Modern flamenco guitar position - left hand strain

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m1xalis

Modern flamenco guitar position - left hand strain

Post by m1xalis » Sun Jun 12, 2016 4:52 pm

Hi,

I'm used to playing in the above-mentioned position and still actually trying to figure out the most suitable posture for comfortable playing. I'm experiencing pain in the left hand wrist and antibrachial muscles (the part of the arm below the elbow- on the inside of the arm). It gets worse when trying to play barre chords, especially 5th fret and upwards and I seem to be moving the hand with a left angle on the frets and the elbow being positioned more to the inside of the body (which is not technically correct as I understand).

I know this is a subject that has been thoroughly talked about and I've checked previous threads here, as well as video tutorials etc. Part of the problem could be caused by the guitar itself since it is need of repair (the nut is higher than it should be, wrong angle of the neck, and higher frets than are supposed to be put on a classical guitar - due to be repaired again after summer is over).

It's probably easier to comment on a recent video than getting into technical details without any image/video. Any other suggestions on technique/interpetation are welcome as well.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziF5oLXUhXY

Thanks,

Michalis

Philosopherguy
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Re: Modern flamenco guitar position - left hand strain

Post by Philosopherguy » Mon Jun 13, 2016 1:53 am

m1xalis wrote:Hi,

I'm used to playing in the above-mentioned position and still actually trying to figure out the most suitable posture for comfortable playing. I'm experiencing pain in the left hand wrist and antibrachial muscles (the part of the arm below the elbow- on the inside of the arm). It gets worse when trying to play barre chords, especially 5th fret and upwards and I seem to be moving the hand with a left angle on the frets and the elbow being positioned more to the inside of the body (which is not technically correct as I understand).

I know this is a subject that has been thoroughly talked about and I've checked previous threads here, as well as video tutorials etc. Part of the problem could be caused by the guitar itself since it is need of repair (the nut is higher than it should be, wrong angle of the neck, and higher frets than are supposed to be put on a classical guitar - due to be repaired again after summer is over).

It's probably easier to comment on a recent video than getting into technical details without any image/video. Any other suggestions on technique/interpetation are welcome as well.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziF5oLXUhXY

Thanks,

Michalis
I'm sure people more knowledgable than I am will chime in. But, my opinion is that this sitting position doesn't give the guitar the support it needs for classical, nor does it encourage proper hand technique. Take a look at your right wrist in this video, its all bent around and this may eventually cause you some issues. But, most importantly, this position doesn't lend itself to good playing because you are constantly supporting the guitar with your left hand and will be unable to move around the fretboard properly to play. Another thing in the video is that your left wrist gets all twisted around and on an angle when you are trying to fret. You don't want to bend your wrist too much while you play, as it will cause all sorts of pains.

I play like this sometimes too when I'm just fooling around (a bad habit from acoustic playing), but I don't try and seriously play like this.

I would either A: get a footstool and play in regular classical position.. or B: get some sort of guitar support and play with that and your legs flat on the floor.

I'm not saying that playing in his position is impossible, its just not good and will eventually hamper your playing ability.

My advice is to get a good book or a teacher to get you started in a good position. I remember there was some guitar books that said playing in this position was ok. I think they are wrong.

I think you should watch the first few minutes of this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLccwti1cnE

Good luck!
Martin
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Re: Modern flamenco guitar position - left hand strain

Post by Tonyyyyy » Mon Jun 13, 2016 6:14 am

m1xalis wrote:.... experiencing pain in the left hand wrist and antibrachial muscles (the part of the arm below the elbow- on the inside of the arm). .....

(the nut is higher than it should be,.....
I thought your right hand/wrist/ elbow looked the more awkward. It looked like you were mainly keeping the guitar steady with with it , but caused extra tension for the fingers? I would think that you might get shoulder ache after playing for a while. Does this ring true?

You could lower the nut and saddle yourself if its a bit high. Not difficult to do .

But some experimenting with changes in position would be the biggest help if you suffer pain. For me keeping the head of the guitar fairly high (meaning a 45% fretboard angle) helps - if the angle is close to parallel with the floor, then i tend to feel a slight wrist strain after half an hour

Best wishes,
Tony

m1xalis

Re: Modern flamenco guitar position - left hand strain

Post by m1xalis » Mon Jun 13, 2016 9:07 am

Tonyyyyy wrote:I thought your right hand/wrist/ elbow looked the more awkward. It looked like you were mainly keeping the guitar steady with with it , but caused extra tension for the fingers? I would think that you might get shoulder ache after playing for a while. Does this ring true?
Yes, this is true, I think I do tend to do that, maybe some extra tension for the fingers but never any kind of shoulder ache on the right side.

You could lower the nut and saddle yourself if its a bit high. Not difficult to do .
I know and have done so in the past months following a bad repair but now the plan is to leave it as is through the summer and take it again for repair in September.
But some experimenting with changes in position would be the biggest help if you suffer pain. For me keeping the head of the guitar fairly high (meaning a 45% fretboard angle) helps - if the angle is close to parallel with the floor, then i tend to feel a slight wrist strain after half an hour
When I first started playing I would play like this, but through the years the position changed - playing sitting down sometimes didn't help either of course. But what about flamenco guitarists? I mean they have to face all these problems while playing right? Especially the wrist bending I suppose?

m1xalis

Re: Modern flamenco guitar position - left hand strain

Post by m1xalis » Mon Jun 13, 2016 9:17 am

Philosopherguy wrote:
I'm sure people more knowledgable than I am will chime in. But, my opinion is that this sitting position doesn't give the guitar the support it needs for classical, nor does it encourage proper hand technique. Take a look at your right wrist in this video, its all bent around and this may eventually cause you some issues. But, most importantly, this position doesn't lend itself to good playing because you are constantly supporting the guitar with your left hand and will be unable to move around the fretboard properly to play. Another thing in the video is that your left wrist gets all twisted around and on an angle when you are trying to fret. You don't want to bend your wrist too much while you play, as it will cause all sorts of pains.

I play like this sometimes too when I'm just fooling around (a bad habit from acoustic playing), but I don't try and seriously play like this.

I would either A: get a footstool and play in regular classical position.. or B: get some sort of guitar support and play with that and your legs flat on the floor.

I'm not saying that playing in his position is impossible, its just not good and will eventually hamper your playing ability.

My advice is to get a good book or a teacher to get you started in a good position. I remember there was some guitar books that said playing in this position was ok. I think they are wrong.

I think you should watch the first few minutes of this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLccwti1cnE

Good luck!
Martin
Hi Martin,

the points you make are correct, bent wrist, left hand not being able to move around too freely - even though I do try not to bend the wrist as much.
The teacher is not really an option and anyway I started playing the guitar in the 'correct' classical position back in 2007 as instructed by a guitar teacher at the time. My question is how do the flamenco players do it? I mean sure they play in a different style but they must still have to face these same problems while playing in the flamenco posture right?

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Re: Modern flamenco guitar position - left hand strain

Post by Blondie » Mon Jun 13, 2016 11:05 am

m1xalis wrote:
Philosopherguy wrote: My question is how do the flamenco players do it? I mean sure they play in a different style but they must still have to face these same problems while playing in the flamenco posture right?
I'm not sure what problems you are referring to but positioning is always a question of compromise between left and right hand and your position is not a good starting point, nor is it quite there if you are trying to play in the typical modern flamenco position.

It looks uncomfortable - like you are hunched over the guitar and your body generally isn't in a very 'open' position, both left and right arms seem to be kind of hunched inward to support the guitar. Your right arm is too far forward over the guitar resulting in that deviation in your right wrist to accommodate, it should be further back. You might also try a wider cross with your legs (like PDL) which will move the guitar further out to your right and give your arm more space. Alternatively you could use a guitar support, doesn't have to be in the classical position and it gives you a range of options. I use this:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PkgirMfZuk

Your left wrist is looking a little bent at times (thumb probably too low at the back of the neck) but not too bad. If you have a problem with the set up, particularly the nut, I do not understand why you are delaying fixing it, I would see this as an absolute priority if you are already experiencing pain.

However, also from watching your left arm/elbow I can see you are having to move it inward frequently to assist with holding chords. Due to the position of your left arm (especially if you are squeezing hard between fingers and thumb) you will probably be putting a sideways torque at your left thumb which will put strain on your wrist, especially if your left hand thumb is opposing your middle fingers rather than your index.

HTH, you really need to reassess and change your position, otherwise your hands will always be fighting the guitar.

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Re: Modern flamenco guitar position - left hand strain

Post by Philosopherguy » Mon Jun 13, 2016 6:53 pm

m1xalis wrote: Hi Martin,

the points you make are correct, bent wrist, left hand not being able to move around too freely - even though I do try not to bend the wrist as much.
The teacher is not really an option and anyway I started playing the guitar in the 'correct' classical position back in 2007 as instructed by a guitar teacher at the time. My question is how do the flamenco players do it? I mean sure they play in a different style but they must still have to face these same problems while playing in the flamenco posture right?
Well, I'm not a flamenco player, but I assume it has something to do with the fact that they are playing rhythmic strumming patterns a lot of the time and they have just gotten used to it somehow.

Perhaps you should ask someone who is a Flamenco player this question. Maybe PM Ramon Amira and ask him to chime in on that question or one of the more skilled flamenco players on the board and pose that question and I'm sure you might get a better answer than I could give. One thing I am positive of: I have never seen a skilled classical player use that position in any serious way. So, that must tell you something.

Did you watch the video I linked? watch the first 5 minutes!

Martin
*************************************************************
2013 Ramirez 130 Anos - Spruce
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1998 Dean Harrington - Spruce
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Re: Modern flamenco guitar position - left hand strain

Post by guitarrista » Mon Jun 13, 2016 10:42 pm

m1xalis wrote:Hi,

I'm used to playing in the above-mentioned position and still actually trying to figure out the most suitable posture for comfortable playing. I'm experiencing pain in the left hand wrist and antibrachial muscles (the part of the arm below the elbow- on the inside of the arm). It gets worse when trying to play barre chords, especially 5th fret and upwards and I seem to be moving the hand with a left angle on the frets and the elbow being positioned more to the inside of the body (which is not technically correct as I understand).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziF5oLXUhXY

Thanks,

Michalis
Your pain description is a bit too general (as far as I know "antebrachial" just refers to forearm muscles), but I'll try to point to a few things.

First of all, don't worry too much about emulating a particular flamenco guitar position - there is really no such thing as mandated modern flamenco guitar position. Instead, focus on the "outputs/results" - use any position which allows you to develop your technique without constraints, pain-free. For example I use a flipped classical position (meaning the leg on a footstool is on the picking hand side rather than on the fretting hand side).

You seem to bend your left wrist a lot, which may be part of the problem in conjunction with likely trying to vise-grip the neck when barre-ing. Since you mention problems getting worse when barre-ing, why don't you start correcting there. Read up about using the weight of your fretting arm and its pivot point from the shoulder to configure your barres by letting gravity "hang" your right-hand fingers into the fretboard and down, rather than vise-gripping with thumb. You should be able to (learn to) sound all 6 strings of a full barre-ed chord with minimal or even no pressure from the thumb.

That said, I still think your left wrist can be more straightened out while playing.

As others noticed, you also seem to be hunched over the guitar (perhaps so you can see the fretting action) and it does seem to cause you to bend your right wrist as well. Also you seem to rest your right forearm fixed on the guitar (perhaps a consequence of the setup you are used to) - I think this further limits your mobility and may be re-enforcing the bent wrist positioning, plus I am not sure how you would do picado runs across several strings like that.

One more thing - as you play your right forearm+hand seems to bounce a bit with each string picking with each finger - almost as if the motion comes from the elbow rather than from individual fingers. If so, I wonder if this is accompanied by tightening of your forearm which would further cause you strain.
Last edited by guitarrista on Tue Jun 14, 2016 3:46 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Tonyyyyy
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Re: Modern flamenco guitar position - left hand strain

Post by Tonyyyyy » Tue Jun 14, 2016 1:21 pm

Many interesting ideas in the previous posts....

The OP is right that some good flamenco players (and some classical, though not many) do play in a similar position. A fair point, and I guess we could look at how they play very complex music successrully with guitar on right knee.

I checked Juan Martin. He seems to be not 'wrapped around the guitar.He has the guitar firmly 'balanced'/held without tension, but not wobbling. I wouldnt like to play in that position, but it works very well for him.

We need to hear from a proponent of the position to know more of the subtle details needed.

To me the real miracle is how the traditional flamenco position can seeminly defy gravity! But that is another topic
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Re: Modern flamenco guitar position - left hand strain

Post by Emil Krasich » Tue Jun 14, 2016 1:31 pm

I've always liked the "traditional flamenco" position of the guitar as the picture above shows but many years ago developed a position of the guitar being closer to this position but still more "classically" oriented with the use of a guitar support. I find that I have better power and tone from the right hand yet the left hand is very stable and tension free (with the right support of course). I didn't feel that that I had enough stability for the left hand with just the traditional position and no support that as there is always some degree of having to support the neck with the left hand. It's fine for a few minutes but didn't work for hours of practice time. In addition, the right hand position is much more fixed to balance the instrument in this position, so that is something else to consider.

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Re: Modern flamenco guitar position - left hand strain

Post by Keith » Tue Jun 14, 2016 2:23 pm

I play flamenco and use the Paco Pena position--a guitar support to hold the guitar in the more "traditional" method. Paco Pena played for years without a support but over the last several years has used a support. I find this position to be comfortable--both for my arms/wrist/fingers and my back. I find my left wrist is looser which probably equates to less strain. That said we have PdL and others who use (or used in the case of PdL) the "modern" position and swear by it. Ultimately, given variances in bodies, injuries in the past, work requirements, etc., it comes down to what feels the best.
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m1xalis

Re: Modern flamenco guitar position - left hand strain

Post by m1xalis » Wed Jun 15, 2016 9:51 am

Philosopherguy wrote:
m1xalis wrote: Hi Martin,

the points you make are correct, bent wrist, left hand not being able to move around too freely - even though I do try not to bend the wrist as much.
The teacher is not really an option and anyway I started playing the guitar in the 'correct' classical position back in 2007 as instructed by a guitar teacher at the time. My question is how do the flamenco players do it? I mean sure they play in a different style but they must still have to face these same problems while playing in the flamenco posture right?
Well, I'm not a flamenco player, but I assume it has something to do with the fact that they are playing rhythmic strumming patterns a lot of the time and they have just gotten used to it somehow.

Perhaps you should ask someone who is a Flamenco player this question. Maybe PM Ramon Amira and ask him to chime in on that question or one of the more skilled flamenco players on the board and pose that question and I'm sure you might get a better answer than I could give. One thing I am positive of: I have never seen a skilled classical player use that position in any serious way. So, that must tell you something.

Did you watch the video I linked? watch the first 5 minutes!

Martin
Hey Martin,

thanks for all the feedback, yes, I did watch the video you linked to. I can say I am familiar with all the advice concerning "correct" posture for beginner guitarists, as I mentioned I started playing guitar in the "classical" posture after the suggestion of a teacher. However, like guitarrista points out, I am still trying to find the best suitable position for me.

The repairs on the guitar are postponed after consulting with a luthier (the reason being having already done a fretboard replacement at another luthier - didn't go very well - and waiting out until the summer is over in case there is a change in wood expanding or contraction, thus affecting the angle of the neck of the guitar - and then trying to repair everything that is necessary like rearranging the fret height, nut, etc). I'm also broke right now.

Thanks to everyone for taking the time and for all the feedback it has been helpful to have some things pointed out. I'll just keep trying I guess while keeping these in mind and try to find the best pain-free position, like guitarrista mentions.

m1xalis

Re: Modern flamenco guitar position - left hand strain

Post by m1xalis » Wed Jun 15, 2016 10:05 am

Your pain description is a bit too general (as far as I know "antebrachial" just refers to forearm muscles), but I'll try to point to a few things.

First of all, don't worry too much about emulating a particular flamenco guitar position - there is really no such thing as mandated modern flamenco guitar position. Instead, focus on the "outputs/results" - use any position which allows you to develop your technique without constraints, pain-free. For example I use a flipped classical position (meaning the leg on a footstool is on the picking hand side rather than on the fretting hand side).

You seem to bend your left wrist a lot, which may be part of the problem in conjunction with likely trying to vise-grip the neck when barre-ing. Since you mention problems getting worse when barre-ing, why don't you start correcting there. Read up about using the weight of your fretting arm and its pivot point from the shoulder to configure your barres by letting gravity "hang" your right-hand fingers into the fretboard and down, rather than vise-gripping with thumb. You should be able to (learn to) sound all 6 strings of a full barre-ed chord with minimal or even no pressure from the thumb.

That said, I still think your left wrist can be more straightened out while playing.

As others noticed, you also seem to be hunched over the guitar (perhaps so you can see the fretting action) and it does seem to cause you to bend your right wrist as well. Also you seem to rest your right forearm fixed on the guitar (perhaps a consequence of the setup you are used to) - I think this further limits your mobility and may be re-enforcing the bent wrist positioning, plus I am not sure how you would do picado runs across several strings like that.

One more thing - as you play your right forearm+hand seems to bounce a bit with each string picking with each finger - almost as if the motion comes from the elbow rather than from individual fingers. If so, I wonder if this is accompanied by tightening of your forearm which would further cause you strain.
I must say you are spot-on on most of the points you're making. I did try and improve the barre technique after reading several posts on the matter, watching videos, etc. I can manage to do a full barre without the thumb however in that case I need to counter-weight it with the right forearm resting on the guitar, like gripping it with more force to stay in place - something i seem to do anyway to an extent - as you point out as well. If I try to do a barre with gravity and force coming from the elbow, depending on the angle of the guitar, the shoulder needs to drop way down, hence the "hunched" position.

Anyway, you've all been really helpful, I'll just try and figure it out somehow while keeping these points in mind.

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Re: Modern flamenco guitar position - left hand strain

Post by Cloth Ears » Wed Jun 15, 2016 8:25 pm

I play in both cross legged and sometimes with a footstool depending on what the piece demands with the left hand. Each position has its benefits and drawbacks, but overall I am more comfortable for 90% of my repertoire sitting cross legged (all of my FG and most of my CG). That said, if I am finding a passage of CG difficult will try it with footstool to see whether it is a result of the left hands approach position changing the musculature. There is no right or wrong way, just experiment and find out what works for you as we are all different.

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