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  1. #1

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    I'm really struggling with my A minor arpeggios. It's tough to stretch four frets from the A note on the low E string to the C note and then pick the E note on the A string. My hands are not small - any suggestions?

    Thanks,
    howard 1947

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    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

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    Put your left hand in front of you palm up.
    Gently spread your fingers apart without straining.
    This is your natural stretch.
    If you are not able to achieve this while playing guitar it
    indicates that you are doing something to inhibit your reach.
    Your task then, discover the issue and stop doing it.
    Since you describe your hands as not small, this is my best guess.

    Worst case scenario, if you really physically can't reach a minor 3rd on the same string, release the 1st finger and pivot on the thumb to maintain stability.
    Make it legato as possible (if that is the intended sound).
    Last edited by bako; 08-30-2020 at 10:58 PM.

  4. #3

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    Make sure your thumb is behind the neck, close to the center, aligned roughly with your middle finger for max stretch.
    Make sure you hold the neck not too low so that your wrist is not bent but straight.
    Once your fingers get used to it, you can make that stretch without your left hand position being textbook correct.

  5. #4

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    Move your hand. Stretches are unnecessary in single note playing.

  6. #5

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    Not trying to be rude but just to clarify - that's three frets not four, and is not considered to be a "stretch" as it is "in position" (one finger assigned to each fret covering four frets). C is three frets up from A, not four. C# would be a stretch.

    Can you upload a quick cell phone video of your left hand playing this arpeggio? That would help immensely.

  7. #6

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    It's surprising but a minor 3rd is actually a stretch for beginners to single line guitar. My ex-girl friend who is 6 foot tall and could play cowboy chords with ease, had a lot of hard time playing single lines when I showed her the minor pentatonic scale. She could stretch 2 frets max. Even when she could do the minor 3rd reach, her fingers would come in at weird angles to the frets. I couldn't understand why it didn't just work. Each finger to the corresponding fret. But turns out it doesn't in the beginning.

  8. #7

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    Just warm up by:

    Playing in one position, fingers 1-2-3-4 on the 6th string, using alternate picking,
    Then move to the 5th string and do likewise,
    Continue as such through the first string in that same position

    Then move up one fret and play strings 1-6,

    Then move up one fret and play strings 6-1

    After you have reached a high position on the fret board in this fashion, work your way back down to the first position following the same process.

    Variations/considerations:
    Start up high and work your way down. i.e. start at the 12h fret.
    Ascend on each string when going from strings 6-1 (fingers 1-2-3-4)
    Descend when going from strings 1-6 (4-3-2-1)
    Ascend all the time (1-2-3-4)
    Descend all the time (4-3-2-1)

    Always use the minimum movement principle - that is - keep your fingertips close to the fretboard instead of lifting them high between each note!!! The fingers should appear to be "quiet" to an observer, as opposed flopping all over the place as you play.
    Last edited by GTRMan; 08-31-2020 at 03:51 PM.

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by howard 1947
    I'm really struggling with my A minor arpeggios. It's tough to stretch four frets from the A note on the low E string to the C note and then pick the E note on the A string. My hands are not small - any suggestions?

    Thanks,
    howard 1947


    Are you holding the guitar so the neck has a 45 degree angle? This puts your fretting hand in the most ergonomic position. Also what is you scale length?

  10. #9

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    What would help is if you could post a video of how you play. There are different schools of technique and while some people are very prescriptive ‘my way or the highway’ there’s actually a spectrum of healthy practices that may work without having to relearn you are doing already. I could certainly make some suggestions.

    by the way, teaching guitar is my job.

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by citizenk74


    Are you holding the guitar so the neck has a 45 degree angle? This puts your fretting hand in the most ergonomic position. Also what is you scale length?

    yes thought of that too.

  12. #11

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    hello, nice to meet you.

    You'll likely get better advice from others, not me.

    I never do any painful stretches.

    Best of luck!

  13. #12
    Usually if I play an arpeggio I don't like one note continuing to sound over the next note. So in your example when I play the E note I will lift my pinky off the C to cut off the C note. If your problem was the pinky on the 6th string muting the 5th string then this would help. It does introduce a new problem: you have to get the coordination down so that you lift the pinky at the same time as you pick the E.

  14. #13
    You really need to have just perfect technique with basic melodic playing in position before beginning arpeggio work in my opinion. How is your major scale technique in this position? (A to A in G major etc). How is your basic melodic playing in open position, in all keys?

    Honestly, all of this can be a blind spot for teachers and players who have played for a very long time. I had to learn this from my own students when I started teaching. They had trouble with things that I viewed as fundamentally "easy", until I started thinking back to my own experience and realizing that I had some intermediary steps in my own experience that they didn't have yet. In my own experience in learning to play, I had a basic progression of learning to play open position in all keys and then positional playing later. Arpeggios were after that, honestly.

    Some students can skip some of these steps, and it's not a big deal. But I saw enough who had trouble with things like what you're describing for me to look at it afresh and realize that some things are just more technically difficult.

    Anyway, beyond all of that, I'd say if you want to clean up technique fast, maybe even skip steps regarding open position etc., practice SLOW and utilize spider technique exercises. Leave previous fingers down as long as possible, letting everything over-ring in a really ugly way, slowly and deliberately, not "lifting" fingers up in the air but rather "moving them" to the next place they are required. This isn't just for scales , arpeggio's or exercises. It's really helpful with technique on actual musical language from transcriptions etc. as well. ...Anything which is technically difficult.

    This is the fastest way I know of to deal with technical problems on the instrument. I still use it all the time with very difficult technical problems. Playing things perfectly in time and in tempo with "performance articulation" is for PERFORMANCE, not necessarily for woodshedding technique. Don't worry so much about links of notes until you can actually play it in a basic way with left-hand etc.

  15. #14

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    I must respectfully disagree with Matt's post above, based on both anecdotal and objective physical reasons. Granted, arpeggios are certainly more difficult to play than scales for several reasons, but if the fundamental problem here is opening up the left hand (i.e. "stretching" it) then I would reiterate my post #7, above.


    Rationale:
    1. Ten years before I learned how to play major scales in all keys in the open/first positions, I was successfully playing Pentatonic and Major scales all over the fret board, and they require the very position playing that is challenging the OP.

    2. Five years before I learned how to play major scales in all keys in the open/first positions, I was successfully playing Leavitt's 12 fingerings for all diatonic scales and 2-3 fingerings for symmetrical scales, all over the fret board. (The very definition of stretching)

    3. Playing all major scales in the open position necessitates playing up to the 4th fret for 10 of 12 keys. There is no more difficult place on the fret board to cover a four-fret area than the open/first position - if - opening the left hand is a challenge. There are two fundamental reasons for that; (1) the distance between frets is at it's widest in that region, and (2) the angle of the left hand, wrist, and forearm are not as straight as they are when covering positions higher up the fret board. There are some mitigating adjustments for that, but the challenge remains (adjustments are - angling the neck up and lifting the elbow away from the body)

  16. #15

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    Pronated non stretch left hand technique:




    (Kurt actually learned not to stretch as he hurt his hand)



    NB: this probably is better if you have big hands

    Lage Lund has small hands and plays with more classical left hand. Still very mobile.

  17. #16

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    My video on this

  18. #17

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    Christian - just to be clear - how are you defining "stretch"?

  19. #18

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    Also let's not forget that we aren't playing the violin. It's a peasant instrument. If you survey a whole bunch of great players you'll quickly find out that any shit technique can work wonderfully.

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by GTRMan
    Christian - just to be clear - how are you defining "stretch"?
    Stretching out the hand more than its normal everyday posture

    Classical guys would put the hand in position and do everything from there. We might also, depending on school, choose fingerings that reduce pronation - for instance using the fourth finger for D and G in open position - to prepare for polyphonic music; also good for small hands. Actually I find it more comfortable for classical playing although I was taught ‘finger a fret.’

    This actually compresses the hand slightly but keeps it in position nicely. Lund Lage is like that if you watch. Stretches and barres are made (when required) from this basic square on position. Pasquale Grasso is this to the max. It is best for polyphonic playing, and that’s obv how he plays.

    However for rock/pop playing, I would often advise students to move their hand to accommodate chord grips and shift to play blues scales and so on. For instance you pronate the hand to play a basic C grip or an F barre shape.

    This is very non classical, but it works for that music. Lot of diagonal position shifting when it comes to single note playing; Django could play arpeggios with 2 fingers - I can’t remember if I demonstrate how to do that in the video above or not. EDIT: here it is, go to about 4:15



    different schools. But Julian Bream was a shifter! Shifts sound musical. But Charlie Christian, Wes, Pat, Kurt, Peter etc build them into basic technique. Other non blues guitarists who pronate heavily include Vai and Marty Friedman.

  21. #20

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    Pronated? Pronaton of what part of the anatomy? Pronation of the wrist has our palms facing the floor, so I'm not certain what you're referring to, but that's OK.

    Anyway, generally accepted practice in plectrum guitar technique describes position playing and stretching as follows:

    For position playing we assign fingers 1-4 to a four fret area (or position), one finger per fret. The position refers to the fret location of the first finger.
    Notes to be played one fret higher or lower than the position can be played either by:
    (1) shifting*, or
    (2) stretching**

    * Shifting - means to move the entire hand up or down from the position in question, even if only by one fret.
    ** Stretching - means to reach back/lower with the 1rst finger or up/higher with the 4th finger, while leaving the hand in position.

    For practical considerations, if you anchor at least one other finger while reaching out of position, you'll feel the stretch. If you don't anchor at least one other finger then you won't feel that same stretch and are likely "shifting" even if you don't think of it that way.

    The OP describes a "stretch" for his left hand which may indeed be an anatomical stretch, but is not a stretch in guitar parlance, as all notes are in position.

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by GTRMan
    Pronated? Pronaton of what part of the anatomy? Pronation of the wrist has our palms facing the floor, so I'm not certain what you're referring to, but that's OK.
    Have you really never heard of the term with respect to guitar technique?

    Probably easier to see it, is the easiest way, compare Kurts left hand to Lage’s. Both are effective obviously, but both are totally different. Compare the overall hand posture.

    Interestingly Kurts left hand has changed (as has Miles Okazaki) to this more informal posture. This is interesting because Kurt’s reason for the change is primarily playing health. You’ll hear lot of propaganda about ‘doing it properly’ being safer; in fact it can be damaging to one’s playing health of one doesn’t understand the the anatomical principles behind it and adopt it perfectly - I speak from personal experience (even then the Segovian posture with the footstool is problematic for the spine.)

    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, especially in teaching.

    Anyway this is all theoretical. No one can teach technique sight unseen.

    OP - IF YOU ARE SERIOUS PLEASE GET A GOOD TEACHER
    Last edited by christianm77; 09-02-2020 at 03:22 PM.

  23. #22

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    One way to understand the pronation thing - play a C major scale open position using one finger a fret trad style - first finger first fret, second second fret etc.

    watch what your hand does - it will swing outward slightly as you go onto the E and B strings. The left forearm rotates slightly - or, pronates.

    Now try using the pinky on the D and G and the B and E strings. Now watch what your hand does. It stays square on. This is all standard classical guitar left hand technique stuff btw. I teach this to grade students. This is the fingering endorsed by the classical guitar exam boards, and I have come to think they are right.

    However teachers still often do a finger a fret probably because it’s easy to remember.

    I inherit a lot of students who learn finger one finger a fret and actually they find it quite hard to adapting to playing music in two parts, and I kind of have to revisit their basic technique after grade 1 which is a pain, but that’s a side issue. I think I’m more and more inclined to go for little finger on the top two ASAP.

    Pronation is not unhealthy or bad, but it is important to understand how it affects left hand posture.

    One useful thing a pronated ‘self taught/non classical’ hand position will do is increase the reach of the third finger without the need to stretch at the knuckles. The span described in the OP shouldn’t be a problem in this position.

    Blues bending and vibrato also comes from this movement of the forearm.
    Last edited by christianm77; 09-02-2020 at 03:25 PM.

  24. #23

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    Yes I have heard the term. I gather that you are referring to pronation of the forearm, actually a very partial pronation of the forearm, as pronation would have the palm facing the floor, and no guitar playing is performed as such.

    A more accurate description would say that all guitar playing is supinated (palm up) as opposed to pronated (palm down). The higher one moves up the fret board the more the supinated effect is exaggerated. In lower positions the supinated position gives way very slighly so that the wrist moves towards pronation - but only very slightly. In other words, the palm rotates very slightly to facing the player as opposed to facing the ceiling.


    The phenom Django was severly handicapped and had the use of two fingers, so is not a good example. Wes the phenom chose to use his pinky sparingly, not unlike many blues players. That too is unnecessary, and would most likely force one to shift while playing the Amin arpeggio in question.

    Rosenwinkle went to Berklee so was no doubt influenced to use Leavitt's fingerings. He obviously practiced a lot. Is anyone surprised that he strained his left hand? I'm not.
    Last edited by GTRMan; 09-02-2020 at 04:09 PM.

  25. #24
    Sorry. Was the OP talking about frets 5 to 8 on the 6th string? Is that really a "stretching" issue? Maybe I'm misunderstanding something. That's all "in position"...

    If yes, then, I'm back to what other arpeggios can be 0P already play? Scales in position, pentatonic or otherwise? Basic technique issue...

  26. #25

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    Yes. Not a stretch by guitar standards, but as someone pointed out above, it may feel like a stretch to the hand of a player who is not yet comfortable with position playing.

  27. #26

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    Quote Originally Posted by GTRMan
    Yes I have heard the term, wise guy. I gather that you are referring to pronation of the forearm, actually a very partial pronation of the forearm, as pronation would have the palm facing the floor, and no guitar playing is performed as such.
    Guitar playing being what it is, someone will probably think of a counter example lol.

    The phenom Django was severly handicapped and had the use of two fingers, so is not a good example. Wes the phenom chose to use his pinky sparingly, not unlike many blues players. That too is unnecessary, and would most likely force one to shift while playing the Amin arpeggio in question.
    The list of jazz guitarists who play with a pronated left hand position (that usually advantages the third finger at the expense to the fourth) might actually be longer than the list of players who use a classical right hand.... there are a few in the middle somewhere.

    The number of fingers you use is not particularly of interest here, but as I say you will tend to favour three fingers in a heavily pronated (blues) position. You can write a fairly convincing history of jazz guitar with just these players. So, you can talk about 'the right way to do it'; but guys with pronated left hands are pissing rings around everyone when it comes to single note technique (gypsy jazz players.)

    OTOH the less or non-pronated left hand is best suited towards the demands of polyphonic playing, so that's why it became so popular with classical players and so on. I see reducing or eliminating pronation completely in this regime as helpful in developing a good polyphonic left hand technique. But there are notable classical players who pronate quite a bit.

    Rosenwinkle went to Berklee so was no doubt influenced to use Leavitt's fingerings. He obviously practiced a lot. Is anyone surprised that he strained his left hand? I'm not.
    Given Kurt did the classic thing and never actually graduated, its unlikely he was learning basic technique at Berklee, but in fact already at a high level. What his teachers taught him as a beginner I don't know. I got the feeling he started as a rock player (IIRC?) which would explain the left hand posture an why stretch he's got him into trouble. But, quite possibly Leavitt. (I don't teach Leavitt much, but it's obvious he put a lot of thought into it, the books are a little dry.)

    A heavy playing schedule will always have an element of wear and tear regardless of how well optimised your technique is - however, Kurt clearly felt the problem go away when he started to avoid stretches, and I get the impression he still puts the hours in. I mean, have you heard him lately??

    Many other players have had similar problems, including me. I was trying to play Bach without adopting correct classical posture, and I gave myself carpal tunnel inflammation.

    Stretching is HIGH IMPACT, especially if you don't adopt the appropriate posture - the classical posture with the footstool is designed to keep the left wrist straight and relaxed. Now, some players - Ben Monder for instance - adopt this posture, but most jazzers play with the guitar a bit more parallel to the floor. In this case you have a modified left hand position. So you'll see many experienced players pronating their hand slightly to accommodate stretchy chords and so on, doing what they can to avoid stretching the hand too much. They may do this unconsciously - good players tend to listen to their bodies.

    This is a good policy, I think, unless you really want to study classical technique, and very importantly - get it right. If not, you are probably best off developing a more mobile approach for single note playing.

    It also sounds better. I've never had anybody when asked say they preferred the sound of a fully fingered phrase in position to one with lots of shifts and slides in it.

    So it's very possible to be a bit - forgive me - Dunning Kruger about this. Technique on the guitar is very diverse, and players who can clearly keep it up for hours and hours, years and years by definition are doing something right. As a pedagogue, you can start off very certain you have a good approach, reach crisis point where you realise you know nothing, and then slowly climb up the other side as you recognise general principles that unify all the ways

    Now as a teacher - there are all sorts of dilemmas and choices to be made. Even if I am teaching classical - something pretty defined and traditional, right? - the starter books by and large advocate one finger per fret - because it's easy to teach and kids can apply the rule. OTOH by the time he get to the first polyphonic pieces in Grade 2, the fingering scheme has to shift, suddenly the rule is no longer a rule. There's a conceptual and physical bump in the road when that happens. Can that be eliminated by using fourth finger from the start? Not sure!

    OTOH if someone wants to learn blues-rock guitar I am not teaching them classical fingering. We are going to pronate that hand and get it in the right place fro blues box pentatonics, bends and eventually vibrato.

    Are we seeking a balance between polyphonic and single note playing, such as in jazz guitar? The we might have to move back and forth, or strike a compromise. That's where you need a real understanding, because stretches and things have to be carefully dealt with.

    As with most teachers, my ideas are evolving constantly. Dogmatism doesn't help, but a diverse approach has to be informed by a deeper understanding.

    So, no, it's not that easy.

  28. #27

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    Understood. I think the word pronation is being used in an informal and misleading manner, however well intentioned. A slang use.

    Guitar playing inlvolves forearm/wrist supination (palm facing the sky) as opposed to pronation (palm facing the ground). Then it rotates slightly in the direction of pronation but never appoaches full pronation by any stretch of the imagination. It might pronate from the supinated position by 60-70 degrees. True pronation would have it rotate 180.

  29. #28

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    Compare what I've said with this advice for violin technique - violinists aim for a pronated position.

    Pronation in the Left Hand in Lower Positions | The Ideal Violinist

  30. #29

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    Compare what I've said with this advice for violin technique - violinists aim for a pronated position.

    Pronation in the Left Hand in Lower Positions | The Ideal Violinist
    I fully understand. It simply means pronated relative to full supination, nothing more. Instructions might be - "fully supinate your forearm/wrist, now pronate it 30-60 degrees, and hold".

    If you removed the guitar, didn't see the person turn their wrist, and took a snapshot, you would accurately observe that the wrist is overwhelmingly in supinated position. In other words, 60 degrees away from fully supinated position is 120 degrees away from fully pronated position, so it's a bit of a misnomer.


    I think we've beat this horse enough.

  31. #30

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    I think the way I used the term is in common currency among stringed instrument teachers. It might not be accessible to non string instrument teachers, it's true. But, I'm being quite technical here, and I think hopefully people commenting here can follow the drift of what I'm saying, because it's mostly aimed at them.

    As far as the OP goes, I need to SEE. Picture (or better, video) speaks a thousand words.

  32. #31

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    I think the way I used the term is in common currency among stringed instrument teachers. It might not be accessible to non string instrument teachers, it's true. But, I'm being quite technical here, and I think hopefully people commenting here can follow the drift of what I'm saying, because it's mostly aimed at them.

    As far as the OP goes, I need to SEE. Picture (or better, video) speaks a thousand words.
    no disagreement here.

  33. #32

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    I think the problem here is that the pinky is just a weak finger. Did Django ever use that appendage? Most stretching should be between the 1st and 2nd finger yet there isn't really any stretching in the OP's situation. One thing that can be done is to strengthen the pinky by pressing and holding it down on the fretboard, release and repeat. Don't overdue it, but it's kind of like lifting weights. I've built strength in all of my fingers and hand doing this - slowly. There's also videos on finger warm up stretching for musicians that help a lot.

    But I've also had older students that had pinkies that were just useless. If that's the case, learn to do everything with the 3rd finger instead. More slides and hand movement (up and down the neck) will become the technique to use.