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Thread: Technique adjustments

  1. #1
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    Default Technique adjustments

    Hey everyone,

    I've been playing a little over a year now and making steady progress (learning more and more tune, doing some jams, getting into theory). I recently started with a new teacher who has been focusing on my technique which seems to need some work. Some basic left hand things like keeping the wrist straight, keeping the wrist forward, and using more of the pad of the fingers rather than the tips.

    I've heard of many, many musicians making fairly big changes to technique at various points in their careers. I'm committed to working on my specific issues but it feels like I'm going to have to take a few steps back in terms of playing and jamming. I'm curious if anyone has any advice on how to keep playing fun when making significant technique adjustments and if anyone has a sense of how long it takes to make adjustments "stick".

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    harvester of clams Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Technique adjustments

    It’s not uncommon to have to give yourself a ‘demotion’ to fix some fairly fundamental issues. Patience is really the key here, especially if the changes contain physical changes, ie, more flexibility. I don’t think anyone can say how long things will take, but working slowly and steadily is typically the path. Could be 3 months or a year.

    Presumably the change helps you do things better. People give up when they don’t see a change after their time expectations aren’t met. Ask yours how long they think it will take. And notice if they play like they are coaching you.

    Btw, I use fingertips as much as I can, not pads. So there are different methods that can be reasonably successful. Lots of pros use unorthodox technique. But that’s probably not the best way to learn.

    I sympathize, I’m trying to change picking technique, knowing that it will probably take a year.
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    Registered User Davy Simpson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Technique adjustments

    I recently did a full 'rewire' of my picking hand technique after developing golfer's elbow. I took maybe three months out from playing to really focus on using my wrist correctly (up and down, radial and ulna deviation I think is the correct term) and in a relaxed way rather than driving my picking from my forearm and elbow (rotating my wrist, supinate and pronating I think...).
    Lots of picking exercises and scales before slowly moving into learning new tunes with my improved technique and finally applying that to things I already knew.
    I still find myself reverting to old habits occasionally and have to catch myself. But it was definitely worth doing.

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    Default Re: Technique adjustments

    Thank you. Very useful advice. I’m not in a hurry to shift things but the demotion feeling is still settling in. I definitely trust the recommendation to make the change since I can already get a sense of the possibilities it can open up.

  6. #5

    Default Re: Technique adjustments

    I agree that the left hand wrist should be straight and relaxed. No unnecessary bending.
    However, except for barrť chords, I do not see why you would play with the finger pads rather than with the finger tips.
    In my view, you always play with the finger tips, and that's where the calluses form. My calluses are on the very top of the finger, except for the pinky, there it is more on the outer side, at the corner of the nail.

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    Default Re: Technique adjustments

    The reason for keeping your wrist straight is not so much to improve your playing as it is to prevent carpal tunnel injuries. You should definitely thank your teacher for that one.

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    Registered User grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
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    Default Re: Technique adjustments

    Quote Originally Posted by KeithW View Post
    Hey everyone,

    ...Some basic left hand things like keeping the wrist straight, keeping the wrist forward, and using more of the pad of the fingers rather than the tips.

    ...

    Thanks!
    I thought long and hard before replying to this thread. Maybe I am just not able to understand what the teacher told you. Maybe it is a wording problem. And I do not want to bash any teacher...

    But the mentioned ways of playing a stringed instrument seem questionable to me to say the least.

    Playing "flat fingered" is definetely not okay. Playing with the padding of the finger requires a lot more strength to push any string down, thus causing more tension in the body. That is not a good thing as you have to play as relaxed as possible in order to play well.

    If you look at musicians with instruments that have no frets (check out the violin master classes by the great Sir Yehudi Menuhin on youtube) you will notice that there is a great focus on the fact that you have to play with your fingertips in order to intonate properly.

    If you play "flat fingerred" you are also prone to pulling the strings sharp thus causing unwanted disharmony.

    The wrist topic is somewhat even more sophisticated.

    You certainly do not want to angle the wrist "out", meaning tilting the hand down and away from the instrument neck. That definetely causes severe tension in the body and will (to my mind) in the long run cause physical troubles.

    Curling the wrist in - the direction of the neck - ("drop your watch") is a different topic. If you let your arms hang, your wrist is basically straight with your fingers slightly curled in. This is the way to hold your mandolin neck. I do not think a slight curl of the wrist is damaging. It is a matter of relaxation. Look at the different videos on youtube (preferably artistworks, peghead nation or homespun with mandolin teachers like Mike Marshall - huge hands by the way -, Caterina Lichtenberg, Sierra Hull, Joe K. Walsh, Mike Compton, John Reischman, Sharon Gilchrist). The wrist ist not necessarily completely straight.

    What I find more interesting is the hand posture in general. It is not paralell to the fretboard but allways slightly angled. The position of the left thumb is interesting.
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  12. #8
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    Default Re: Technique adjustments

    I tend to mention this a lot, but my background started with the violin. Although I have had only a single mandolin lesson since I discovered the instrument in 2017, I have years of training on the violin. It is very true that you use your fingertips, not pads, to nail down any particular note on the violin, and I have found that it works very well on the mandolin. I, too, suspect that fingertips might be better advice for you.

    Of course, as a relative newbie, I have recently been working on my own left hand technique. For me, I decided that I was inadvertently holding on to the neck way too hard, which limited my movement on the fret board, especially after an hour or so of playing. Heck, I have a speed neck on my primary mandolin and I ought to take greater advantage of it. So, I've been working on catching myself when my left hand gets to tight and very consciously relaxing my grip. I am finding that it really helps me better land on notes, such as landing my ring finger on the sixth fret, like the G-sharp on the D course, because my hand more easily floats the the right place and my hand is not nearly as tired after a lengthy session of playing. And, shifting my hand position up the neck is becoming more natural and easy. I'll keep working on my more relaxed left hand and then try taking my next step with picking.

    Good luck on improving your own technique. I wish you well. Enjoy yourself.
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    Default Re: Technique adjustments

    Quote Originally Posted by grassrootphilosopher View Post

    Playing "flat fingered" is definetely not okay. Playing with the padding of the finger requires a lot more strength to push any string down, thus causing more tension in the body. That is not a good thing as you have to play as relaxed as possible in order to play well.
    I can clarify what I meant since I donít think I conveyed it properly. The technique is still using the finger tips but less so on the tippy tip (which is where my calluses are) and a little further back. The fingers are still angled in the way that is common.

    Regarding the wrist, I think we are on the same page. Itís straight in line with the arm and the arm is relaxed such that the wrist is tilting downward and anteriorly (ďdropping the watchĒ).

    Unfortunately Iíve already developed some carpal tunnel issues which may be more neck related from sitting a computer than mandolin playing since I havenít been doing the latter very long. The MDs Iíve spoken with said I could still play the mandolin but Iíve been mindful about breaks and irritation. Iíll likely get a release procedure which is a bit scary but some older threads on here seem to indicate it doesnít impact playing after recovery and likely helps.

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    Default Re: Technique adjustments

    Quote Originally Posted by GMorgan View Post
    I've been working on catching myself when my left hand gets to tight and very consciously relaxing my grip. I am finding that it really helps me better land on notes, such as landing my ring finger on the sixth fret, like the G-sharp on the D course, because my hand more easily floats the the right place and my hand is not nearly as tired after a lengthy session of playing.
    Yes, absolutely this, i.e., landing the ring finger on the sixth fret (especially the C# on the 4th string for me). I know the majority of violin skills donít 1:1 translate to the mandolin but I am learning to appreciate the overlap more and more. It ainít just a little guitar.

    Iíd love to go back in time and learn the violin before the mandolin. There is something very cool about the transition from violin to mandolin. Maybe one day Iíll pick up a fiddle but that sucker takes a good amount of time.

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    Default Re: Technique adjustments

    Quote Originally Posted by Davy Simpson View Post
    I recently did a full 'rewire' of my picking hand technique after developing golfer's elbow. I took maybe three months out from playing to really focus on using my wrist correctly (up and down, radial and ulna deviation I think is the correct term) and in a relaxed way rather than driving my picking from my forearm and elbow (rotating my wrist, supinate and pronating I think...).
    Lots of picking exercises and scales before slowly moving into learning new tunes with my improved technique and finally applying that to things I already knew.
    I still find myself reverting to old habits occasionally and have to catch myself. But it was definitely worth doing.
    Thanks Davy. Those instruments you craft are gorgeous.

    I appreciate your experience a lot. Fortunately (?) I’ve only been playing for about a year so hopefully I can rewire things well enough. I’m thinking that giving it a solid 3 months of effort leads to a good self check-in point if nothing else. I think I gather it (muscle memory, etc.) but I’m curious as to why you moved into new tunes before applying new technique to old tunes. Most tunes are new to me and my catalogue isn’t very big so I’ll call that a win of sorts.

    Cheers again.

  18. #12
    Registered User mbruno's Avatar
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    Default Re: Technique adjustments

    Changing technique is both the worst and best thing. It sucks having to relearn whatever it is, but it's usually followed by attaining new abilities that weren't accessible before. Most musicians go through this several times in their career - and as you get better, the more likely it is you'll find a long in grained technique that needs to be changed.

    Since you're newer to mandolin, you don't have as much to rewire as those that have been playing for longer - which is great. But, you also probably don't have some of the same skills / knowledge those players have on mandolin (like maybe you can't play in every key, or don't know how to properly shift positions when playing scales or melodies etc). So while you may have less to rewire, your task is not necessarily easier because of that. Difficulty means growth though

    Best advice I have is:
    1. Divide you practice into "academic" and "fun" - academic is where you focus on specific skills to improve them, fun is where you just play and enjoy it. During the academic practice, be rigid - if you make a mistake, fix it. During the fun practice, be a little more forgiving - notice when you make a mistake but try to play through it and correct it the next time.
    2. You will always revert at first - especially at first, there's nothing you can do that will stop you from reverting to the old skill at some point by accident and that's okay. When you backstep to the old skill - acknowledge it mentally and try to correct it as quickly as possible, but don't get upset with yourself. There's a post on MC somewhere from John McGann that talks about when he changes technique. If I recall correctly, the gist was essentially he'd practice it at home, it get it down, but then consistently find at shows he would revert to the "old" technique. His advise as I recall was just to pay attention, keep practicing, and work through it.
    3. Record yourself (ideally with video) - sometimes small changes go unnoticed to the player because we're around ourselves all the time. When you start to try to correct an issue, record a video of yourself using the "old" or "bad" way first (just pick a tune that requires that skill). Periodically record a new video of that same song.
    Rewatch the first recording, then the most recent. It may sound silly, but it's a great way to highlight progress - which in turn can keep you motivated.
    4. When correcting one skill, often you'll find another issue - because we build our playing around what we play, when you make a change to your playing, it's very probable that you'll find some other issue you didn't think of. It's tempting to try to resolve everything at once. Sometimes you can, but often you need to focus on one before the other.
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    Default Re: Technique adjustments

    Quote Originally Posted by mbruno View Post
    Changing technique is both the worst and best thing. It sucks having to relearn whatever it is, but it's usually followed by attaining new abilities that weren't accessible before. Most musicians go through this several times in their career - and as you get better, the more likely it is you'll find a long in grained technique that needs to be changed.

    Since you're newer to mandolin, you don't have as much to rewire as those that have been playing for longer - which is great. But, you also probably don't have some of the same skills / knowledge those players have on mandolin (like maybe you can't play in every key, or don't know how to properly shift positions when playing scales or melodies etc). So while you may have less to rewire, your task is not necessarily easier because of that. Difficulty means growth though

    Best advice I have is:
    1. Divide you practice into "academic" and "fun" - academic is where you focus on specific skills to improve them, fun is where you just play and enjoy it. During the academic practice, be rigid - if you make a mistake, fix it. During the fun practice, be a little more forgiving - notice when you make a mistake but try to play through it and correct it the next time.
    2. You will always revert at first - especially at first, there's nothing you can do that will stop you from reverting to the old skill at some point by accident and that's okay. When you backstep to the old skill - acknowledge it mentally and try to correct it as quickly as possible, but don't get upset with yourself. There's a post on MC somewhere from John McGann that talks about when he changes technique. If I recall correctly, the gist was essentially he'd practice it at home, it get it down, but then consistently find at shows he would revert to the "old" technique. His advise as I recall was just to pay attention, keep practicing, and work through it.
    3. Record yourself (ideally with video) - sometimes small changes go unnoticed to the player because we're around ourselves all the time. When you start to try to correct an issue, record a video of yourself using the "old" or "bad" way first (just pick a tune that requires that skill). Periodically record a new video of that same song.
    Rewatch the first recording, then the most recent. It may sound silly, but it's a great way to highlight progress - which in turn can keep you motivated.
    4. When correcting one skill, often you'll find another issue - because we build our playing around what we play, when you make a change to your playing, it's very probable that you'll find some other issue you didn't think of. It's tempting to try to resolve everything at once. Sometimes you can, but often you need to focus on one before the other.
    Hi Matt,

    Thank you so much for the thoughtful reply. Hopefully this is the first of many inevitable technique overhauls over time. The first one reminds me of the typical learning pattern that is basically: you think youíve got a handle on something, you learn more, and then despair. Iím not despairing by any means but itís a kind of pain.

    Iíve been academic in a lot of ways outside of the mandolin so I appreciate your take on dividing time. The problem with firmly a academic approach to anything is that it doesnít leave a lot of space for fun. I like that the mandolin community really emphasizes the point that we are playing for enjoyment at the end of that day. Itís a lovely thing.

    - Keith

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    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Technique adjustments

    It may be different education systems but I have a huge amount of fun learning specific skills and listening to academics explain them.
    One analogy of learning a skill may be the Tai-Chi slow motion, repeated follow-through that you do just after a tennis shot. I love doing that too.

    Is there a list of 'skills' in playing mandolin? (Probably a big one! )

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    Default Re: Technique adjustments

    Quote Originally Posted by KeithW View Post
    I’ve been academic in a lot of ways outside of the mandolin so I appreciate your take on dividing time. The problem with firmly a academic approach to anything is that it doesn’t leave a lot of space for fun. I like that the mandolin community really emphasizes the point that we are playing for enjoyment at the end of that day. It’s a lovely thing.
    Well, yes and no. The point of the academic practice is to hone your skills on a particular subject to the point that you can play it for fun. The point of the fun practice is to then purposely take those newly acquired skills and have fun with them. The more you practice academically, the more fun you can have. Sort of like having a good vocabulary allows you to enjoy books more.

    Rhythm exercises are a good example of how one bleeds to the other. If you want to get better at rhythm techniques like syncopation, you need to have the basics firmly down before you can start dropping notes and making the rhythm more interesting. A common way to practice this would be

    1. Drilling basic exercises with different value notes to get the fingering and picking down correctly.
    2. Drilling exercises with variable note values (including rests)
    3. Setting a backing track to the right key and improvising using the rhythms you practiced. For example, take Mary Had a Little Lamb. Start with the basic rhythm (all quarter notes) played to a metronome or backing track at a slow speed, then start adding / removing eighth notes here and there to spice things up. This is a lot of fun - but is still practicing your rhythm.

    For what it's worth - I love the Children's Fakebook as a practice guide. It's all standard notation (helps you learn to read), easy melodies (odds are you know most if not all of the songs), and the melodic ideas in children's songs certainly apply to more complicated songs - so you'll get actual usable information.
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    Default Re: Technique adjustments

    Very useful! I’ll check out the fakebook and see if I can apply some of these things.

    The main reason I’ve gotten to the point of making some major technique adjustments is that it is interesting. So “fun” maybe sometimes and primarily not boring because it’s exploring a boundary.

    When I can see the same information from multiple angles it tends to stick better.

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