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Jan 21, 2009 - 11:10:18 AM
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401 posts since 10/19/2007

Another thought:

Do you have tension when you sit down, or walk? Does your body tense up when you walk to the kitchen from the living room? The answer is likely "No." Why? Because you are programmed with "This is EASY." It requires no trying or striving or the kind of effort which induces tension.

That's what's got to change in the thought-pattern of the banjoist. When you see Earl play on those F & S videos you don't see him exerting effort. He looks like he's just taking a stroll through the park. That isn't just an outer appearance, while inside he's full of tension. He really had such a relaxed form that it was easy.

And when I say easy, I mean ease. No tension. Relaxed. At rest. It doesn't mean we don't learn or practice or work on speed. It just means we do so from an attitude of sufficiency rather than from unbelief, fear, trying too hard, and thus tension.

Ron

"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

RonBlock.com

Edited by - RonBlock on 01/21/2009 11:21:43

Jan 21, 2009 - 12:45:22 PM

246 posts since 6/23/2007

That was some very deep thinking Ron and I thank you for it. Please forgive me If you think I'm being flippant now I'm not. But, I think that in everything Ive done in life, I have never really stopped to consider the amount of tension Ive put myself through and judging by what I learned off the other fellers on here. I'm only at the begining of learning. Tension and stress seem to be able to creep up quietly then stay hidden forever unless its pointed out that its happening. As I said earler, I slip back far to easily, I know your going to say it comes with time and practice. I still say its the hardest thing Ive tried to over come. Why we get stressed in a none stress situation I don't understand. The way you described the build up, makes sense. But I think the other fellers will agree with me here, we don't know its happening untill we stop and stop and check.
Sorry Ron. I posted this after you and hadn't read your new post. If it conflicts I'l delete it.
Terry

Edited by - Old git on 01/21/2009 12:47:16

Jan 21, 2009 - 1:05:21 PM
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401 posts since 10/19/2007

Terry,

Always check. It creeps up on me too, esp when practicing speed. So I have to be aware and check every few moments when I'm working on speed. Often I'll find tension in my shoulders; the tension in my right hand is more obvious, especially if I'm trying to build endurance. The main thing is to stop when we feel tension, let the tension go, and start again with no tension. If we can't seem to play higher tempos with no tension, go to a slower tempo where we can relax. Then practice there, feeling what the hands and body feel like with no tension.

Tension and stress creep up constantly in my daily life. The Christian life is meant to be one of a constant rest - a sense of sufficiency and ease. But in my daily life I often feel that tension creep up, just as in playing. It is my responsibility to keep an eye out for it and ditch it wherever I find it - in family relationships, in my God-ward relationship, in my music, in my writing - anytime fear comes up, or anxiety, which produces tension, I'm to cast it off.

That principle, which has worked more and more into my daily life, is now working into my playing through practice and vigilance.

There's no quick fix, Terry. Eliminating tension and playing from rest takes time, just like eradicating any other habit takes time and thought.

Ron

"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

RonBlock.com

Jan 21, 2009 - 1:52:13 PM
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kjcole

USA

1228 posts since 4/21/2003

There's another aspect to this from the motor physiology side of things that is particular to beginners. And that is, when learning new motor skills (from tennis to knitting, to yes, even walking as infants), we tend to (co)activate anatomically opposing muscles more than we need. This may occur for many reasons, including achieving joint stability (by 'stiffening' up the joint), minimizing the size of movement errors that result from muscle activation errors, and so on. One of the signs of increasing skill (besides increased precision and reduced variability) is reduced muscle coactivation (that is, increased efficiency). Add to this the negative effects of anxiety, and the tendency to coactivate muscles the harder you try to do something 'correctly', and you have a recipe for tension in the beginner.

So, be patient and practice, practice, practice -- and try to stay relaxed as much as possible, using whatever tricks work for you. For me I monitored the force of my right hand against the head while playing something that I knew well. As I lightened up my touch, everything else followed (but gradually, and only with lot's of practice).

Indeed, it is just 'nerves' (but at several levels!)

Kelly

Edited by - kjcole on 01/22/2009 07:37:31

Jan 21, 2009 - 3:49:37 PM

1700 posts since 7/9/2007

Kelly, coactivation is fascinating stuff--thanks. Seems one could include in "economy of motion" the minimizing of contraction in opposing muscles. Not necessarily a visible change, but an important one. Perhaps an audible one. ;-)

Dave

Jan 22, 2009 - 7:53:29 AM

223 posts since 6/25/2008

I'm with Rich wiel. I had the same problem only no shakes and most of the tension was in my right ring and pinky fingers as well as forearm. I just tried playing softer. It resulted in my fingers relaxing more and my speed even picked up a bit.

Keep on after it!

Jan 22, 2009 - 9:25:06 AM

peghead59

England

160 posts since 7/11/2008

Im already finding that I'm playing better when I concentrate on relaxing. As has already been said, I was finding tense muscles that shouldn't even be involved in playing. Neck and shoulder being the main culprits. Now that I'm concious of this I can work on it.

Real good advice on this topic. Thanks.

Jan 22, 2009 - 11:38:56 AM

4299 posts since 7/16/2004

1)Play in front of a mirror. Observe yourself for any excess movements. You will be surprised at what you can fix. How far are your fingers moving from the strings, what path are they taking, etc.

2)Relax and Relax some more..........imagine your hand just dangling their with no weight to it.

3)The faster you play the softer you have to play for the most part. That doesn't mean you don't get SOUND out of the instrument, it just means don't claw into the strings.

4)Don't forget to BREATHE...take deep breathes from your Diaphragm, not your chest...too many people hold their breathe while playing an instrument.

5)Check your posture, are you sitting up straight, is your wrist bent too far forward or backwards? Lots of things to check

You are trying to undue bad habits, so you can't continue with the bad habits if you expect to get better. You will probably go through a phase where things might fall apart as you correct yourself.

Start VERY slow doing things right 100% relaxed then gradually speed up. If you catch yourself tensing up, stop and start over again. It will be a long frustrating process most likely.........at least it continues to be one for me

Online Banjo, Guitar, Mandolin, and Music Theory Lessons available:
jodyhughesmusic.com

Jan 22, 2009 - 1:43:11 PM
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kjcole

USA

1228 posts since 4/21/2003

Hi Dave

You are definitely right in saying that minimizing undue coactivation will help achieve an 'economy of motion'. The resulting efficiency also pays off in forestalling muscle fatigue, along with the quicker modulation of hand muscles (on/off) that is needed for faster playing. The nervous system seems take care of this minimization on its own, usually, as skill is acquired. But we sure can help the process along by not generating additional tension due to anxiety, or in misbegotten attempts to try harder and concentrate more. Muscle tension from those sources often is not focussed solely on hand/forearm muscles, but will be generalized to back/shoulder/neck muscles, jaw clenching, and so on. Those are good places to monitor. As I said, my canary in the coalmine was the pressure of my planted fingers against the head. Pretty hard to have a tense hand with a light touch on the head - the two just don't go together. For others it may be jaw clenching, pressing their forearm against the rest too hard (a good reason to use a strap rather than your lap, even when sitting), etc. Playing softer is a great idea, because it is accomplished with less forceful finger actions (and less muscle activation). It also might be best to play slower and softer, then speed up/play louder while keeping a relaxed hand. When the hand tenses, slow back down and/or play softer. Etc. Playing relaxed requires skill, which requires practice, and so the early lack of progress is frustrating. The best advice is lot's of practice, mimimize more general forms of tension, and learn what it feels like to play with a relaxed hand so you know your target (and so you can recognize when that relaxed hand is heading south!). This is one of those things that don't happen overnight.

Kelly

Edited by - kjcole on 01/22/2009 13:44:07

Jan 22, 2009 - 4:47:02 PM

1339 posts since 9/10/2005

Ron , very good words , i believe if you believe you are worthy of success, with effort you will have it

"for those of you who think you hold the cards , I send to you my kind regards
For those of you who love and care I''ll see you down the road somewhere "
SteelDrivers

4everBlue.net nucraftdental.com
aloha T

Jan 25, 2009 - 11:17:04 AM

246 posts since 6/23/2007

Once again fellers, thanks again for a wealth of great advice. There's something else that Ive discovered that isn't taught. How high or low to wear the banjo. Most would say where its most comfortable, But, Ive just found out that if I lower the strap a couple of notches, I can still reach the strings and have got rid of that awful angle that the forearm has to make if the banjo is too high. This also brings the fingers into a better angle of attack naturaly. Yes. i'm still listening to you lads and have a big sign above me desk. SLOW DOWN. But i have found that by this simple adjustment there is more definition in the picking. Why do I have a sign saying slow down, when I can't speed up? Yep, its just me.

Terry

Jan 26, 2009 - 11:21:18 AM

19142 posts since 1/22/2003

This is such a good topic, I've made it into a "Sticky" for awaile.

Hugh
Picking since 1964

“...Bobby Thompson? He is the future! He has this whole new style-you can hear the melody! ''Hard Hearted'' ''Dixie Hoedown!'' Oh my!”---John Updike

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Click Here: Bobby Thompson''s Home Page

Jan 26, 2009 - 11:45:23 AM

JasonL

Canada

153 posts since 6/11/2008

This has definitely helped me as well - it's made me think harder about what I'm doing.

Thanks Colin for starting the thread.

Jason

Jan 26, 2009 - 2:59:44 PM
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246 posts since 6/23/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Banjoman

This is such a good topic, I've made it into a "Sticky" for awaile.

Hugh
Picking since 1964

“...Bobby Thompson? He is the future! He has this whole new style-you can hear the melody! ''Hard Hearted'' ''Dixie Hoedown!'' Oh my!”---John Updike

Click Here: Banjo Hangout Rules & Guidelines.

Click Here: Bobby Thompson''s Home Page





Many thanks Hugh. All us learners have benefited from these good peoples advice. And its good that it can stay open so that other people struggling can come and learn, You don't find the kind of information found here, in books, or with teachers. These people want to give us their advice, not take our cash.

Terry

Jan 27, 2009 - 12:42:17 PM

65 posts since 2/27/2007

just keep doing what everyone else says. :)


banjo pickn Dane
Romans 8:38,39
Jesus loves you

Jan 27, 2009 - 1:55:06 PM

238 posts since 4/21/2007

Dont't forget to warm up. Do some stretching of your hands, arms, shoulders, neck. Most of the time my neck is looking toward the left and down. It will overstrengthen those muscles and cause an imbalance. Look to the right occasionally. Do some passive range of motion with the hands and wrists, and also apply a little traction to the fingers. This is a big help in addition to everything else that's been mentioned. If your hands are cold, hold them under some warm water.

DandyRandy

"I drive away my sorrows pickin'' on de old banjo"

From Massa''s in de Cold ,Cold Ground

http:/northforkbluegrass.com

Jan 27, 2009 - 11:50:01 PM

418 posts since 8/3/2007

4)Don't forget to BREATHE...take deep breathes from your Diaphragm, not your chest...too many people hold their breathe while playing an instrument.

5)Check your posture, are you sitting up straight, is your wrist bent too far forward or backwards? Lots of things to check

I wanted to chime in with what Banjocoltrane said. I had this experience last night. I was practicing "Dear old Dixie" with my ipod at a slowed down speed and full speed. I've gotten myself into a committment to play a gig with some guys and they have put FMB and DOD on the list and I'm feeling the pressure building. DOD was fine at 1/2 speed but when I tried full speed, I wrecked. Disheartened I sat there knowing I was in trouble. (we won't be playing it at warp speed anyway, but I was definitely thinking....uh oh.) Then it occured to me. Breathing. I tried again and concentrated on breathing and my playing got much better. Maybe I should take a pen and write "breathe" on my left wrist.

I always practice while sitting on a straight back kitchen chair, or standing up if I'm going to be playing in front of people in the near future.

Now I need to go back and find that thread on stage fright....

Banjo players trail mix. 1 part M+M''s, 1 part peanut M+M''s and 1 part Kraft Caramels.

Jan 28, 2009 - 10:30:51 AM
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401 posts since 10/19/2007

In thinking about this during my practice time this morning, I still think that the psychological element is crucial. If we believe "this is hard" and maybe too hard to accomplish then we'll have fear that we won't accomplish, then our minds say, "Try really, really hard," and that leads to tension. At least in my world, this has been the source of tension in my hands and body when I play and sing.

Now, the outer form of dealing with this is still important; we still must relax, condition our muscles, develop economy of motion. But the idea at bottom "this is hard" is the root cause of the tension.

I remember beginning to play banjo and it was so easy to play fast. I had nothing in my mind that said, "This is hard"; in fact, it was "this is easy." Speed wasn't an issue.

As I got older, in my late teens and early twenties, some well-meaning relatives argued with me about doing music for a living. They saw lack, limitation, fear. "How are you going to ever own a home or raise a family?" "I knew a guy who was really good and he never got anywhere playing music." I dealt with the money-fears through God's Word - Matthew 6 and other places where I was prompted to put God first and trust Him to take care of my outer needs. That all worked out fine and good - the fact that I do what I do for a living isn't luck; it was faith all the way.

All that to say this - there was one other element I did not realize at the time. The negative talk, though dealt with in terms of making a living, encoded in my mind, "I am not as talented, or dexterous, as other people, so I have to work really, really hard." And so the thought, "This is HARD" for the first time was birthed in my relationship to the banjo.

So I worked really hard. I was good at the things I was good at; a solid slow to medium-fast tempo groove, slow playing, D tuning, bluesy banjo, and many other good things. But speed began to elude me.

It is only now that I am realizing the thought behind my apparent inability to achieve 190bpm or more. Unbelief creates fear, creating effort, which creates tension, which puts a lid on our abilities. That lid is coming off mine. Dear Old Dixie at 180 is no longer impossible, or even hard. It's easy.

Ron

"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

RonBlock.com

Edited by - RonBlock on 01/28/2009 10:31:34

Jan 28, 2009 - 10:49:35 AM
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401 posts since 10/19/2007

Another idea -

When being mindful of economy of motion, it's easy to try to make our fingers move less. But it's better to concerned with letting rather than forcing. Making our fingers do things causes tension. But letting them move less, due to a more relaxed attitude in mind and body, is the very essence of ease and speed.

It's the same tension that is created in a family where the authority figure is always forcing his will, rather than guiding and galvanizing the family with his will, and what's more, his love.

Ron
RonBlock.com

Edited by - RonBlock on 01/28/2009 12:35:37

Jan 28, 2009 - 12:07:34 PM
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401 posts since 10/19/2007

One more -

As I'm working on speed I'm playing short bursts. One roll, eight notes, at a time. Stop and go. I notice there are rolls I can do at 190 and others I can only do at 170. And when I do these at 170, I have tension. What do I do? I back off the tempo and go to a lower tempo where I can play with no tension, constantly being aware of tension in my hands, shoulders, back - and especially in my mind, because that's where it all starts. So I back off to 150 on a particular roll. I play it there over and over, again in short bursts, making sure there is no tension. Then when I feel relaxed and easy there I bump up to 160. If that doesn't work I pop back down to 155 and play there with no tension.

The "trick" is to get rid of all tension and keep bumping the tempos up. A relaxed mind and body is crucial.

Ron

Jan 28, 2009 - 1:05:58 PM

1700 posts since 7/9/2007

Amen.

Dave

Jan 28, 2009 - 2:31:10 PM

kjcole

USA

1228 posts since 4/21/2003

It is a long highway we travel from memory to motor commands, with many complex 'intersections' where the traffic can get heavy and where 'wrecks' occur. Anxiety, fear, worry are the equivalent of loading up those intersections with drunk drivers. In more literal terms, these emotions cause the release of adrenalin, hormones, certain neurotransmitters, overall increased levels of brain activation, etc. They impair your brain's ability to generate those well-rehearsed motor patterns and get them out to muscle. Deep breaths, relax, focus, and pick something you will be successful at to keep the panic down. Find your groove, that right focus, and you'll be successful at quelling those disruptive emotions. At least, that's what I keep telling myself.

kelly

Jan 28, 2009 - 2:53:30 PM
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401 posts since 10/19/2007

Kelly,

For me it required extensive reprogramming of how I think about myself - this new found speed is just the outgrowth of Biblical truths I began to grasp and appropriate in the mid-nineties. In that time period I was reprogrammed in my personal sense of self-worth; questions like "Who am I?" and "Why am I here?" were answered to a large degree at that time. In the past five years or so the focus has been on reprogramming how I think about myself in relation to playing music - the questions that have been answered lately are "Why have I been made a musician? What is my purpose musically? What am I capable of musically?" In being divested of lies I swallowed early on I am finding an ever winding and ever fascinating path.

I delineate some of the details on my website in some of the articles for anyone who is interested.

Ron
ronblock.com

Jan 28, 2009 - 4:47:10 PM

skybolt

USA

1192 posts since 1/23/2006

Great post,s Ron. Thank you...

Jerry

Jan 29, 2009 - 3:30:28 AM

Ozzy

Australia

21 posts since 5/16/2008

This post was perfect timing for me, after teaching myself for 18 months, I knew I had bad picking habits so decided to try and iron them out. All I did was stress myself out so much I felt like I was back to month one.
As Ron pointed out, I was thinking maybe I can't do it, maybe it's not my thing. Well after reading this post, I will take all the advice on board, and I aint giving up.
Thanks to all on the Hangout.

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