Legato: reach, stamina and cramp

Discussion in 'Music Theory, Lessons & Techniques' started by YouAreAwesome, Dec 10, 2017.

  1. YouAreAwesome

    YouAreAwesome SS.org Regular

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    Recently I started technique training from the ground up using the lessons from shredtraining.com (great stuff btw). I learned my legato technique just plain sucks and very underdeveloped. The hard part is that my fretting hand cramps up fast, has limited reach (esp. wide 3 note per string legato) and overall lacks endurance. This makes serious practice hard since I have to pauze all the time.

    I really want to improve my legato since I think it is my weak point that holds my whole playing back.

    Any tips? Anybody had similair experiences? How did you overcome this? Aside from continuing exercises I already do, are there other things I can consider?

    Thanks!
     
  2. Spaced Out Ace

    Spaced Out Ace 0 0 1 0 0 6 5 0 3\

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    I would suggest not trying to run a marathon, figuratively speaking. Implement the technique in your playing a little at a time, and over time, utilize it more and more. Whereas you might start out using it for a bar at first, eventually increase it more and more. Also, you should warm up if you don't currently.
     
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  3. YouAreAwesome

    YouAreAwesome SS.org Regular

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    Thanks for the reply. I've read up on tendinits and carpel tunnel syndrome by playing guitar and have chosen an approach similar to you suggestion: incorporating in for short periods of time.

    After observing my legato technique more closely I found out that the main problem is the pull-off, not the hammer on. In order to make it sound clear and loud enough, I tend to "squeeze" the neck of the guitar which seems to result in the cramp.

    On top of the "short periods" approach I also tried very deliberately relaxing during legato runs/pull-offs. This also seems to help.

    Anybody that maybe recognizes this or has additional tips? Thanks a million.
     
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  4. Spaced Out Ace

    Spaced Out Ace 0 0 1 0 0 6 5 0 3\

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    I think that's a great observation. If you squeeze the neck while pulling off and it results in cramping, then adjusting your playing to stop that is definitely a great thing to do.
     
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  5. YouAreAwesome

    YouAreAwesome SS.org Regular

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    I actually just found a video by Tom Hess that deals with the problem I have, for anyone dealing with the same issue:
     
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  6. prlgmnr

    prlgmnr ...that kind of idea

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    Hess having one of those stopped clock moments there I see.
     
  7. Drew

    Drew Forum MVP

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    I'd take anything Tom Hess says with a grain of salt, unless this is one of those broken clock being right twice a day things.

    Without knowing much more about your technique, I'll make two general observations.

    1) As a guy who had some RSI issues back in college, I think one of the reason Satriani, a guy known for stretchy, fast legato playing, has had essentially no major RSI issues over the course of a very long career has a lot to do with his hand position, particularly where his thumb falls on the back of the neck. He mostly plays in a "blues" position, with his thumb on/over the top of the neck, but for stretchier licks, transitions into a "classical" position, with his thumb behind the neck. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess if you're having trouble with reach, you mostly play in a "blues" position. There are a lot of pros to this position - more leverage for bending, and a much more natural wrist angle being the two biggest, but it does limit your reach on the fretboard somewhat. A "classical," thumb-behind-neck position does give you a much larger reach, but it comes with a more severe break in your wrist angle which can cause pain over time, and of course bending is harder. Satriani flows pretty effortlessly between the two - watching some live videos of him with a good close-up of his fretting hand can be pretty instructive, I think, in how he spends most of his playing time in a blues position, but shifts into a classical only when he needs to. This may or may not be something you're struggling with, but IMO it's at least worth ruling out.

    2) Honestly, the thing that did the most for my legato technique was practicing unplugged, and one of the things that taught me is WHERE you fret matters. Doing legato drills on a guitar with no amp really helps you learn to keep your dynamics even, get clear, clean attacks on your hit ons and pull offs, and when you then go and plug back in, you'll need less gain than you think to "even" your playing out, because it's already pretty even. One thing I've personally found with legato, especially unplugged or in low gain settings, is that you tend to get a more defined note articulation if you focus on fretting towards the tips of your fingers, rather than further down the fleshy pad of your fingertip. Do some experimenting - where exactly you fret actually can make an audible different in clarity and tone, for legato playing. This sounds totally crazy, but give it a try. Next to playing unplugged, a light, really touch sensitive distortion is the (IMO) next best way to force you to keep your technique even - if your dynamics are all over the place, your playing will sound like a haphazard mix of clean and distorted notes, whereas if you can keep it even it'll sound smoother and more consistent.

    Definitely don't be afraid to pause and stretch or shake out your hands while playing, too. You only get one set.
     
  8. stratjacket

    stratjacket Lost in a loop

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    I’m not sure how much it helps, but I’ve always had a habit of tapping my fingers on the edge of a desk or book or remote control if I’m watching TV. Or like right now, sitting here watching the game with my tablet, I’ll use the edge of the tablet and tap/pull off on the side of it. Also if I have a pen or pencil in my hand, I’m almost always using that as a string.
     
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  9. Zeus1907

    Zeus1907 SS.org Regular

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    I agree with the thumb position. Also, since you’re having trouble with the pull off’s work on that technique first and foremost. When I first started playing I would just kind of lift my finger off the string and kind of hope I’d do a pull off. Now when I do legato I aggressively pull the string towards my Palm with my pinky (for example), but very quickly as to let the not ring clearly, and also quickly so it doesn’t sound like I’m bending the note before the pull off.
    I hope my explanation makes sense.
     
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  10. YouAreAwesome

    YouAreAwesome SS.org Regular

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    Thanks. Regarding thumb position I tend to do what feels natural (I'd say close to blues position) but, in order to reach the frets needed, I shift to the classical postion. Due to volume I was already playing unplugged frequently, so I will keep doing that.

    But even then my reach and control is limited though, especially doing a legato like this (tab): 3 - 5 - 7. And then I tend to do what Hess says: I tend to fret all notes at once, then consequently pulloff, intead of only using one finger at a time. Or is it no problem and should I not focus on that?

    I'm now also experimenting with holding the guitar more upward to avoid putting my wrist in an angle, or might this not be a good idea?

    I considered it, but it just doesn't really stick with me. I'll try again. Any other options besides this and actually playing guitar that might help improve strenght and flexibility?

    I understand but when I try the "agressive" approach, my hand tends to cramp up even faster. I also recognize the wrong way to do a pulloff by just lifting a finger and frankly have to still force myself to do it the right way. Might it al be just a matter of time and getting used to and maybe I should not make more out of it right now?
     
  11. marcwormjim

    marcwormjim SS.org Regular

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    I’m not reading the rest of this thread, but here’s my personal poop:

    The fretting hand strain I’ve generally seen and experienced has been due to stretching the fingers out from the palm in order to reach the notes. If you just pivot the entire hand and fretting fingers from where the thumb is anchored on the back of the neck, you remove this strain.

    I zoned in on this after injuring my fretting hand while trying to work through one of Shawn Lane’s books. It took a year or two to recover, and my improved technique allows me to leap in wide intervals rather than attempting to stretch/reach my fingers to cover all target notes within a lick at once.

    YMMV.
     
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  12. YouAreAwesome

    YouAreAwesome SS.org Regular

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    Sounds interesting but I'm having troubling grasping what you exactly mean. Pivot the entire hand and fingers from where the thumb is anchored? So the thumb stays in one place and the rest moves in a sort of circular motion?
     
  13. marcwormjim

    marcwormjim SS.org Regular

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    Pivots/swivels as needed to facilitate “stretches” in fret spans by minimizing the need for the physical stretches liable to cause RSIs in the delicate components of the hand and fingers - you use your hand more like a slide on a typewriter, as opposed to essentially thumb-wrestling the neck and hoping you can extend your grip to the desired fret. I realized I was unconsciously emulating the stretches of players who had longer fingers than me, when I should have been using Shawn Lane, Joe Satriani, and other players with short fingers as role models for efficient fingering.

    Not that I have short fingers - Allan Holdsworth was kind enough to let me compare our hands, and they were the same size. I had previously made the excuse of not having “large” hands like his as the reason I couldn’t execute his impossible runs effectively. Turns out I just wasn’t paying enough attention to my technique.
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2018
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  14. YouAreAwesome

    YouAreAwesome SS.org Regular

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    Do you maybe have a movie or picture example of this? I tried it - at least if I understood correctly - but didn't make any sense for my hands.
     
  15. marcwormjim

    marcwormjim SS.org Regular

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    As I disclaimed, each person’s mileage will vary - I feel whatever is most comfortable counts as “proper” technique in the messageboard medium. But here goes:

    1) Put your fretting hand’s thumb on the back of the guitar neck somewhere around the 10th fret. You want your middle finger and thumb to be about even with one another (the thumb doesn’t need to be flat or anything). For the sake of illustration, let’s position our fret hand’s fingers on the board so that our index is over the 9th, middle is over 10 with the thumb supporting from the other side, ring is on 11, etc. This is played on one string:

    2) Take your index finger, fret the 9th fret with it, then pick the note.

    3) Then take the index finger off, rotate your hand from the wrist while pivoting from the anchored thumb’s resting place near the 10th fret, and angle your hand so that your middle fingertip is comfortably within the 12th fret. Then hammer on to that note with the middle finger.

    4) Depending on which is more comfortable, continue to reach and angle your hand from the thumb’s anchor point near the 10th fret and use either your ring or pinkie finger to hammer-on the 15th fret.

    Repeat this three note phrase slowly, looking to make sure the movements within your fretting hand are fluid and lazy (use a mirror, if necessary). Be sure each note has the finger take the time to move into position over the striking point before you bring them down for the hammer-on (Don’t launch the fingers toward their destination like a striking snake).

    Do not worry about the notes being in time or the same volume - This is an exercise in observation and retraint. Make sure you feel no strain or stretching effort from the delicate muscles in your hand or fingers. If you feel any nerve compression or wrist fatigue, cease the exercise and evaluate whether you are aggravating a pre-existing injury or if this is merely tendon fatigue.

    If you can execute this three-note pattern in a way that looks and feels relaxed and fluid, then try to gradually speed up the coordination until you can play 9-12-15 without feeling like it’s a monster stretch. You may also try the coordination at higher frets requiring less effort (eg. 12-15-18).

    Then repeat the process on a different string, being mindful of which strings require more effort to play than the others, but anchoring and angling the fretting hand according to what’s needed to accommodate the demands of each string.

    Once you are able to comfortable play the 9-12-15 pattern across all 6 strings, play it in higher registers to reduce the challenge, and in lower registers (such as 6-9-12) to have something to work toward, repeating the same steps. But remember: If you can’t play the pattern in a high register comfortably, you certainly won’t be able to play it in a lower register where the frets are further apart.

    I use the technique to make crazy stuff such as what’s in the following video manageable. Note that Shawn was “double-jointed”; and barred with his index finger in a way that would be painful to anyone without hyperextending joints. Because I too have hyperextending joints but find that approach uncomfortable, I felt subtle hand position-shifts within the licks were necessary to minimize injuries.



    Anyone acquainted with intervals will recognize the fretting pattern as being notes a minor 3rd apart, for a diminished sound. Once comfortable, you can increase the span to 4 frets for a major 3rd (eg. 11-15-19) for an augmented sound.

    Also note that Shawn has his guitar neck sharply angled upward to facilitate the stretches. In my own experience, that helps with playing the intervals at high speeds moreso than practicing the initial coordination - But the ergonomics are highly personal (whatever works works).
     
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  16. YouAreAwesome

    YouAreAwesome SS.org Regular

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    Very thorough response, thanks a lot. I will sit down for this during the weekend.

    What I do realise because of your reply: the pattern that causes the cramp is 3-5-7, indeed at the lower register. On top of that I'm playing it on my new Schecter KM-7 with a 26.5" neck, instead of the Gibson with a 24.75" I started these workouts on a while back. That might very well have started the cramps....
     
  17. marcwormjim

    marcwormjim SS.org Regular

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    For a time, I seriously considered investing in a 24”-scale guitar such as a Brian May or a conversion neck, just to decrease my chances of re-experiencing a stretch-related RSI.

    In the end, though, my longer-scale guitars just felt and sounded the best - I reasoned that, so long as my hands remain pain-free, a more disciplined technique would ultimately be more effective than spreading an inch and a half scale difference over 24 frets. Here’s to hoping your results exceed mine.
     
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