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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Relaxing my right elbow

Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link:

steveprince13 - Posted - 09/05/2008:  18:45:53

Hey folks -

My name's Steve. I'm new 'round here. Then again, I guess most folks are new since this site was only launched recently.

Here goes: whenever I'm flatpicking with any speed, my right arm near the elbow gets really tense and tired. I don't play from the arm -- everything comes from the wrist. The elbow just kind of sits there on the top of my dred. That being said, the elbow (or the muscle surrounding it) gets all tensed up whenever I get up to speed. This happens with both rhythm and lead, and gets so bad that I can hardly finish a tune. This has been going on for awhile now -- it's gotten so bad that I'm playing a lot more mandolin than guitar these days (no tensing up on the mando, for some reason).

Anyway, I was wondering if anyone had had similar problems, and how they overcame them.

Bonnie - Posted - 09/05/2008:  18:52:19

First off, welcome. I'm kind of new here too ;)

Do you squeeze your arm against the guitar really hard?

How tightly do you grip your pick? The tendons in your hand go all the way to your elbow, and I find I don't just have hand problems; when I have pains they go from my hand to the back of the elbow (and sometimes shoulder and back and neck :P ).

Are you confident about the tunes you're playing? When I am not confident I tend to tense up (which makes it worse, because I play poorly).

Do you play with a metronome, and do you practice slow?

Chadtheguru - Posted - 09/05/2008:  21:01:48

Originally posted by BonnieDo you play with a metronome, and do you practice slow?

That's what I was thinking. Are you trying to go too fast too quickly? Start out slow and comfortable and gradually speed up. If you take your time with it, the "comfortable" will still be there when you're playing up to speed.


BTW, Welcome!

Edited by - Chadtheguru on 09/05/2008 21:03:14

xnavyguy - Posted - 09/06/2008:  04:01:27

I guess I don't play fast enough on my guitar to have this problem. I do experience the same symptoms when I get up to light speed on my banjo, though. Even when I'm practicing, my bride is constantly reminding me to relax. Maybe after a few more thousand hours of practice, I will be able to relax more.


bryankimsey - Posted - 09/06/2008:  06:50:02

At lot of people tense up when they try to play with volume. Try playing at speed until your elbow tenses up and then drop your volume to nothing. See if that lightens you up. I have a YouTube thing on volume, FWIW:

Bill - Posted - 09/06/2008:  09:00:21

I am always checking for tension, especially when I am practicing. Tension kills. It is one of those ongoing issues. When I sense that I am tense during a performance, I just will myself to relax. If I find I am tensing up during practice, I stop and shake my hand out, etc.

Also, if EVERYTHING is wrist, I think you will find it slows you down. There should be a little complimentary movement of the forearm. You will have to experiment. When I was told to add some forearm, I objected mightily, but, when I finally did, it really improved my speed and accuracy.

Rolfomatic - Posted - 09/06/2008:  09:52:09

Tough to say without watching you play, but it could be any combination of posture/grip/technique issues.

Be careful, as a good friend of mine started to experience some serious pain in his right arm and eventually stopped flatpicking Bluegrass.

Compare your posture to the videos of great pickers. Look for something that you are doing that may not be correct:

Some possible issues:
- Are you posting or planting your hand or fingers (bad)?
- Is the guitar high enough on your body.
- Are you holding the guitar level enough?
- Are you coming from the back of the guitar with your arm (should try to do this)?
- Is your pick parallel & perpendicular to the strings (good)?


musekatcher - Posted - 09/06/2008:  15:09:19

I've found if I practice too long at something new, a new technique, or position, pain starts showing up. Try being patient, shorten your practices, and give your body and muscles time to build strength for new demands and expectations.

Jim Holland
Athens, AL

steveprince13 - Posted - 09/07/2008:  16:37:20

... hmmm.... thanks, folks. lots of good advice here. i'll work with some of this stuff, and we'll see what happens. i like the "slow down and quiet down" advice. maybe i'll focus on that for awhile.

anyway, thanks for the help.

desaljs - Posted - 09/09/2008:  06:20:46


Nice to see you here at this site. I watched your video, and will try what you advise. Nice playing too!

I also hope to get a few of my Martins to you for some set-up work.

Jim D (from UMGF)

Jim D

rookie_davis - Posted - 09/10/2008:  02:56:47

Tuck Andress (jazz guitarist) wrote a oft-quoted article about pick technique. One of his opinions is that one should explore muscle movements from the grossest to the most subtle: shoulder (!), elbow, wrist, and finally, finger.

I thought it was rubbish for a long time. Everything came from my wrist and that was simply how it was going to be. After a long time on a plateau, I scrapped my technique and started to incorporate more elbow than wrist. It's an ongoing process. I still haven't refined it all the way...but I can say confidently that when I started to use the whole arm -- in some capacity or another -- that my playing got better.

Like other people have mentioned, if there is a lot of tension when you are playing fast, you might be trying to play too fast too soon. Slow it down a bit, really analyze your technique and try to find the source of the tension you are experiencing, and the tempo at which you start to experience it.

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