describing this action or technique, anything that I might finally be able to perhaps experience a little "aha" moment with, my lovely little Alhambra will be very relieved to hear.

Meanwhile, I believe I will investigate teachers in my area of the planet, simply to see and feel for myself how they do this.

thank you all and kindest wishes to you.

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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby mascania » Tue May 29, 2012 5:39 am

My apologies for responding to my own previous post, but I felt it necessary to announce a break-through following that "bad day."

Careful review of the Kevin Gallager video, some further research, and finally, a very neat little "aha" moment when I simply relaxed my left arm and let it
"hang-back." It was like I could swing my elbow, or at least, it would sway a bit if someone gave it a little nudge, but gravity simply did the work of providing the "weight of the arm" against the fretboard. Of course, the "pull" came more from my shoulder, and raising the knuckle of my index finger covered the strings more solidly, but over-all, the tension I described earlier disappeared and playing the barre simply became easier.

Simple exercises help,( found here ) definitely never holding the barre for more than 10-15 seconds,( advice fro a link suggested somewhere else at this site) and being very mindful of what notes were required of the barre all seemed to break through an unexpected barrier that I have encountered as I gradually upgrade my skills to match the quality of the beautiful new guitar I acquired in March.

Biggest realization: relax!

So it can be done, and I'm grateful to have this space to find very helpful tips and shared stories.

cheers and thanks!


Nick Cutroneo
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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby Nick Cutroneo » Tue May 29, 2012 1:40 pm

I think that it is also important to note the position of the thumb is extremely important when playing barres. The most common issue with barres is squeezing the neck of the guitar. The placement of the thumb can help to prevent the squeezing sensation. I teach students to place the thumb behind the 2nd finger (depending on the student's hand this may be slightly different). Having the thumb behind the first finger makes it very easy to squeeze the neck of the guitar. The muscles used are very strong and are what allow us to grab things and hold on to objects. However, for playing the guitar it locks the hand in a single position, making it very difficult to move in and out of, and when held for an extended period of time tires out the hand. I wrote an article about left hand thumb placement on the blog of my website, you can read the article here: http://www.nickcutroneo.com/using-the-l ... -the-thumb

Other suggestions that have been said like using the tip of your thumb instead of the thumb pad and feeling the arm weight are all very good as well. I've used those with students to help them get a sense of how the arm works and how much the thumb actually has to do (which is very little).

Arm weight is very tricky, and for students can be an odd concept for them to understand. William Kanengiser's 1st Hotlicks video (Effortless Classical Guitar ??) has a great example of what arm weight actually is. Once I saw the video explain it, I was finally able to explain the idea to students -- it's proven invaluable!
Nick Cutroneo - Classical Guitarist, performer/teacher/suzuki instructor

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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby mascania » Tue May 29, 2012 2:59 pm

Thank you Nick.

Again, this site continues to be an invaluable resource made possible by such generous members such as yourself.

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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby tarrega_fan » Sun Jun 03, 2012 8:56 am

Cramps mostly arise when you apply too much pressure from the thumb. Remember that the thumb is only there to support your other fingers.Try to relax your left hand and play naturally without putting much effort when applying pressure.


Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby Hektor6766 » Tue Jun 12, 2012 7:19 am

I had problems with a dead B string on Romance, straining my thumb and index like I was trying to pick up barbells between my thumb and index. Two pages into Sor's Method, he instructed to drop the thumb to the lower half of the neck for the barre, instead of in the middle as for single fingering. The B string was immediately cleaner, with much less effort.

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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby George Crocket » Tue Jun 12, 2012 7:58 am

Hello Hektor.

Welcome to the Delcamp classical guitar forum.

If you have not already done so, please have a look at our welcome page for more information about the forum and its rules, then please introduce yourself here for a proper welcome.
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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby AsturiasFan » Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:18 pm

Bailey wrote: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. ...

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?

Yes it will go away with continued practice! Yes it is a normal because you are a beginner and are developing the necessary muscular strength to form bar chords. Duncan recommends 7-10 minutes of intense bar chord practice daily. Both Duncan and Andreas have strength development exercises that are similar to your holding a bar and playing a scale, but instead of a scale they use some other arpeggio.

You perfectly describe the location of the muscles that are used to keep the bar down. There is nothing that would prevent your experience because the web muscles between thumb and index finger must develop. These muscles are necessarily used to press the index finger into the fretboard or equivalently to prevent the force against the index finger from bending the index finger back into an unplayable position. Duncan, Jamie Andreas, and Parkening are all on record by stating that bar chords take strength. So strength must not be discounted at least for beginners. There are pain lines one shouldn't cross, but some transient soreness from lactic acid build up is normal and to be expected.

Charles Duncan wrote:Most guitar players can remember all too clearly the struggle to master the bar-chord grip. The challenge of bar chords never really goes away, because at successively higher levels of repertoire, we encounter more and more taxing bar-chord demands. (An excellent and well-known example is the Albeniz "Leyenda," especially measures 38-46.) The ability to execute such passages cleanly and confidently depends upon the available strength in the first dorsal interosseous and adductor muscles -- respectively, the outer and inner muscles between the first finger and thumb. Given sufficient work, this muscle area enlarges visibly over a period of several months, while the difficulty of bar-chord playing diminishes in turn.

baily wrote: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.

It didn't help because your issue is a sore web muscle whose use is a given. The soreness of the web muscle can fool one into thinking that the thumb is sore. To see if this is the case for you, hold a bar for an extended period with the thumb off the neck. If you think the thumb is getting sore you are being fooled by the web discomfort. You don't want to press the thumb too hard for the thumb's sake, but excessive thumb pressure would also increase the demand on the web in counteraction.


Duncan also has a great hint concerning the thumb's position.

Charles Duncan wrote:Important; do not press too hard with the thumb! The function of the thumb is to supply counterforce to the first finger, but some counterforce is also supplied by body pressure against the back of the instrument. Moreover, be especially sure that the thumb lies somewhat on its side with the tip turned back. This position, with the bones of the thumb locked into passive support, allows the most efficient use of the correct muscles, while preventing needles exertion of the thumb.

Edit: If you don't believe that bar chords take strength consider the following quote from someone that has big and naturally strong hands to begin with.
Christopher Parkening wrote:Strength does play an important role in bar chords ...

If you have played bar chords for a long time, form a bar chord with the index finger alone and with only the minimal amount of pressure needed to sound all six strings. Reach over with the right hand and feel the web of the left hand. You will feel a rock solid and bulging web muscle. This shows that even the simplest bar chord takes strength despite all efforts to minimize exertion. You can compare the left and right hand web muscles by pressing the index fingers onto a horizontal surface. You get a bulging web muscle for the left hand but nothing like that for the right. Once one has developed the web muscle so that the strength needed to form bar chords is well within its capacity, the lack of discomfort can easily lead to the mistaken impression that no strength is needed.
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Last edited by AsturiasFan on Fri Jun 29, 2012 11:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Left Hand cramps

Postby tremolo_jones » Wed Jun 27, 2012 10:01 am

The guitar takes no strength to play, but we keep trying to "muscle" our way through stuff.

All you have to do in the left hand is press a string against a fret so that it doesn't buzz. A three-year-old has enough strength to do this.

do not GRAB the neck between your fingers and thumb. The thumb should rest LIGHTLY on the back of the neck and let the weight of the arm wanting to pivot at the shoulder (keep the elbow flexed) supply the "strength" to play the notes.

above all try to remove strength and tension from your playing. Play a chord or passage and then try to do it again with less tension. Do it relaxed as you can.

As Henry David Thoreau said, "Simplify, simplify, simplify!" (but I don't know why he felt he had to say it three times.)



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