Left thumb relaxation, how?

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jason790420
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Left thumb relaxation, how?

Post by jason790420 » Thu Apr 13, 2017 12:21 pm

I've encountering problems with my practice, and I've noticed it's my left thumb, again.
I know there were articles about this, but it was a long time ago. Didn't really want to bring 2011 threads up again.
Plus, I don't think it really addresses how to solve this problem that I have.

First, it was the pain of my left shoulder that draw my attention.
I took a look at my position. I was sitting a bit hunched, and thought it was the cause to the excessive straining of my left shoulder.
When sitting hunched, my arm need to extend that extra 5~10 degrees to keep my finders perpendicular to the strings.
So I straightened my back a bit, and found that it was, despite helpful to some degree, not the only cause of the problem.

Then, an idea occurred to me that it my be left thumb exerting too much pressure, again.
It has been a problem when I learned to play cello, briefly, during my middle school,
and was again on the way on my path of practicing another string instrument.

My question is, despite that I know I have to exert less pressure,
my left thumb would apply excessive pressure after a few notes.
Is there any kind of tips to prevent this from happening?

Most Sincerely, CY.

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Re: Left thumb relaxation, how?

Post by Dave Stott » Thu Apr 13, 2017 12:32 pm

A couple of questions... What type of support are you using?? Foot support, strap, leg type?

I had a lot of trouble with straps, foot rests, etc.. until I started using the De Oro guitar support. It raises the neck to a level that no longer required me to have a "death grip" on the guitar neck or hunch over the guitar.

It's freed me to move about the fretboard without having to worry about supporting it.
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lagartija
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Re: Left thumb relaxation, how?

Post by lagartija » Thu Apr 13, 2017 12:44 pm

This is extremely difficult to solve while playing music in your repertoire...too many things going on to pay sufficient attention to the thumb.
This is where playing scales is helpful. Nearly all of us have had the thumb pressure problem sometime in our journey. Find out where the thumb pressure is a real problem while playing a scale. It might happen when a particular finger is placed, or at a particular speed you are playing, or at a particular place on the fretboard where you feel your fingers and forearm weight are not strong enough and need "help". Play the scale starting very slowly, checking in with that thumb pressure. Play without your thumb applying any pressure and see how that feels. If you do this slowly and the problem doesn't appear, then increase the metronome setting and see where the thumb becomes a problem. You may find that it is speed that induces you to press harder. Sometimes it is the number of notes played in sequence at a particular speed (5 notes is ok, but thumb starts squeezing harder after that).
Let us know what conditions cause the problem and I'm sure the teachers here will have some suggestions for an appropriate exercise.
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Re: Left thumb relaxation, how?

Post by Nick Cutroneo » Thu Apr 13, 2017 12:54 pm

CY - It's great that you are actively finding a solution to your problem. It can be quite frustrating to work on these concepts without an instructor to guide you. If you do have a teacher, I suggest you bring this topic up with them at the beginning of your lesson and discuss the issue with them. This happens all the time with my students, where they'll come into a lesson and bring up something that they've noticed over the course of the week. If it's relevant to what we are doing that week I may hold off and hear them play their piece first. And sometimes, I may start working on the issue right away with them and exploring it.

Anyway, the probable cause as you've found is the over-execurtion of the thumb (IE pressing too hard). This can be very difficult to correct because by the time we notice it, we are really squeezing the neck. Looking at your posture and guitar positioning is going to help, as you want the instrument to be comfortably placed on your body and your body to be supported properly.

After your deal with your posture, it's time to get to work on the thumb itself. The first thing we have to realize is that it takes very little effort to fret a note on the guitar. I would spend some time with a very simple left hand pattern (1234 in 5th position or a simple one octave scale). I do something with my young students called: Thud/Buzz/Bell. The thud tone is when you just mute out the string with the fretting finger (IE - no force on the string). Buzz tone is when you get a buzz out of the note (IE - some force on the string, but not enough for a clear note..."almost there" force). Bell tones are clear notes that are fretted on the guitar ("just right" force). This allows you to feel how little pressure you need to get a note to come out.

As you do this, pay attention to how much force you use on the Bell Tones, and try and feel that in your hand. As you practice create a memory of the feeling and try and activate that memory. At first it'll be frustrating because you'll do a lot of trial and error. But if you practice this daily for about 5 minutes or so, you'll develop the sensation in your hand and learn how to activate it for yourself in this exercise. This takes time and patience -- expect to take about a month before you can consistently get the same amount of pressure from repeat of the exercise and from day to day. Remind yourself this is a journey, and the results will benefit you. Don't worry about it anywhere except for this exercise for the first month.

After the first month, start to expand this idea into longer scales, more complex exercises and simple single note or Thumb/Fingers pieces of music. Then to your repertoire. This will take time, however during that time you'll become more aware of your left hand and how to minimize the extra tension. So much so that this becomes how your left hand works on the guitar. For a while you'll need to practice taking the tension out of passages/etc... which is fine. But at some point (months/years from now) it'll be fully integrated into your playing.
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Re: Left thumb relaxation, how?

Post by Luis_Br » Thu Apr 13, 2017 2:07 pm

Move thumb in circles while practicing scales. Enhance the circle flexing and extending the tip joint. Try to tense/release all muscles from all joints (extensors, flexors, lateral muscles etc.) in wide circular motion. Exchange this with regular playing trying to keep thumb relaxed. This will keep your focus and enhance perception on thumb muscles.
Also try to play deliberately tensing thumb a lot, even more you regularly do, play a bit like this (eg scales exercises) and concentrate on tense thumb muscles while breathing in. Hold breath and keep tensing thumb muscles too much to hold the LH. Keep playing the scales and release thumb muscles the most you can while holding breath. Breath out increasing thumb muscles release the most can. Repeat this a few times, learn the relaxation feel, then try to play regularly with the relaxed thumb.
Another exercise, play scales with LH alone. While playing with LH, use your RH to massage thumb pad and LH back and internal to increase relaxation and muscle feel.
All those exercises are to increase thumb muscles perception and control. You can do them without the guitar in your free time, like on a table or trying to hold something while releasing thumb. Also pay attention to your thumb tension in other daily movements and try to minimize them, like holding a pen, a computer mouse, a glass of water or the car steering wheel. You probably tense thumb too much in daily activities too. It is all about enhancing perception and breaking bad habits.

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Re: Left thumb relaxation, how?

Post by Victor2016 » Fri Apr 14, 2017 11:03 am

I would recommend integrating a lot of vibrato in your playing because whenever you do a vibrato you release your thumb and use your left arm's weight and pull to press the strings. Ideally, your left hand should be ready for a vibrato most of the time during playing.
Last edited by Victor2016 on Tue Apr 18, 2017 10:09 am, edited 1 time in total.
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dtoh
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Re: Left thumb relaxation, how?

Post by dtoh » Sun Apr 16, 2017 1:33 am

You could try scales while holding your thumb completely off the back of the neck.

jason790420
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Re: Left thumb relaxation, how?

Post by jason790420 » Sun Apr 16, 2017 9:59 am

Thanks for all the suggestion. I'm currently using a foot rest, but I don't think I've found my optimal height, though. I've asked my tutor and he said it takes time to find the most suitable position.

For the past few days, I'm trying the Thud/Buzz/Bell technique and couldn't really find the Buzz. I guess it's because I was still straining and it was more of a touch or press, and resulted in the lost Buzz in between. But I'll be working on that these days. Also, I'm still finding quite a lot of strain on my wrist for unknown reasons. I'll be fixing the thumb first and see if it's the cause to all the tension of the shoulder and wrist.

One other thing. what is the contact point of the thumb with the guitar? was it the tip of the thumb or the pad of the thumb? most videos focus on the other fingers instead of the thumb.

Just woke after a terrible night from my shift.
Thanks for all the advice

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Re: Left thumb relaxation, how?

Post by lagartija » Sun Apr 16, 2017 1:16 pm

People's thumbs are different, so the contact point will vary depending upon rotation, shape of tip joint, etc.
Basically, let your thumb be relaxed, lightly place your fingers on the strings and see where your thumb touches. It will not necessarily stay the same as you move up the fretboard or if you barre or make a chord shape with fingers stacked on the same fret.
Do *not* force your thumb to touch in exactly the same place no matter what; this just causes unnecessary inner hand tension. Your thumb should be relaxed when you determine the point where it touches depending on what you are asking your fingers to do.
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Re: Left thumb relaxation, how?

Post by Nick Cutroneo » Sun Apr 16, 2017 1:57 pm

jason790420 wrote:For the past few days, I'm trying the Thud/Buzz/Bell technique and couldn't really find the Buzz. I guess it's because I was still straining and it was more of a touch or press, and resulted in the lost Buzz in between. But I'll be working on that these days.
Yep. You'll notice that the "buzz" is the crucial point because it allows you to make a sound without excess tension (actually too little tension) and then ease into making a clear sound. If you are over pushing on the fretboard, you'll find it hard at first to find your buzzes. But keep at it!
...Also, I'm still finding quite a lot of strain on my wrist for unknown reasons. I'll be fixing the thumb first and see if it's the cause to all the tension of the shoulder and wrist.
One other thing. what is the contact point of the thumb with the guitar? was it the tip of the thumb or the pad of the thumb? most videos focus on the other fingers instead of the thumb.
These two things might have more in common than you may think. If the height of the neck of the guitar isn't high enough, you won't be able to place your left hand correctly and create a pretty significant bend in the wrist. This'll create strain in your wrist. Also, the placement of the left hand thumb can create issues with your wrist If the thumb is too low and you are pushing out your wrist, you'll create a bend in your wrist.

I instruct students to place the neck of the guitar high enough so that the headstock is at head level with the 6th tuning peg or the nut at eye level. The exact placement depends on the student's individual make-up but these are good general rules to follow. As for the placement of the thumb, for beginning students I tell them to place the thumb behind the 2nd finger in the middle of the neck. As they learn notes that are lower on the guitar, the thumb follows to allow the wrist to remain straight and the fingers to curl to the notes (rather than reach). For more advanced students, we talk about individual hand/thumb alignment to allow for a straight wrist, as well as body awareness for a balanced left hand.
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Re: Left thumb relaxation, how?

Post by Luis_Br » Mon Apr 17, 2017 3:16 pm

Correct point, IMO, is thumb's last segment or tip segment. Some people force pressure at tip joint from thumb pad muscle, which hinders other hand muscles. Use more thumb tip, muscles come from arm, but as said, you should actually avoid thumb pressure.

On thumb position behind neck, it should move toward its natural closing as a fist, without lateral tension to move behind some finger. The other 4 fingers that should spread out sometimes to reach wider positions like first positions 4 frets, or stretches. So sometimes thumb is behind finger 1 or 2, depends on your hand size and guitar region, but it is not thumb moving to the side behind some finger, it is finger 1 and 2 spreading out toward thumb's left.

About straight wrist, I think it is a modern misconception. Certainly straight wrist results freer muscles movements inside wrist. But I think internal muscles relaxation, dissociation control to tense only necessary muscles, and economy of movement is by far more important. Wrist bend is necessary a lot of times to reach difficult positions, spreading fingers etc. I think using wrist is easier and faster than moving elbow too much far away from body as some players do. You can watch several great players videos and check that. Specially if you are small and have small hands, wrist bend will help with straighter finger and easier reaching. Check Cecilia Siqueira in this video, she is very small and has small hands and use o lot of wrist bend, with no difficulties or health problems:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-4ujVQM0sY
Her partner Fernando Lima uses less bend, but he is taller, he has big hands and fingers.

Check this Carlevaro lesson, on reaching positions with wrist bend rather than elbow moving out:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XbUkcjuMds#t=18m15s
I prefer his school of LH positioning.

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Re: Left thumb relaxation, how?

Post by Nick Cutroneo » Mon Apr 17, 2017 7:44 pm

Luis_Br wrote:About straight wrist, I think it is a modern misconception. Certainly straight wrist results freer muscles movements inside wrist. But I think internal muscles relaxation, dissociation control to tense only necessary muscles, and economy of movement is by far more important. Wrist bend is necessary a lot of times to reach difficult positions, spreading fingers etc. I think using wrist is easier and faster than moving elbow too much far away from body as some players do. You can watch several great players videos and check that. Specially if you are small and have small hands, wrist bend will help with straighter finger and easier reaching.
There is a time and place for everything, including changing the angle/bend of the wrist. However - if a student is experiencing pain/discomfort in the wrist a bend is 9 time out of 10 the cause. Another cause can be excess thumb pressure as well as body alignment and proper guitar positioning for the individual student. I often find in students that these things go hand and hand (pardon the pun) most of the time.

As for moving from the wrist vs the elbow - I think that's a different kind of discussion, which I won't get into here.

Back to the original poster -- Needless to say, when diagnosing an issue - it's best to go from simplest to complex. Ruling out anything that may seem "small" or "insignificant" and build from there. Fundamentals are there for a reason. There's a reason why teachers work with beginners making sure they hold the guitar a certain way and have a particular hand position. From there, as the student becomes more advanced - adapting their technique for the individual student is key, as playing is not a one size fits all thing. However, start from the beginning, ensure that the fundamentals are there, then modify. Obviously a teacher supervising provides the most security in knowing that what you are modifying (technique wise) is correct or not.
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Re: Left thumb relaxation, how?

Post by Luis_Br » Mon Apr 17, 2017 9:52 pm

I think straight wrist is a solution to release part of pain in first place, and generally is enough to prevent problems in short-term. But it is not the final solution to the overall technical and health problem, IMO. Certainly an exaggerated wrist twist is bad too. The best and quickest solution is always having face-to-face lessons with a good teacher.

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Re: Left thumb relaxation, how?

Post by Nick Cutroneo » Tue Apr 18, 2017 3:07 am

Luis_Br wrote:...But it is not the final solution to the overall technical and health problem, IMO.
Keeping a straight wrist is a structural aspect, where controlling to muscular tension in the arm/hand/wrist is a muscular issue. The two are neither independent of one another or dependent.
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Re: Left thumb relaxation, how?

Post by Desperado » Tue Apr 18, 2017 5:04 am

There's a good exercise by pavel stride ( predictive text!) which was posted recently in a different thread. He demonstrates resting all fingers eg 1 - 4th strung, 2 - 3rd, 3 - 2nd and 4 on the first string in say pos v then sound notes individually whilst resting the others fingers lightly on the string. This is a great exercise for controlling oh presuure. Maybe someone can find the link?

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