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Tension in the back of the hand

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  • #60479
    unknown-user–2
    Participant

    Does anyone have experience with tension in the back of the hand? After realizing a few months ago that I was playing with a lot of tension (and probably have been for years), I went to a new teacher for one lesson for help. She told me that I was holding tension in the back of my hand. Since then I’ve taken many months of Alexander Technique lessons, and now that I am more aware of my body, I definitely agree. The tension has caused injury, which is healing nicely, though slowly, but it is still affecting my playing to the point that I really just cannot play.

    Have any of you experienced this? What was your solution? Teachers – have you spotted this, and how did you fix it? At this point I just have no idea what I’m actually doing to cause the tension – any insight into what I might be doing to create the tension would be greatly appreciated. Of course I know that you can’t really determine anything without seeing me play, but any similar stories?

    I am a conservatory student, and the technique I play would probably be considered French by most. My teachers all agree that nothing looks wrong. Position and closing all appear to be happening. It’s nothing obvious, for sure. But the injury is the evidence that something is going very wrong.

    Help!

    #60480
    e-nb
    Participant

    Have you heard of the book by Barry Green called “The Inner Game Of Music” ?
    Amongst other topics covered, he discusses tensions caused by the unconscious mind and how to deal with them.
    The gist of it is, select a passage, or phrase you know well, but you also know is affected by the unwanted tension. Then play it through several times with the tension consciously ramped up to as tense as you can get. Repeat with the tension as low and as relaxed as you can. Do this every time you practice for several weeks and hopefully the tension will change from being unconscious to conscious. Then you can switch it off at will.
    The book explains it much better than this, and it will probably be much easier for an outsider such as your teacher to spot the tension than you yourself as your conscious mind will be mostly involved with playing.

    #60481
    Gretchen Cover
    Participant

    I had a shoulder problem two years ago caused by a broken hand so I am very sympathetic to your plight. From that experience and doing physical therapy, I am willing to wager that you are playing with your elbows too low and perhaps, in addition, your hands too high on the strings. You may want to find a hand physical therapist to work with you to figure out the ergonomics of your hand and arm position.

    #60482
    unknown-user–2
    Participant

    Thanks for your reply, Gretchen. I’m working with a leading hand/music specialist, and she cannot see anything wrong. My harp teachers agree that my position is good. I play low on the strings – my right wrist is on the soundboard. It’s quite a conundrum.

    #60483
    emma-graham
    Participant

    This e book might be helpful
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/An-Alexander-Technique-Approach-Harp-ebook/dp/B004JKMSXE
    I’ve been suffering from wrist issues for a really long time and Alexander technique used with this book is helping but it does take a really long time for your body to unlearn bad habits.

    #60484

    What may be happening is that when you close your fingers you are not completely relaxed and when you open your fingers again you are reaching and stretching against what you have just done with your hand. If you do not move your hand at all after playing, just being still can lead to tension, so you need to be very conscious about releasing all tension, and not letting any translate to the wrist. But you don’t say if it is your right or left hand, and there may be a big difference in what you are doing. Physical problems need physical solutions. Do let your body tell you what to do as well as what not to do. If it continues, you may need to make more changes. Is your wrist touching the soundboard lightly, or resting on it? Putting weight on the wrist is risky. You also have to work harder if you are playing very low on the strings. It’s not just a matter of the shape of your hand. Are you using any side-to-side or rotary movement of your hand-wrist-lower arm to assist in playing patterns? It may also be your practice habits. Every factor enters into it. But the back of the hand in particular acts up if you have tension between the thumb or second finger, and the third or fourth fingers and pinky. The way you are placing, or reaching for intervals may be the issue, and if you have unresolved tension from what you previously played, then reaching will be a strain. Try to play without effort and see what happens.

    #60485

    Judy Loman taught me this: playing very slowly, relax the hand completely in between each note, while still placing normally. Using a scale as an example: place all 4 fingers for the scale. Play the 4th finger, bringing it all the way into the palm, then relax the entire hand, but do not fall off the strings. Then play the 3rd finger, also bringing it into the palm, then relax completely, but keeping the 2nd and thumb still placed, etc. Any time you are learning a tricky passage, use this technique. I can tell you from experience, it works.
    Also, practice placing your hands in a very relaxed manner. Drop your arms. Then raise the hands very slowly, with the thumbs up and ready, and plop the hands onto the strings, in perfect position. Drop your hands again and repeat this until you always arrive on the strings perfectly positioned, comfortable and relaxed. Your shoulders should be down, never hunched up.
    Let me know if this helps you.

    #60486

    Yes, I practice that same way, it is essential. It also helps to do the supple slide along the strings between the notes, that instantly relaxes the hand. When learning a chord or arpeggio where you place eight notes, it also helps to apply the principle of the first exercise in the Lawrence/Salzedo method, page 8, where you repeat each note you have placed eight times in slow motion; by the time you have done all of the notes, it will be in your muscle memory.

    #60487
    unknown-user–2
    Participant

    Thank you for the recent replies – I hadn’t logged in in a while.

    The issue is really in both hands, but injury only ever occurred in the right.

    As far as I can tell – and I’ve been trying at this for A LONG time and have had a lot of body awareness (Alexander Technique) training – the tension is actually happening during application of pressure to the string. Of course it carries through my playing and builds up, but the tension is there even if I’m pressing into the strings without actually plucking them. I can’t seem to let it go.

    Actually, at this point I’ve basically given up and am just getting used to telling acquaintances that “I used to play the harp.” At the end of the month I’m revisiting a music medicine doctor that I saw last summer, but other than that visit (which I am not optimistic for) I don’t have any resources left and will be stopping if it is not fruitful.

    #60488
    unknown-user–2
    Participant

    I should mention that I actually do practice as you have described. I think I have excellent practice habits ad strategies – unfortunately I have not actually worked on any music in over a year. It’s probably worth noting that I had realized there was a problem before injury, and the fall before the spring during which I was injured, I completely revamped my technique. It went beautifully and everything was so relaxed. I somehow lost that technique I had found and was subsequently injured. I have been searching for that relaxed technique ever since.

    #60489
    Gretchen Cover
    Participant

    I hope your visit with the music doctor produces some answers for your hand tension problem. Here is another idea to consider: Perhaps you need to use a different harp with less tension. I had an old Salvi concert grand and realized my playing was adversely affected by the tightness of the strings. Another harp made a world of difference. You might also consider moving to a lever harp. There is a vast amount of repertoire and styles of playing that maybe you could find harp happiness with a small harp with light tension. Perhaps you could rent one short-term to find out.

    #60490
    Alison
    Participant

    I played like that all my teens, thinking I needed a crab like hand to approach the harp, obviously it went unnoticed, and when I resumed playing I carried on in the same way then got RSI big time due to my car’s heavy steering and in a bad way late 90’s, and on the PC all day. My tutor tried to showed me how to relax at the steering wheel but my brain didn’t know how to let go..I squeezed anything I held. and I concluded the Salzedo approach wasn’t helping me, so I think it takes ages, years to unlearn this automatic tension, and now I’m fine and can draw an analogy with motor skills for washing up or using a screwdriver . You pick something up, then when you apply pressure to clean/screw but you mustn’t FIX and force the tension in your hand or forearm, that’s what gets stuck and can hurt momentarily and if repeated becomes the injury. I couldn’t hold a cup or write & concluded I’d give up the harp. My Salvi too seemed hard to play with this attitude, even with ‘light’ strings at which point I wished for an L&H. Now that I’m okay, a note can be played with a confident light action closing properly into the palm, no ADDED work is necessary, no forcing from the shoulder thro’ the elbow. My chiropractor helped the most, you should also use the little-finger-to-thumb pull test, which indicates whether the elbow tendons through the carpal tunnel are ‘working’ properly in the muscular-skeleto system, requiring simple wrist bones manipulation and neck too. Perhaps tinkling on the piano would be a better way to retrain your action whilst you are ‘off’ the harp, because you don’t have to place ahead, which I think is the seed of misuse, so don’t lose all hope, I know it took ages to correct and I am still sensitive to overuse and tendon soreness.

    #60491
    Gretchen Cover
    Participant

    The new Salvi grand harps are a night and day difference in tension and feel. I have an Apollo with the new concept soundboard that is a dream to play. I think the LH, Camac and Salvi’s have a similar feel in the newer harps – they did to me when I was looking for a new harp a couple years ago.

    Alison, you may want to check about using lighter tension strings on your harp. There are a number of HC threads on this. I would check with Salvi first make sure it wouldn’t cause a problem with your harp. That might be another thing Unknown User could try.

    #60492
    unknown-user–2
    Participant

    Thank you for more replies!

    Gretchen – unfortunately my harp is actually the lightest strung pedal harp I’ve ever encountered. It is an unusually loose 23 – everyone who plays on it comments as such,

    Alison – your experience sounds a lot like mine, actually. I have the same problems playing piano, and my hand seizes up quite easily when writing. How did you actually get past it?

    #60493
    Alison
    Participant

    I had to learn to accept it & manage it, prefer an automatic car with a busman’s knob on the steering wheel, I lightened up the playing, as I am not a pro, which hampered my progress, although I still did weddings and have since learnt La Source but the Godefroid can be too much sometimes. I try to avoid carrying heavy stuff , using gardening tools and grippping the hoover tube really aggravates it, as do bicycle brakes, the I-pad and smartphone usage. I use the PC mouse with my left hand, which is easier. Washing up sometimes actually gives variety which helps….. but sports with racquets are to be avoided, all the gripping and forearm work aggravate the soreness. Certain pieces with RH stretches in 10ths make the tendons on the top of the hand & forearm sore. A complete break from playing for 6-9 months in 2009 also helped when I’d sprained my ankle.

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