If you are right-handed, have you ever tried playing the classical guitar with a left-handed strung guitar? If you have, you immediately discover how difficult it is, and in fact the more accomplished you are as a player the more likely you will find it to be. The reason is obvious: You have spent years training your hands to do two entirely different things. Of course, you would only try it as an experiment or a joke if you are perhaps with somebody.
However, about three years ago, I was faced with a dilemma: Either re-learn to play left-handed or never play the guitar again. I had already tried playing left-handed about 15 years ago, for about three years until I gave up. A serious neck injury made playing the guitar impossible, regardless which side I played. Then three years ago, with a lot of treatment, the neck became well enough to try the guitar again.
Right-handed I could still strum the guitar, and even finger pick, but only using my thumb, middle and index finger. However, the right-hand ring finger was useless. It had been damaged. Tendonitis doctors had called it. The injury came suddenly, and without warning, playing the Agaudo's sextuplet study in Em, Exercise 19 in his Nuevo Metodo para Guitarra
. I played too fast for my ability. I immediately noticed it, although there was absolutely no pain involved. But there was no strength nor control anymore. I had simply pushed myself too hard. I should have known better. Back in the late 1980's and throughout the 90's teaching the guitar had been my full-time occupation. I kept my injury silent from my students and the guitar shop that provided me with a steady flow of students. So I continued the best I could. Most of my students, generally 30-40 people each week, where not classical guitarists However, quite a few were, and I could still play using fingers p, i and m. In slow arpeggios I could strike the first string with my m finger, and this way I even passed a Grade 7 exam, as well as playing occasionally at restaurants and other functions. Just I could no longer play fast arpeggios using p,i,m,a - nor of course tremolos. I did have treatment, including physiotherapy, acupuncture and even a steroid injection by a doctor.
I don't know if anyone else in the forum had experienced such a problem. I have perhaps a weakness with muscles and tendons in my fingers, which is perhaps relatively uncommon, but I know I also pushed myself too hard and too fast, and with a poor right-hand technique. I had never practiced scales nor arpeggios until I did my two guitar exams (Grades 4 and 7, with nothing before or in-between). Having pushed myself too hard and too fast had provided me with a guitar teaching job (after having played only for about 4 years) and the odd performance, but in the long run it proved to be a grave mistake.
Actually, having just written the last paragraph, I realize that although my condition was extreme, I have read of other guitarists suffering from RSI or some similar problem. This even includes advanced players such as Aaron Shearer. I have only recently obtained his three volumes of Learning the Classic Guitar.
The first volume speaks at great length about training the fingers, and includes an entire chapter on RSI, and overcoming it. It is a method book to be studied in conjunction with volume 2, which only contains basic pieces no harder than Grade 2 level. However, his advice does seem to be also useful for more advanced students, and thus I will certainly read through them and see how it may be of help for me.
I am now practicing pieces around the Grade 6 level, only left-handed now. However, this time I had been far more careful, learning from previous mistakes. I do now practice scales, slowly and carefully. I practice now also arpeggios, both as scales and chords, and use as my textbooks the Sargreras's guitar method. I have played carefully through each and every lesson in the first volume, and probably close to half in the second, and am now working through the third volume. I have just counted the number of Sagreras studies that I have committed to memory, and it is 16, and had picked them either because I liked them, but more often because they serve as a training routine on some particular guitar technique. My speed arpeggios and tremolos are coming along now nicely. I have supplemented these studies by those by Carcassi, Sor and Tarrega. There are also many other types of pieces that are in my repertoire, from John Downland to modern pop and jazz arrangements for solo guitar, as well as flamenco, folk and fingerstyle blues. Roughly about 80 guitar pieces.
I thus practice about four to five hours a day, sometimes more. However, here again lies the problem. I realize I must be careful. Being now retired and on a pension, and having a wife who does not mind my obsession, I could again face a similar problem playing left-handed. I'm now in my early sixties, and injuries now come quicker than in your 30's. Just yesterday, as I was memorizing the fast arpeggio passage of Villa-Lobos Prelude 4, I felt a soreness and fatigue in my middle and ring fingers. It was a warning sign for me to stop. This time I had the wisdom stop. I am after all retired. I neither need to teach nor perform professionally ever again. Fortunately, no real damage was done to my fingers, just some soreness. Thus I took a rest today, and tonight the soreness is wearing off.
But there was a warning sign. The Moral of the Story: Too much practice, even with a good right and left hand technique can still cause irreversible damage. Too much practice does not make you perfect, but rather may damage you in not playing properly ever again. This chance is compounded when playing with a poor technique.
Anyway, I'm finished now with what turned out to be more of a 1,000 word article than just a posting. I am sorry for its length. It was my first topic posting in the forum, so it served more in introducing myself and the problems that I encountered on the guitar, and thus a warning more to myself. My postings will be a lot shorter next time. But if it does help somebody avoid the mistakes I had done, then my lengthy post had been worth it.
Wishing everyone all the best and enjoyment on your guitar,
I have just now typed RSI in the forum's search engine, and have read a number of them. I was amazed just how many also suffer with RSI. If you have any advice, or questions, or have suffered a similar problem, or would just like to have a discussion, I would love to hear from you.