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Building stamina - guitar backup

12 Oct 01 - 12:33 AM (#570260)
Subject: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: Margo

I've picked up flatpicking like nobody's business! I am really excelling and loving it. You might think I've been playing for several years to hear me. BUT when it comes to playing back-up, I STINK!!

My fretting hand gets so tired when playing back-up and I get very sloppy. I thought that perhaps I was pressing too hard and tried to concentrate on pressing as lightly as possible but the problem persists. I wonder if I'm overlooking a simple answer to my problem or if it just takes time. I've been playing for almost a year now. Any suggestions? Thanks friends, Margo


12 Oct 01 - 12:54 AM (#570267)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: Andrew S

Yeah, strength always just needs more time. There is a big difference between holding down a chord and keeping your fingers in motion while playing flatpicking riffs. Holding down chords is an endurace physical capability. Just give it some time.

However, if any pain begins to appear. You are probably doing something physically wrong. But, I doubt this is the case.


12 Oct 01 - 01:24 AM (#570275)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: Margo

Yeah, it's not painful, it's just tiring. I guess I'm just a weakling. Although my pinky on my fretting hand has gotten stronger....


12 Oct 01 - 01:42 AM (#570279)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: Bev and Jerry

Margo:

A man rushed into the doctor's office and shouted, "Doctor! I think I'm shrinking!!" The doctor calmly responded, "Now, settle down. You'll just have to be a little patient."

So will you, Margo.

Bev and Jerry


12 Oct 01 - 03:35 AM (#570319)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: Steve Parkes

Maybe your chord-hand posture is part of the problem, Margo? The ideal position (and maybe the most comfortable, in the long run) is with the ball of your thumb behind the neck, rather like you were squeezing it between you thumb and fingers; but then you can't bring your thumb round to the 6th string if you need to. Try (at home--not at a gig!) holding your hand in different postitions and see if uou can find one that gives you the best trade-off between comfort and playability.

BTW, I don't practice what I preach! After all these years (30-odd) of bad habits, I still end up with my thumb around the side ...

Steve


12 Oct 01 - 03:58 AM (#570326)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: mooman

Playing backing guitar can be VERY tiring. I played backing guitar for 4 or 5 years in a Scottish/Irish band and the gigs could sometimes stretch to 4-5 hours. This brings wear and tear both on your fretting hand (sometimes thick callouses could be virtually decimated in one night) and on the strumming arm. The main tiredness for me came with the latter as I tend to be quite "physical" in my backing and I did suffer bouts of tendonitis. You do tend to build up the necessary strength and stamina gradually but an intense 5 hour gig in a packed smokey venue WILL leave you wrecked for a couple of days however practised a fit you are.

All this got too much in the end on top of a demanding day job and I quit the band (there were other reasons too including lugging the PA on my own and doing aall the setting up and mixing but that's another story!). Now that I play more in the occasional session and more for "myself" and backing singers, I am enjoying my music much more again which is the key thing for me.

I would suggest, as others have done, working up your technique and stamina gradually, taking breaks where you can and varying your technique to avoid injury to ligaments and tendons, etc.

Good luck and best regards,

mooman


12 Oct 01 - 01:12 PM (#570625)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: 53

just keep practicing and trying different things like the others have said, and you will develop your own grip and it will feel natural. bob


12 Oct 01 - 01:19 PM (#570631)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: Justa Picker

Having a flexible thumb on the fretting hand, is one of the keys. Grip the neck just enough to be able to fret whatever you need to. Don't over-squeeze.


12 Oct 01 - 01:30 PM (#570643)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: Steve in Idaho

What I found helped with this - I'm a flat picker also - is in my warm up. I play chords from A - G in order and in the open mode one after another slowly and gradually build up my speed. I also use 2-4 note picking riffs between the chords as a means of easing the strain. Then start bar chording A - G in order and I've found 30-45 minutes of this eases the strain and it isn't nearly as bad. I try to do this each time before I start practicing other things. You can also begin to learn cross picking by doing the chords like back up - only cross pick instead of strum. This can make for some delightful backup!

C and E are the killers for me. I've had a chunk of my left hand removed by a motorcycle accident many years ago - and those muscles snivel like crazy until I get them stretched out again.

Everyone is also correct - a 5 hour stint is very difficult to do without needing some slack time after.

Steve


12 Oct 01 - 01:32 PM (#570646)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: GUEST,MudWeasel

That's funny, I suffer from the opposite. Been playing rhythm guitar for years, and the only thing that really brutalizes me is the upper arm and shoulder muscle aches, and only then when the fiddlers decide to get into a speed contest with the dancers. Do that for a 10-minute polka set and OUCH the next day.

Now, how do you flat-pickers manage to make the little plastic thingy behave? I can pick faster and better with my bare thumb, but I'd love to learn to flat-pick...

Best advice for extended back-up playing: stay loose, use minimal muscle power for anything you have to do. Strum mostly with the wrist, fret mostly with the fingers, don't use your bigger muscles unless you gotta (volume sometimes requires power, but if you're doing too much of that, get them to raise your volume in the mix).

OK, I've dispensed enough advice for an amateur..

Keep on Strummin'

-MudWeasel


12 Oct 01 - 01:53 PM (#570657)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: Steve in Idaho

Ah the little plastic thingy. I pretend it is part of my thumb and forefinger. And still manage to get it sideways on occasion. Someone said it is called "pick control."

I can certainly relate to the least amount of muscle possible theory! I have a song I've been trying to perfect for years and I always tense up during it - that is why I can't do the dang thing!

Goes back to practice - practice - practice - :-)

Steve

BTW - they make picks that go on the thumb - banjo pickers know about them. *BG*


12 Oct 01 - 02:19 PM (#570682)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: M.Ted

Mud Weasel, Justapicker, and the others who emphasize the need to rethink the way that you hold your self with a view for stayingl loose are on the money--your hands and arms should be mostly relaxed--left hand(assuming you are fretting with the left hand) should not be tense except for the fraction of a second that you hold the chord as you strum it--Also, make sure that thumb and fingeres are not locked around the neck of the guitar---your left wrist should not be twisted in any way while you hold the guitar, and to reduce the need to twist your wrists, the neck should be at about a 45 degree angle to your body--Right hand picking movement should come from the wrist and arm, not the fingers--Basically, after every movement, your hands and fingers should relax, otherwise they become fatigued quickly, and finger and hand cramps result---Find and watch a good player somewhere, and check out how they hold the instrument--ask them to show you how, and explain why they do it the way they do--most will be happy to answer your questions--


12 Oct 01 - 02:30 PM (#570697)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: 53

boy that's some great advice, i sure have learned a few things, thanks. bob


12 Oct 01 - 04:30 PM (#570762)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: GUEST,MudWeasel

MTed sez:"-left hand(assuming you are fretting with the left hand) should not be tense except for the fraction of a second that you hold the chord as you strum it--"

Too much of a good thing can be even better if you manage it right. IF you can pace the rhythm correctly you can only be actually fretting at the instant you're hitting the stringw with your right hand. Furthermore with a little bit of subtle lag-timing, you can make all kinds of neat rhythmic things happen with hammered-on chords or chord ornamentation.

The important thing about this is, however ,that it keeps your wrist and the fingers of your left hand in motion. Sound like extra work? It's not. A moving hand may tire, but a clenched, unmoving hand will cramp. And that is much much worse. Since my flat-picking skills are, as previously mentioned, somewhat lacking, I like to get as fancy with my rhythm guitar as I can get away with without upstaging the fiddler. ;-)

-MudWeasel


12 Oct 01 - 04:42 PM (#570770)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: 53

i love a good rythm guitar, that's what i play and for my lead playing well that's another story. bob


12 Oct 01 - 10:46 PM (#571008)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: 53

no more comments from the peanut gallery? bob.


13 Oct 01 - 09:11 AM (#571158)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: John Hardly

Bucky Pizzarelli, master of the chord melody, says you should learn to play chords in a manner that only the three essential notes for accompaniment are sounded.

This represents a trade-off for which I'm not yet capable----three note chords will result in much less physical fatigue.....but lots of mental fatigue (for guys like me who are still--and always--learning the fretboard).

Still, there are lots of ways to get economical with a chord.


13 Oct 01 - 10:45 AM (#571197)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: 53

the 3 string chord to me is not full enough for work behind vocals and other instruments, go on and try to use the full chords and in the long run i think you'll like the results. bob.


13 Oct 01 - 10:48 AM (#571200)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: 53

to john hardly: what type of music do you like to play? if you use a flattop guitar then that guitar needs to be heard in the band or so on, so learn all the chord the full way and play and practice hard. bob.


13 Oct 01 - 11:09 AM (#571210)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: John Hardly

Well Bob,

I do play a flattop. I generally play fingerstyle and accompany myself. I've also taken to learning to flatpick fiddle tunes--a pursuit that I sometimes fear, an other times am glad, will continue for the rest of my life.

I am also quite fond of acoustic jazz and swing on acoustic guitar---as I am listening to Hot Club of Cowtown and Harmonius Wail and John Pizzarelli (who I know is using an electric--but it's a hollow body archtop that's electrified and I usually associate that with acoustic--an arguement for another day). It is within this genre that I see great use of the economy to which I referred. The function of the three note chord isn't just economy of motion...it also has much to do with ensemble playing and not stepping over others or unnecessarily muddying up the sound. It's also a veiw of guitar as part rhythm instrument.

As my chord vocabulary increases I find myself more and more being drawn toward this style of play. I'm also fascinated by the progression and interval play and the way it can be a more universal language in much the same manner that fiddle tunes are for bluegrass players.

For instance, one of the most fascinating threads in this forum for me has been a conversation between (I know I'll miss someone and I can't remember the thread title) Rick Fielding, M. Ted, Mark Clark and others about the practical use of the "Nashville numbering system". It was a wonderful window into the possibilities awaiting one with the resolve to learn the chords and where they fall.

As a life-long fingerstyler I became painfully aware that it wasn't a very social pursuit, music-wise. I have been on a quest to learn to play with others---enough musical materbating! Toward that end, my ears perk up whenever the subject of ensemble guitar tricks and secrets are discussed.


13 Oct 01 - 03:27 PM (#571352)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: M.Ted

Bucky Pizzarelli was definitely one of the guitar greats, and John is not only a great player, but quite a good singer and entertainer--I loved his work in the Johnny Mercer show--

Chords usually only consist of three or four notes, and, even when the full chord.like a great 13th chord, has more notes, the meodic flavor is stronger if a few of the notes are dropped out(the fifth and even the fundamental can often be dropped to very good effect)-- The chord/melody technique seems impossible to players who are obsessed with the "full chord played on every beat" mentality-- chord melody is based on the idea that less is more, with chords connected by single note melody or bass lines, and emphasized the sound and voice of the chord, rather than simply it's rhythmic value--


13 Oct 01 - 03:36 PM (#571361)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: 53

great reply, bob.


15 Oct 01 - 01:30 PM (#572562)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: Margo

MudWeasel: I think you hit it. I think my hand is cramping. I'm going to try some of your suggestions - Thanks everyone! Margo


19 Nov 02 - 03:14 PM (#830113)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: Morgon

Practice is really the basic key to the whole problem. I've found that a good bit of stretching is also really good for the aches. The main problem that I have on occasion is the right shoulder/arm aches that comes from playing really hot sets of irish tunes with overzealous fiddlers and flute-players! :) Sometimes we end up goin' so fast that I almost lock up, and have to resort to some pretty clever rhythm banging tricks to cover it up. But that's actually ended up making our sets pretty interesting!

~Morgon


19 Nov 02 - 04:07 PM (#830145)
Subject: RE: Building stamina - guitar backup
From: GUEST,andyjim

To John Hardly,
re "As a life-long fingerstyler I became painfully aware that it wasn't a very social pursuit, music-wise. I have been on a quest to learn to play with others---enough musical materbating!"
I hear ya. Me too, but I've been restyling my finger-style playing rather than switching to flat-picking. Fingerstyle doesn't have to be showoff and attention-demanding. Simple, supportive styles played with clarity lend wonderful enhancement to vocals and/or other intruments without being intrusively attention-demanding. It's been a fulfilling transformation for me and I've never enjoyed the guitar more.
I've also found that fabulous things can be done with the thumb strumma, thumb strumma lick. I use acrylic nails on thumb and three fingers. Add hammer-ons, pulloffs, some individual or paired string-picking within the rhythm and other variants and you get a variably soft-to-loud, powerfully rhythmic yet supportive style, sounding quite similar, I suppose, to flat-picking, yet more versatile and pleasing, I think.
All the best,
Andrew