Left thumb pressure; how little?

Ergonomics and Posture for Classical Guitarists, Aches and Pains, Injuries, etc...
Jack Douglas
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Left thumb pressure; how little?

Post by Jack Douglas » Fri May 20, 2016 11:42 am

I mentioned to a friend of mine, a performing artist, that I had some degradation in my left thumb due to an accident some years ago. He said to always be aware of the pressure of my thumb against the fretboard because at our age hand injuries can be devastating. I'm certainly aware that as little pressure as possible to get a clear note is best. So, my question to those of you that play and perform professionally or more than an hour or two per day is, how do you monitor your left hand thumb against the fret board. And how do you describe the pressure in ways that are clear and understandable. Does the pressure to barre come from the arm pulling the fingers against the frets rather than the thumb pressing against the fretboard.
I have a couple of friends suffering from focal dystonia which I understand affects the playing hand and there have been a number of discussions about that. I don't remember seeing anything focused on just the left thumb. So, any thoughts?
Richard Brune 'Artist' Cedar/Brazilian 1996

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twang
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Re: Left thumb pressure; how little?

Post by twang » Fri May 20, 2016 12:00 pm

Any time I have trouble with my left hand technique the first thing I do is play without using my thumb at all. Once I can do that, I let the thumb rest naturally on the neck which shows me the correct position for the thumb and also demonstrates the only pressure needed to just enough to stabilize the guitar. Yes, even for bar chords.
"An amateur is he who takes up the study of an instrument as a relaxation from his serious occupations." -- Sor

Jack Douglas
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Re: Left thumb pressure; how little?

Post by Jack Douglas » Fri May 20, 2016 12:39 pm

Thank you , Geoff, for moving my post to the appropriate forum topic. And Twang, thank you for the suggestion
Richard Brune 'Artist' Cedar/Brazilian 1996

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Re: Left thumb pressure; how little?

Post by CathyCate » Fri May 20, 2016 1:24 pm

My thumb is merely a "guide" and not part of a vice grip.
My knowledge of anatomy is sorely lacking here, but I also check regularly for string indentation marks on my LH fingers. For me they serve as a warning when I am using way too much pressure to get the job done. Hope this helps!
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Luis_Br
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Re: Left thumb pressure; how little?

Post by Luis_Br » Mon May 23, 2016 5:55 pm

I think it is hard to explain, the best thing would be to get a good teacher that can watch you live and help releasing the tensions.

To me the most important point is that simply focusing on the thumb alone may not be the right approach. It is the whole pressing mechanism together that must be tuned up to perform the most relaxed way as a whole. I've learnt a nice metaphor from a Fendelkrais teacher: learning to release tension is like to untie a tangled ball of wool. If you loose one side too much, it may tie harder the other side. Sometimes you discover a node that is holding the whole ball and then you suddenly release everything. Sometimes it is wiser if you start releasing each side a bit and check the whole figure before you attack an specific point.

When working out our mechanism, similar stuff may happen. Maybe releasing a muscle too much would over tense other areas as a compensation mechanism. There may be an internal node we are not even aware of, because of a hard built in (bad) habit. The solution may even be outside the fingers themselves, since a more relaxed and secure overall position would allow better internal awareness. In my experience excessive LH pressure is mainly due to bad posture with unstable guitar and stiff wrist. Working on breathing also helps a lot, breathing works both as diagnosis and solution to over tension.

To me another great misconception is that we must use less pressure over the strings, like mentioned in the previous post. After I worked a while with a renowned teacher that removed several tension problems from my technique, I ended up with more pressure over the strings. The reason is that I wanna be sure they won't buzz. The difference is that I can put more pressure with much less effort or less internal tension. So it is not about the final pressure itself, but the internal mechanism that build up the final pressure.

About the question about using thumb or arm to help pressing, I would say none. Thumb is there as a reference, as well as the arm. The arm is holding finger in poistion, nothing more. If you press the fingers with the arm, the arm "weight" must pass through the finger articulation, so you have to tense the finger muscle anyways to hold the arm weight, otherwise the finger would collapse backwards without transmiting the arm force. So when using the arm to press you are actually overloading the finger muscles with the havier arm weight, which is a path to injury. I think the pressure must come from the pressing finger alone and nothing more.

Finally I think working on relaxation and tension release is mainly working on muscle dissociation control. Our body has a natural defense mechanism which is to tense several muscles just in case. When we try to lift up our heavy sofa, we tense the shoulder, neck, back and the whole body even before we start moving it. This same mechanism acts to some degree when we play. Working the thumb and learning to release it is a nice exercise, you increase your awareness of the thumb and it may help a lot, but it may be just a small node within the wool ball.

Jack Douglas
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Re: Left thumb pressure; how little?

Post by Jack Douglas » Mon May 23, 2016 10:07 pm

Thanks very much for your insightful comments. Very helpful.
Richard Brune 'Artist' Cedar/Brazilian 1996

powderedtoastman
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Re: Left thumb pressure; how little?

Post by powderedtoastman » Tue May 24, 2016 1:43 am

twang wrote:Yes, even for bar chords.
I might chime in and say especially for barre chords! I recently saw a little tips and tricks video where it was suggested to use the weight of the arm to apply pressure for barre chords rather than using the hand to squeeze, and so you should be able to play the barre without the thumb on the neck. Very helpful bit of advice! It doesn't solve all problems but it is simple to do and helps up your barre chord skills by one level.

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