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#2171007 - 10/24/13 03:13 AM Solution for tense thumb (Locked in hitch-hiking gesture)
sydnal Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/20/13
Posts: 126
Especially when playing passages involving fingers 3,4,5 my thumb (which is free) tenses up and curves outward. (Like the gesture you do with your hands for hitch-hiking). And this only happens with RH, for the life of me I can not figure out what the difference is between LH and RH, I just can't isolate and feel those muscles involved. If I pay attention and try to keep it straight I just seem to apply a force in the opposite direction (using the muscles inside) so the thumb becomes even more tense. I wouldn't care much and hope that getting stronger & more relaxed would solve the problem in time but it's really affecting me on the pieces I currently practice. When tense the thumb just does not move accurately & fast to play a note in time.

I have read some tension threads and although very useful they are more general and mostly related to tensing/rising up of fingers 5-4. I am looking for a more specific advice on this thumb issue, if such advice exists.. Does anyone have/had similar issue with their thumbs? Did you do something specific to alleviate the problem or should I assume it will solve itself as I become more adapted to the instrument?
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#2171030 - 10/24/13 05:09 AM Re: Solution for tense thumb (Locked in hitch-hiking gesture) [Re: sydnal]
outo Offline
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Registered: 08/02/12
Posts: 527
Loc: Finland
I have a similar kind of a structural problem. I too more suffer from it in my right hand. We have found no quick solution, with time and a lot of slow concentrated practice my thumb has gradually loosened a bit, but it still requires work and attention.

There are specific thumb exercises you can do away from the piano, but they didn't do much for me.

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#2171036 - 10/24/13 06:06 AM Re: Solution for tense thumb (Locked in hitch-hiking gesture) [Re: sydnal]
earlofmar Online   content
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Registered: 03/21/13
Posts: 1388
Loc: Australia
sounds quite annoying. If you are not doing so already perhaps slow steady scales might help. The thumb is in constant use and would not have time to curl up also by doing them slow you could stay relaxed.
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#2171084 - 10/24/13 08:06 AM Re: Solution for tense thumb (Locked in hitch-hiking gesture) [Re: sydnal]
JimF Offline
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Registered: 10/08/09
Posts: 1673
Loc: south florida
Syndal,

Try playing a slow extremely slow two octave scale where all five fingers are relaxed and stay very close to the keys at all times. You have to do this slow enough that your entire hand is completely relaxed...any tension at all and you need to go even slower. If you are patient enough to do this for a short while every day you will eventually rid yourself of your hitchhiker thumb position.
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#2171085 - 10/24/13 08:08 AM Re: Solution for tense thumb (Locked in hitch-hiking gesture) [Re: sydnal]
Andy Platt Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/10
Posts: 2375
Loc: Virginia, USA
There's no substitute for slow practice, focusing on tension. Watch for signs of your thumb rising up and feel you relax it.

You can do this away from the piano too (in fact I think it helps to practice the relaxation parts away from the piano as much as possible.) Drop the arms to the side. Make sure they are totally relaxed. Wiggle that thumb enough so that you start to feel it relaxing. Use one hand to check the other - moving the thumb of one hand with the other should be totally easy.

Watch out because it may not be hand tension driving this - your arm tension (particularly forearm) can do that. And is it just the thumb? Many of us have experienced it in our pinkies.
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#2171090 - 10/24/13 08:16 AM Re: Solution for tense thumb (Locked in hitch-hiking gesture) [Re: sydnal]
Morodiene Online   content
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Registered: 04/06/07
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Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Interestingly enough, this kind of problem is more related to a tense/locked wrist than to the hand or thumb itself. In an situation, however, having tension in any finger that isn't in the process of pressing a key at that moment will slow down your playing, cause fatigue and can eventually lead to injury. So it's important to address.

First of all, you need to play whatever you are playing much, much slower. Slow it down enough where you can feel the tension giving way. Only practice at this tempo for a while so your body get accustomed to playing that particular piece without this tension. After you are convinced it is easy to play this way, gradually increase the tempo. At any point if you feel the tension returning, then go back to a slightly slower tempo and stay there for a day or two, then try to go slightly faster after that. Continue this until you can play at tempo without the tension.

Here is an exercise you can do to focus on the feeling playing without that tension:
-We are going to work with a C major 5-finger pattern in your RH only (C-D-E-F-G-F-E-D-C)
-Be sure your wrist is parallel to the keys, not arched or dipped below the keys. This will be the position we return to after playing each key.
-As you press down your thumb on C, have your wrist dip below the keys with it. As you continue to hold C down, have your wrist return to parallel. You will not lift up the key as you do this, only the wrist will return to normal.
-Once your wrist is back to normal, be sure that you release all tension and only keep enough to continue pressing down C. Pay attention to other fingers as well to make sure they aren't also tense. If so, release that tension completely before moving on.
-Play finger 2 (D), again with the wrist dipping below the keys simultaneously as you play it, then return to parallel as you hold the key down. Release all tension in other fingers, and finger 2 should only be firm enough to keep pressing the key down.
-Proceed to play all the notes up and down the 5 finger pattern in this same manner. This wrist motion is exaggerated and you should not try to do this too fast. If you have trouble coordinating the wrist movement with pressing the key down, then you are going too fast.
-Once you can do this easily, then you are ready to increase the tempo in small increments. The faster you go, the less pronounced the bouncing wrist will be. The goal is to retain the relaxed feeling of the wrist and non-playing fingers as well as the downward feel of the arm weight as the bounce gets smaller and smaller.

The key here is really paying attention to how it feels. You notice that your thumb is tense by looking at it, but when you are playing you rarely have the luxury of looking at your hands, especially when you're learning a piece from sheet music. So it is imperative that you learn to feel when there is tension vs. when there is not. This is harder to do sometimes, especially when the body gets accustomed to playing with tension - we barely notice it's there.
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#2171092 - 10/24/13 08:19 AM Re: Solution for tense thumb (Locked in hitch-hiking gesture) [Re: JimF]
rocket88 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/06
Posts: 3158
Originally Posted By: JimF
Syndal,

Try playing a slow extremely slow two octave scale where all five fingers are relaxed and stay very close to the keys at all times. You have to do this slow enough that your entire hand is completely relaxed...any tension at all and you need to go even slower. .


Yes.

I would add that you should have all fingers stay in contact with the keys at all times, rather than very close, because if they are raised even a bit from the keys, that means that muscles are lifting them = tension.

Start by playing the first note with the thumb. Then completely re-relax the entire fingers/hand/wrist/arm/shoulder construction before playing the next note with finger #2.

Re-relax again, etc.

Most of this process is mental, as you are teaching yourself to play in a completely different style i.e. relaxed.

And it should be 5+ seconds between notes.
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#2171108 - 10/24/13 08:48 AM Re: Solution for tense thumb (Locked in hitch-hiking gesture) [Re: sydnal]
DinaP Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/31/12
Posts: 149
I have left hand problems returning as I do warm-ups at a faster speed -- sixteenth notes -- I am very discouraged.

Today I sit down with the writings of Andrew Thayer in his blog. I will work the exercises in the order of the posts -- which are best accessed from the archive items on the right side since the chronological list he refers to has not been updated in a while.

My teacher is aware of the problem from my last lesson two weeks ago. Tomorrow I will show what I have learned about correction and work with her on solutions.

Right now, though, at 68 with FMS and arthritis and an old shoulder injury rearing it's ugly head (the one that started the FMS spiral) I'm just not sure anymore about piano -- considering switching to organ, but not sure about the repertoire or type of music I would get to play. My teacher, however, started on organ (she's from the UK) -- so she could help me with that decision.

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#2171114 - 10/24/13 08:54 AM Re: Solution for tense thumb (Locked in hitch-hiking gesture) [Re: DinaP]
Morodiene Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11406
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Originally Posted By: DinaP
I have left hand problems returning as I do warm-ups at a faster speed -- sixteenth notes -- I am very discouraged.

Today I sit down with the writings of Andrew Thayer in his blog. I will work the exercises in the order of the posts -- which are best accessed from the archive items on the right side since the chronological list he refers to has not been updated in a while.

My teacher is aware of the problem from my last lesson two weeks ago. Tomorrow I will show what I have learned about correction and work with her on solutions.

Right now, though, at 68 with FMS and arthritis and an old shoulder injury rearing it's ugly head (the one that started the FMS spiral) I'm just not sure anymore about piano -- considering switching to organ, but not sure about the repertoire or type of music I would get to play. My teacher, however, started on organ (she's from the UK) -- so she could help me with that decision.


I think it depends more upon what piano rep you are playing, the heaviness of the action on your piano, how you are playing, and how long you are playing. You will want to avoid big/dramatic/romantic music for the most part - at least until you can get your technique worked out. Your piano's action should be very light and low-impact. Your teacher should be able to help you work out the technique, and you'll want to limit your practicing to short sessions at a time.
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#2171135 - 10/24/13 09:17 AM Re: Solution for tense thumb (Locked in hitch-hiking gesture) [Re: Morodiene]
DinaP Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/31/12
Posts: 149
Morodiene -- thanks much for the advice.

I'm trying very hard not to let my current discouraged state cause me to do something I'll regret later.

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#2171161 - 10/24/13 10:18 AM Re: Solution for tense thumb (Locked in hitch-hiking gesture) [Re: DinaP]
Morodiene Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11406
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Originally Posted By: DinaP
Morodiene -- thanks much for the advice.

I'm trying very hard not to let my current discouraged state cause me to do something I'll regret later.
Try not to be so hard on yourself. All any of us can do is the best with what we've been given. That means learning how to take advantage of our gifts and to work around our challenges, but that doesn't mean giving up on yourself! smile
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#2171166 - 10/24/13 10:24 AM Re: Solution for tense thumb (Locked in hitch-hiking gesture) [Re: DinaP]
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11550
Loc: Canada
Originally Posted By: DinaP


My teacher is aware of the problem from my last lesson two weeks ago. Tomorrow I will show what I have learned about correction and work with her on solutions.


Your teacher should be helping you with these problems, rather than you having to do the researching and showing her the solutions you have found. In fact, the very first priority when you began lessons should have been to give you good, comfortable movement. Have you been receiving guidance in that area?

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#2171221 - 10/24/13 11:56 AM Re: Solution for tense thumb (Locked in hitch-hiking gesture) [Re: sydnal]
Serendipity7 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/14/13
Posts: 16
I had the exact same problem with my left pinky (instead of hitch hiking, it looked like I was daintily drinking tea). Going extremely slow was the fix. It requires a lot of patience, especially when all the other fingers are fine, but stick with it!

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#2171398 - 10/24/13 05:09 PM Re: Solution for tense thumb (Locked in hitch-hiking gesture) [Re: keystring]
DinaP Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/31/12
Posts: 149
My teacher has been helping me -- and we made great progress -- until the exercises and music increased in speed and the shoulder began to act up more. I have a neuro-massage person who is working on the shoulder problem.

I ran into thayer's site when I "noticed" that the little finger that locked did so in fact because it collapsed first -- sometimes between my lessons that occur every two weeks I will try to work on some problems myself or at least seek out info to ask my teacher about.

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#2171639 - 10/25/13 03:11 AM Re: Solution for tense thumb (Locked in hitch-hiking gesture) [Re: sydnal]
sydnal Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/20/13
Posts: 126
Thanks all for the input. As I had suspected there doesn't seem to be an easy solution, slow practice focused on relaxation seems to be the way to go. (Actually I remember reading a post somewhere that advised bringing the thumb under the 5th finger and taping it there with plaster, then working on some scales like that. However I was not able to discern whether that was satire. Now Schumann and the device that caused his hand injury is a sad story, a beginner crippling his hands with sellotape playing Blow the Man Down would only be laughable XD)

Anyway, I will not play scales as advised though, since this almost never happens doing scales. It happens when thumb is free for a certain amount of time and a combination of 3,4,5 is is being played. So I will look for some passages that fit this criteria and work on those, very slowly. There probably is a Hanon exercise like that. (Would appreciate if anyone can refer to one)

The reason I am looking for something specific instead of playing some made up passage is that I want to be able to document it for other people that may encounter the same problem in the future. (E.g. I worked on Hanon i,j,k and was able to overcome this). I will hopefully update this thread with how it's going. Thanks once again.
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#2171687 - 10/25/13 07:36 AM Re: Solution for tense thumb (Locked in hitch-hiking gesture) [Re: sydnal]
Morodiene Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11406
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Originally Posted By: sydnal
Thanks all for the input. As I had suspected there doesn't seem to be an easy solution, slow practice focused on relaxation seems to be the way to go. (Actually I remember reading a post somewhere that advised bringing the thumb under the 5th finger and taping it there with plaster, then working on some scales like that. However I was not able to discern whether that was satire. Now Schumann and the device that caused his hand injury is a sad story, a beginner crippling his hands with sellotape playing Blow the Man Down would only be laughable XD)
LOL...sad indeed! Best not to take this advice, I agree.

Quote:
Anyway, I will not play scales as advised though, since this almost never happens doing scales. It happens when thumb is free for a certain amount of time and a combination of 3,4,5 is is being played. So I will look for some passages that fit this criteria and work on those, very slowly. There probably is a Hanon exercise like that. (Would appreciate if anyone can refer to one).

The reason I am looking for something specific instead of playing some made up passage is that I want to be able to document it for other people that may encounter the same problem in the future. (E.g. I worked on Hanon i,j,k and was able to overcome this). I will hopefully update this thread with how it's going. Thanks once again.
The actual exercise doesn't matter, I choose that because it's easiest to describe in writing. But certainly you can make an exercise out of the very passage in the piece of music where this issue is most pronounced! I make exercises from my pieces all the time. smile
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