Using the weight of the left arm

Ergonomics and Posture for Classical Guitarists, Aches and Pains, Injuries, etc...
Aaron Elkins

Re: Using the weight of the left arm

Post by Aaron Elkins » Tue Sep 16, 2008 6:27 pm

yavannildi wrote:OH MY! I think i'll never be too grateful too you after reading this thread. This has been my nightmare for years. I got the stupid notion that everyone that plays the guitar would have much stronger fingers than i have. I felt a bit "weak" :wink:

I'm very glad to hear that, yavannildi (I'm the one who started this thread). I see you're pretty new as a Delcamp subscriber, but you'll find that for most of us these wonderful forums bring two kinds of rewards: the pleasure of learning something from people more knowledgeable than yourself; and the equally pleasurable joy of helping someone else out.

-Z-
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Re: Using the weight of the left arm

Post by -Z- » Sat Apr 29, 2017 3:19 am

well, I've played the electric guitar in standing up position and never had any issue, now playing the classical guitar I developed pain on my left shoulder/upper arm, I gave it some time and it got better, today I was playing and for some reason my left arm started to hang down on it's own and released all the tension on the upper arm, it was SO relieving doing that after few hours of practice, I played for some time paying attention to this feeling, it was like therapy, I was definitely putting undesired tension on my upper arm without noticing.

I'm completely new to the classical guitar so my body is not used to play sitting down... I have to ask if is this how it should feel? While I was playing I noticed great improve on the pressure on the upper arm by letting it " hang" on the guitar but my thumb was slipping towards the floor, making it hard to play. How to get this optimized ?
PS: I've been through tendinitis and had to cut practice time, I feel like I can play for days with my arm " hanging" on... I'm grateful for any tip.

meouzer
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Re: Using the weight of the left arm

Post by meouzer » Mon May 15, 2017 4:30 am

Kanengiser has it very simple and easy to understand as the OP noted -- Rock back with the shoulder. No need to analyze beyond that. Also see Galahger's explanation on youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzYfdYt ... annel_page. Gallagher says its a straight pull back, which is consistent with Kanengiser. A weight attached to the elbow suggests just letting the arm dangle, which is clearly incorrect because you actually have to exert unnecessary force to prevent the hand from sliding off the fret-board.

Cass Couvelas
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Re: Using the weight of the left arm

Post by Cass Couvelas » Mon May 15, 2017 6:52 pm

A sincere thank-you to the person who bumped this very useful old thread.
"She ran the whole gamut of emotions from A to B."
(Dorothy Parker on Katharine Hepburn)

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Denian Arcoleo
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Re: Using the weight of the left arm

Post by Denian Arcoleo » Mon May 15, 2017 7:26 pm

Some players use the friction of the left thumb against the back of the neck to allow gravity to help the arm and hand. Feel the weight of the arm drawing down into the elbow and 'hang' the arm off the back of the neck. From observation I believe Williams does this. The result is far less muscular fatigue and increased freedom and dexterity of the fingers of the LH.

Luis_Br
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Re: Using the weight of the left arm

Post by Luis_Br » Thu May 25, 2017 12:53 pm

I think if soundboard is perpendicular to floor, falling down weight is useless and it is actually a bad idea. It is more about arm counterbalance from shoulder to release thumb pressure. Some people overdo it, which is also not good and put too much stress over the fingers that must hold the heavy arm brute force. We also must be careful with restricting right arm that starts holding the guitar from slipping when too much left arm pressure is done.

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Tom Poore
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Re: Using the weight of the left arm

Post by Tom Poore » Fri Jun 02, 2017 1:34 am

Luis_Br wrote: I think if soundboard is perpendicular to floor, falling down weight is useless and it is actually a bad idea. It is more about arm counterbalance from shoulder to release thumb pressure. Some people overdo it, which is also not good and put too much stress over the fingers that must hold the heavy arm brute force. We also must be careful with restricting right arm that starts holding the guitar from slipping when too much left arm pressure is done.
In over thirty years of teaching, I’ve never mentioned arm weight as applied to the guitarist’s left hand. (Or, for that matter, the right hand.) And nothing I’ve read about it convinces me that I should. It’s a concept borrowed from piano pedagogy—for which it’s useful—and foisted onto an instrument for which it’s simply not apt.

If you’re holding the guitar correctly, the weight of your left arm pulls your hand away from the fingerboard, not into it. I understand that more perceptive teachers who advocate arm weight don’t mean it literally. Rather, it’s a metaphor to alert students to excessively gripping the neck. And by the way, many teachers who advocate arm weight do take it literally, even though it doesn’t work as they claim. (The objections raised by Luis begin to explain why.)

For teachers who view it as a useful metaphor, I would argue that there are better things to say to a student. For example, here’s a suggestion I’ve posted before:
Fret a note with your left hand finger (any finger, fret, or string will do) and repeatedly play the note with your right hand. As you continue playing the note, gradually let up the pressure with your left hand finger until the note begins to buzz. Stop letting up the pressure, but continue playing the note, with the buzzing. Now, as you continue playing, slowly increase your left hand pressure until the buzzing stops. Exactly at this point, stop increasing the pressure. You’ve now found exactly how much left hand pressure you need to get a clean note. Any extra pressure past the point where the buzzing stopped is excess pressure.

Notice how this exercise is perfectly tailored to whoever is doing it, regardless of physical differences between players. This exercise even tailors itself to different guitars or strings. Any person playing any guitar on any kind of strings will automatically get an accurate feel for how much pressure to use when fretting a note.

What I like about this exercise is that, for it to work, you don’t have to be sensitive to excess tension. And that’s the crux of the matter. To be useful, an excercise like this must alert you to excess tension even if you’re oblivious to it. In the exercise I’ve just described, the buzzing—something so obvious that anyone will notice it—instantly alerts you to insufficient pressure. And at the instant the buzzing ceases as you increase pressure, no additional pressure is needed. Even a player oblivious to excess tension can understand the folly of pressing harder after the buzzing stops.
(I make no claim that I invented this idea.)

To me, this little exercise is far more useful for alerting students to excess tension. Someone who’s taught this (or something like it) doesn’t need to hear anything about arm weight. Indeed, the arm weight idea is a roundabout way of sensitizing students to excess tension. Why bother with roundabout when something more immediately direct is at hand?

Tom Poore
South Euclid, OH
USA

Luis_Br
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Re: Using the weight of the left arm

Post by Luis_Br » Sun Jun 04, 2017 1:26 pm

I agree some teachers say "arm weight" without meaning really use of gravity, but some people interpret it the wrong way, so I just want to make it clear. Anyways the idea of hanging the arm is good and helps, so it is a useful practice, but I think the reason for releasing shoulder and back tension, giving hand and fingers more freedom of movement, it is not about using gravity over the strings.

The same way, putting gradually tension also cause misconceptions, in my experience. The exercise of gradually putting more tension is very useful and helps a lot, but without proper guidance people tend to think this as learning just the right amount of tension over the string, while this is also the wrong concept. The right concept is about our internal tensions to achieve the pressing result, and not the final result itself. We should do some extra tension to make sure there is no buzz, to get a good vibrato pulling and pushing the string, to make a bar. The biggest problem, IMO, is not the final force over the string, but the inner forces to get this result. Today I press harder than I did before, as a beginner, but with by far less effort.

The exercise of gradually putting more tension to the strings helps because when applying less tension we tend to be more sensitive to our inner muscles and we learn to release some unnecessary internal movements or muscle tensions to get the same result. This exercise works better with beginners or with external guidance of the teacher pointing out the wrong tensions and positioning. For example, people tend to tense concurrent muscles of fingers to "fix" them over some fret or "fix" some positioning. You might learn to press softer the string while still keeping hard back of hand or tension over unused fingers. Most people learn to release some unnecessary tension with this exercise, but a full result regularly require guidance. Wrist tension is also very common, specially those who try to press with arm and use wrist to transmit "arm weight". I generally recommend an exercise out of the guitar on developing finger pressing with loose wrist.

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SunnyDee
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Re: Using the weight of the fretting arm

Post by SunnyDee » Sun Jun 04, 2017 3:41 pm

There was recently a big discussion on AGF about this, too. This "arm weight" question is quite controversial among classical and non-classical players and teachers. I really think that there are three different motions being described here. The one most agree is wrong, where people are strangling the guitar neck pressing with their fingers and gripping hard with the thumb (people usually teach not pressing the fingers so hard or strengthening the fingers with exercises), and the two where people refer to arm weight. The communication issue is that some people are saying arm weight simply isn't happening at all, that the technique doesn't exist. But I think it does, I know I am doing it, so I want to describe the two different techniques referring to arm weight. This is just from my personal experience and talking with other guitarists who use the arm weight technique.

1. People are pulling back with the bicep, as in the video above. They are the ones telling people they can remove the thumb from the back. This does form a barre, but it's not using the weight of the arm or relaxing the arm. It is relaxing the fingers, though, and it works, especially if the neck is low (non-classical) or very near the body of the guitar.

2. Other people really are relaxing their arm and it is the weight of the arm pressing the fingers to the string. People say the arm would fall down. Yes, if you let go, just as if you let go from the side of a cliff. You cannot remove the thumb using this technique and you need the neck up to some degree. The thing is we are not using the muscles and tendons of the hand that press a finger down to the fretboard. Iow, we are not squeezing the neck with our fingers the way you would squeeze a sponge. We are, instead, using the larger muscles of the hand to keep the hand in a natural cupped position and just keeping the fingers firm, more like the way you would hold a large glass ball in your palm. The hand feels relaxed and the arm is relaxed from the shoulder. Contractions in the arm are necessary to move the arm from one position to the next but this is slight and the arm immediately returns to relaxing. This also works, in fact, it can be used for all chords, not just barres. There are advantages and disadvantages to this technique, but it does exist. :)

I made a little video that just shows that the fretting arm is relaxed. You can see that when I relax the hand, the arm free falls straight down with a little bounce. (Sorry, this is not the best position, I had to sit on the floor, usually my neck would be higher.)
http://www.dee.email/OPEN/freefall.mp4

Look forward to hearing others' opinions.
"Militantly left-handed."

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First guitar was a vintage Russian 7-string classical.

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