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 Post subject: Left Hand Positioning
PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2011 6:50 pm 
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Location: Dover, New Hampshire
Last Saturday, I played in a master class for the Katona Twins at Northeastern University. They played a concert for the Boston Classical Guitar Society the previous evening. They play their entire program from memory, so they can signal each other for excellent timing. For my lesson, I played the Prelude and the Andante Religioso from La Catredral. Since I'm posting under the technical matters, I'll tell you the technical points they brought up to me. Their first comment was that my left wrist was bent too much. My general "home position" should be a straight wrist. This agrees with Scott's teaching of the principal of alignment. There are times when playing in the high register or reaching for notes on the 5th & 6th strings, that the wrist will have to bend a bit. But I should always seek to return to the straight wrist home position. This makes sense to me. Then one of the brothers, I think Peter said that most books and teachers say that the left thumb should be behind fingers 2 and 3. But he disagreed with this. He demonstrated his left thumb pointing to the left, saying you need to be able to easily reach all the notes with minimum bending of the wrist. He said as an example, this is the way John Williams plays. So I went on YouTube to check it out. There is one video where he plays La Ultima Cancion which shows some video of him from behind. If you watch it, look at about 1:50 and 3:10. His thumb is more behind his first finger and pointing to the left. JW's left wrist is usually very straight and aligned. We have a body mapping classical guitar teacher here in the Boston area that also teaches this left hand position. He states that human beings are the only species that have evolved to develop an oblique grip, i.e. when you naturally close your fist, the thumb naturally points away from the other fingers, with the finger tips making an oblique line in the palm. (Monkeys, evolution, swinging in trees... posting.php?mode=post&f=9&sid=1c1c9e251c5487f3b330a058f5f590af# I wonder if this could apply to the guitar? When I pick up my guitar, I tried playing a chord in the 5th position and experimented moving my left thumb behind fingers 2 and 3 versus sliding it to the left a bit, I notice in the mirror that my left wrist comes into alignment when I slide my thumb to the left behind the first finger. It seems that I would have more strength to press down notes when my wrist is straighter, and weaker when my wrist is bent. I also notice that my thumb is much more relaxed pointing to the left versus pushing into fingers 2 and 3. I'm just trying to be open-minded, thinking about the hand mechanics. There were other technical points during my lesson, but I will try to stick to this one topic for hopefully a great discussion! Cheers! posting.php?mode=post&f=9&sid=1c1c9e251c5487f3b330a058f5f590af#


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2011 8:52 pm 
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Joined: Fri Sep 16, 2005 12:26 pm
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Mike,

Thanks for posting your experience and questions. Excellent job playing in a master class!

First, regarding left hand thumb placement I find that most methods don't promote placing the thumb behind 2-3. I heard this from the Assads and began experimenting with it a few years back and found the results fantastic. This placement enables fingers 3 and 4 to maintain the same mechanical advantage as fingers 1 and 2 enjoy. (The same curvature). More importantly it provides strength (which leads to coordination) in the 3rd and 4th fingers that they don't enjoy with the thumb pointed to the left.

You then quoted the Boston area teacher who stated the following:
quote]He states that human beings are the only species that have evolved to develop an oblique grip, i.e. when you naturally close your fist, the thumb naturally points away from the other fingers, with the finger tips making an oblique line in the palm. [/quote]

Really? Is it really natural to grab something with the thumb out of the hand? At the SFCM a couple of people came by to test hand strength in musicians and determined that the hand can exert more pressure when the thumb covers the fingers. Diameters being equal the heavier the object the more your thumb naturally comes between - you've got it - 2 and 3. When dealing with the classical guitar we're concerned with maximum strength for minimal effort - I grant you if we were simulating swinging from branch to branch you may want to extend the thumb. :)

In terms of positioning let me quote from my upcoming release of Phase I here on my web later this fall:

Quote:
Make sure that you're sitting position is correct. Drop the left arm to your side, palm facing backward. Now bring the hand up, making the motion as if you are performing a bicep curl with a dumbbell. As you lift the imaginary weight you'll notice that the wrist twists and the palm eventually facing upwards.

Keeping your elbow close to your side, or at 90 degrees to the ground, and bring your 1st finger to the G#on string 1, 2nd finger to the E on string 2, 3rd finger to the C# on third string and 4th finger to the A on the fourth string. This is the natural formation of the hand. This formation allows for the fingers to be in maximum advantage resulting in more left hand strength and coordination.


Bending of the wrist should be done just like on the right hand, to allow for mechanical advantage or the maximum use of all the joints; wrist, PIP, MIM and DIP, forming a uniformly curved set of fingers (mirroring the right hand).

With regards to what John Williams does. Frankly this is the old song of "my brother can beat up your brother". As I say in Phase I

Quote:
Upon learning the principles behind the primary skills, you may notice many professionals who adhere to only some, or even very few, of the principles.


I know players that will copy the hands of players because of reputation rather than any adherence to principles. I'm working with principles that will allow all players to use biomechanics to their advantage, no matter their level.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2011 10:00 pm 
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Joined: Sun Jul 08, 2007 8:28 am
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Location: Dover, New Hampshire
I've been observing my left thumb placement and notice it naturally is behind the fret between my first and second fingers. When I try moving it more towards behind fingers 2 and 3, i.e. exactly in the middle of the left hand on the fretboard, it feels tight and uncomfortable. Also, when I move my thumb further left than I'm used to, (that odd oblique/ape swinging from trees form) that feels uncomfortable as well. I've noticed that the only time I'm really squeezing with a fair amount of pressure is during barring. During most other passages, I could remove my thumb from the neck because I use very little squeezing force. Our muscles could not endure a constant squeeze during all our playing. Maybe a portion of the fretting notes force comes from pulling the whole arm towards the elbow? It seems that the best reason for mechanical advantage of the thumb would be when we barr with the first finger. So it seems to me that the thumb should oppose the first finger, where the most counter force is needed. If the thumb is behind fingers 2 and 3 during a barr, then wouldn't you have to squeeze more because the pushing forces on the fretboard and neck are offset?

As for my wrist, I think the Katona Twins had a valid point for me. I do bend my left wrist too much out of bad habit I believe. It's something that I have to work on. How much bend? Like you said, some bend for mechanical advantage, but I'm not sure I understand this. A perfectly straight wrist seems to give the fingers more freedom of movement because in neutral no muscles are contracting. If I bend my wrist, my finger movements are more constrained and tight. There must be an answer based on anatomy. I see the reason for an arched right wrist, but I'm not sure how much bend is just right for the "home position", that formation in the 4th position with G#, E, C#,A.

I will have to dig out my body mapping class notes someday, but I do remember two things he said relating to the oblique left hand. One: a photo of Manuel Barrueco's perfectly aligned left wrist, and two: a much greater span between fingers 1 and 4 using oblique technique versus straight/perpendicular fingers. I hope I have not misquoted my friend Jerald Harscher. He has written a body mapping book, has a MM from Yale, and studied with many great teachers, including Aaron Shearer. I've heard Jerald play a few pieces, and he is a good player.

As for the my brother can beat up your brother, well my brother plays ice hockey and maybe he's the team enforcer!!! Well, not really. (No checking allowed!)


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2011 11:54 pm 
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Mike, are you confusing alignment with arch of the wrist?

Also, when you take your hand off the guitar the thumb should collapse into 2/3. Try not using the fretboard as a reference.


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 4:38 am 
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Joined: Fri Nov 25, 2005 1:16 pm
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Location: Severna Park, Maryland
I too have not been able to get my thumb opposite 2-3 without excess muscle tension and some pain. I had been laboring under the theory that I just had to work at it more. Scott explained to me in my last lesson (as a result of his discussion with you) what he really meant: that the thumb is on a trajectory as the fist closes to be behind 2-3, and if you went on an closed it that is where it would touch the finger tips. But by the point where it contacts the neck, it is opposite 1-2; ie. inside the cage of the palm but not so extreme. That was a relief to me because that position is comfortable for me. I still find myself sometimes landing after a shift with the thumb outside the cage.

Note that for me the thumb is at 2-3 when I make a fist, but outside 1 when I grasp a tree limb. So that begs the question, is playing guitar more like pummeling with the fists or swinging in the branches like an ape? :)
Tom


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 9:32 am 
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Tom asked:
Quote:
So that begs the question, is playing guitar more like pummeling with the fists or swinging in the branches like an ape?


Tom, I think that is completely dependant on the repertoire one is playing. :)

Scott


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