I seem to be tensioning up a bit when I am trying to play at a faster rate or even if I'm trying to play a new tune accurately. The tension is in both hands and my left forearm. This sometimes results in getting the shakes.
What practice tips have you got to get me out of this.
Play softer. That's what my teacher always tells me. It relaxes the hand muscles and allows you to maintain a better rhythm (and probably to play faster, too). His standard advice: "Find the loudest banjo you can find, and play it as softly as you can." [Besides, it's always louder to everyone else but you, because you're sitting or standing behind it.]
i spend a lot of time making sure that i play relaxed, and i think that the only thing you can do is take maybe a few days aside, and just pay as much attention to playing as relaxed as possible. and keep doing it until you're not having to think about it. i think tensing up is a natural reaction to playing fast, but is completely counterproductive. anywho, that's my two sense.
also, there's a book out there by aaron shearer called classic guitar techniques vol 1 (books.google.com/books?id=n7QR...ct=result) in which he goes over things like muscle tension and how to avoid it. and while i know earl didn't ever go into this, it's still pretty good information! at any rate, best of luck!!
After yrs of dealing with this in people Im convinced its triggered subconciously and a psychological prob in nature.Im the same way when I record BUT, turn the recorder off and lets "jam" the tune 2 HRS later, I wonder what all the fuss was about in the studio???.One thing thats helped me and other students is being convinced maxium volume from the banjo is best obtained when picking from the first knuckle with very little overall finger movement.Thats where the pwr with accuracy is found.We covered a related post a couple weeks ago describing the LH bearing down on the fretbaord when the RH picks faster and has greater finger movement.The 2 seem to coincide.Try pickin with all your pwr only coming from the first knuckle.this should allow you to lighten up on your anchor finger/fingers as well.Try to "PULL" tone.Learn some single string phrasing too. A much greater degree of accuracy is required for that style and will force you to lighten up at first.
Just some things to try..
Thanks guys. That has been real helpful. It all makes sense so far.
Thanks for opening this thread up Colin. I have done exactly as I've been told by reading tutor books and from the lessons on here. Its got to the point were I can play about six tunes. The timing, chord changing and all the other bits we have to learn as taken shape. The tunes sound great as slow ballads, but they are bluegrass tunes. Each time I try to get any speed my hand starts to freeze, then my fingers just hit where they happen to be, it turns into a complete mess and is very, very disheartening. I have spoken to a couple of people both in the States and here in England and they are suffering the same. I am willing to try anything to play a tune and play faster to make it sound bluegrass.
I am not trying to run before I walk. But I am disheartend, it seems like all my hard work and many hours practice count for nothing. I wonder why we are not taught about how to speed up by any of the tutors. The only thing Ive heard on the subject is, it will come. Well its not coming and I'm getting desperate. Help!
Further to my last post. If this is a mental block that can be over come can someone please tell us poor souls how to do it. If its something to do with the way we are built and we will never speed up. Then there are going to be quite a few devastated people including me that have worked hard for nothing. Once again. Help
Our guitar player who is also the lead vocalist occaisionally gets cramping in his hand. The fingers of his left hand will cramp so hard they actually deform and become unmovable. It's so wierd to see when it happens and very painfull for him. When it comes on he can't play at all and has even necessitated us canceling mid way in a gig. Hard to explain to the person that hired us but there's nothing we can do when he gets one of these attacks. He's been to the Dr. and been diagnosed as possibly having a form of arthritise. It can last a day or so but so far goes away eventually and he is fine for many weeks then it comes on again. He's 58 and never knowing when it will happen has been extremely had for him to deal with mentally. I'm the same age and I feel so lucky to not have anything like that affect me but I feel so bad for him.
There''s so little time and so much room to experiment, why choose to play like someone else? If I were Earl, I wouldn''t play it like me either.
Edited by - pdbanjo on 01/17/2009 10:16:37
Ive had that hand muscles spasm when I was on the road and played guitar. I put it down to overwork, but it does hurt like hell. But I think this picking problem is different. The hand problem your band member gets is after already having done some work. The problem with us, is we can play slowly and sound ok, though it should be at least at three times the speed we are stuck at. We just can't get out of that plodding along speed and it sounds nothing at all like bluegrass should.
Looooooong slooooooooow practice with a metronome or other rhythm source to get minimal finger motion, relaxation, and perfect form into muscle memory. Old Git, can you twiddle your right index and and middle right fingers rapidly in the air? If you can do it as fast as most people can, you'll see that at least you have that inherent speed already. Also try drumming the tips of your middle, then index, then thumb on a table or knee in a repetitive sequence like in a roll pattern---can you drum faster than you can pick? Most folks can, and again, it shows that there's nothing inherently amiss in terms of being able to move your fingers quickly enough to pick fast. So it's a matter of redirecting that sort of built-in natural finger motion into precise banjo rolls. Refer to first sentence, above ;-) and all the other advice offered so far.
Dave, Your a pal. I can do the exercices as you say, but there is no way it will come together when I play. I have behaved and not rushed whilst practicing and as I said I have followed to the word what the tutors say. Ive done everything the way they say. Once again not trying to run before I can walk. But, Dave I'm stuck. I cannot move on, and its hurting. Please talk to me as you would a child and start me off on the right track. I have played slow an have got all the bits into place. but can't move on. I and many other people would listen to your advice
Thank you for sharing.
There's been some good advice here.
The trouble I have is that as soon as I try and play with a backing track, it all goes to pot and I seem to stiffen up. I think I'll spend most of my practice time playing slower, then give about five or ten minutes to playing beyond my ability.
In MHO, the only road to speed is practice. once you have a tune memorized so well that you can practically play it in your sleep, you will increase your speed and likely not even realize that you are playing faster
Thank GOD my wife loves bluegrass,
Got to agree with tombrien here.
I've been learning "I'll fly away" for the last 4 weeks (only my fourth tune) very slowly. Only got to learn the last three bars and smooth them into what I've learned so far.
Anyway, I've been taking it slow, half speed. Last night I stepped it up a bit. Because I've been playing the same song over and over for so long it wasn't too hard, it seemed my fingers knew where they were going.
As for playing in your sleep, as soon as I wake in the morning that tune is going through my head
You have to learn to will yourself to relax. It happens to me if I play really fast for a long time too. When I feel it coming on I acknowledge it and dismiss it, mentally willing my muscles and body to relax. When I ran track in high school my coach taught us we could run faster by relaxing. Without our knowledge he had us run the 100 and told us to give him 110%, then he told us run it again but this time to give him 90%. We ran faster giving 90% because we were relaxed and in control. He also told us that to confirm that we were relaxed when we were running to make sure our jaw was slack and loose and I have found that this carries over to the banjo. Without fail I find that when my arms start burning I have my teeth clenched together.
Terry, if you really do have the foundation laid and can play various basic rolls easily, evenly, smoothly, and accurately with a relaxed right hand in perfect time with a metronome at a slow speed (picking tempo at, say, 60 bpm, which is 4 picked banjo roll notes per metronome tick when the metronome is ticking once per second), then you can start to practice faster playing. As many BHO folks have said many times, the idea is to build speed slowly---speed the metronome up 5 bpm and practice at that new higher speed until you can play as well at that speed, then increase 5 bpm more, etc. This is not something that can be done in an afternoon, of course---this is a long-term (weeks or months) approach to building speed.
I think it's also good (and fun) to do short bursts of speed and stop before you tense up: consciously relax the right arm and hand, then do a very quick TIMT (3rd, 2nd, 1st, 3rd strings) as fast as you can, for example, and then rest your hand. Then repeat. The idea here is to get your fingers moving fast, but to stop before you tense up. The mistake I made and that many others make is to try to play too fast too soon. When you do this, it's very likely you will have to tense up the right hand too much, and you then end up practicing un-relaxed. That in itself will limit your speed, but it also promotes playing with the right forearm tensed up, which is a Very Bad Habit as your hand/arm become exhausted quickly and you will probably not play smoothly with good timing.
It would also be good to have an actual teacher who can walk you thru this process. ;-)
Thanks Dave, you have answered a lot of my questions. One of the things you mentioned was the forearm tensing up, after a short while I have a deep groove where my forearm touches the rest. I'm convinced now after what you fellers have said that the answer is relaxing, but I have tried, and each time I quickly slip back. Thanks fellers this might mean me having to re'learn what Ive spent all this time learning. But i'm going to give it a try. Once again, thank you.
Go fer it Terry,
I just tried what these fellas suggested and it works. I concentrated real hard on relaxing both forearms and I can feel the improvement already.
It reminds me of my archery tutor. When I went from shooting traditional styles to shooting a compound bow, I was told to come to full draw then relax both arms. I thought that was impossible. But I can do it now and that works too.
Good luck and thanks everyone.
One possible thing you can practice is the opposite. I use a metronome to keep me from slowing down when I play quieter. Thus I pull out the metronome and focus on playing softer and louder while staying in time. I get tense also and this exercise seemed to help me avoid tensing when I got loud but that wasn't what I was working on.
I'd suggest trying to alter volume while playing with a metronome and keeping your mind on how hard you are fretting/plucking the banjo.
Fort Collins, Colorado, USA
I played my first 'tune', Tom Dooley, yesterday for my wife and stepdaughter. I was excited because I actually had some good speed, it was all making sense, then I hit the wrong note, or forgot what note to hit and then it sound like junk. After about 2 times my wife said she could see me about to make a mistake, my jaw got tense, I wanted it to be perfect and when it wasn't I tensed up. This caused me to strike wrong strings and just make a terrible sound. It's trying to find a nice smooth rythm while remembering this is fun. It has given me something to look at as I progress.
Great post though!
Edited by - BrevardMountaineer03 on 01/27/2009 17:30:03
For me it's a head thing. I can get the banjo out and practice my rolls a couple of times and then just take off on a song I know without thinking about it. Usually without fail I can play it faster and cleaner when I start than after I think about it. It's the same if I haven't practiced in a couple of days. This also happens if I try to play something back to my instructor that I had down cold at home, I can't even make it through the first couple of bars without messing up in front of him.
I have to force myself to relax as has already been mentioned. Being a nervous worrier I have had to do this in other stressfull situations as well.
If you worry you are going mess up, then you will for sure.
91'' Gibson RB-250
(Greg Rich Era)
I tense up from time to time as well - banjo picking, skiing, and strangely walking very quickly (usually to catch a train). Over the years I've got to know when it's happening, and as Adam said, you have to will yourself to relax.
That said, you can't always relax on cue. AS BrevardMountaineer03 said, it's easy to tense up, hit the wrong note and go to pot - I did it yesterday when showing my dad how I was getting on. I put the banjo down for 10 minutes, had a couple of minutes, and then started playing in the background while my family were chatting. I knew my dad would be listening (he's very keen), but I wasn't centre of attention. Then, I played again later when everyone was listening and got on fine.
I'm really glad I started this topic. I'm quite amazed at how many of you are going through the same thing. Going over the threads, it does seem to be a mental thing rather than physical. Whether it's trying too hard, peer pressure or what I don't know yet.
There has been some really good comments here. Keep it up guys.
I'm certainly not an expert ... BUT Ross Nickerson has a tuition book that deals totally about 'Building up your speed on the Banjo'. Have a look at banjoteacher.com see what you think. However, all the advice given is sound and worth taking note of.
I would like to begin by thanking you fellers for your kind advice. I am now trying to practice relaxed and its the hardest thing I have ever tried.
In actual fact, I'm having to re'learn everything I have learned. When I play quiet and gentle I soon slip back into tension. I wouldn't have believed what you fellers have said, but as soon as I took notice I realized that it was my whole body that was tensing up. I practice alone in my office with the door closed, no'one wants to hear someone going over and over a peice. But thats where another question comes up. Why am I tensing up, there's no'one to hear me...thank God he he.
Well I'm going to struggle on and work hard on this. If Colin hadn't have put this thread up, there would be many banjo practicers out here getting nowhere. Once again, thank you all.
Always maintain the most relaxed hand and body as possible when practicing. If you don't you'll end up with bad habits, and speed will always be an issue. I'm currently working on speed and am finding it easier than ever before because I'm getting all the tension out of hands and body.
Tension usually comes from this:
"Maybe I'm not good enough to learn this" (unbelief).
Which creates this:
"I might mess this up!" (fear).
Which creates this:
"I want to control my hands so I don't blow it" (desire to control)
Which creates this:
"I am TRYING REALLY HARD!" (self-effort, striving, trying)
Which creates this:
Tension in the body and hands.
This paradigm seems to have been true of every bit of my life where I've had tension, whether in music or relationships or whatever. It seems to start with unbelief and fear. Fortunately Jesus Christ is my therapist and he's dug most of those areas out (at least the ones I'm aware of).
In order for any habit to change, thinking has to change first.
"In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself...I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see...Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do."
C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism
Edited by - RonBlock on 01/21/2009 11:04:48
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