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octaves and elbow tendinitis
#1943028 08/15/12 04:57 AM
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I've returned to piano/keyboard after a long time due to unmanageable rotator cuff/impingement tendinitis making me hang up the bass guitar permanently. I wouldn't ask people to repeat the loads of tendinitis information and references that I already found on these boards, but maybe there's something to add for my specific situation.

After a few weeks back on keyboard, my left elbow has developed tendinitis. Like other tendinitis I've had, it doesn't actually hurt while I play, but I walk around all day with a somewhat painful elbow. At this point, the trade-off is no big deal, but my experience with tendinitis tells me that there's the possibility I'll wake up one morning with some unforeseen major debilitation. I would think that this is unlikely with the elbow because there's no multitude of muscle tissue there to react like there is in my shoulder, but I'm paranoid.

I'm fairly certain that this comes from playing octaves, since I think the rest of my minimal, conservative repertoire is quite tension-free. The only time I experience fatigue is when I play octaves and broken octaves, which is all the time with montunos, and a lot of the time with simple rock comping. I think there's just no way around a certain minimum amount of tension required for me to stretch my small hand to an octave. My hand naturally falls to a fifth width, and a sixth is quite natural. But a seventh and certainly an octave, though easy to play (no claw here), require a degree of muscle tension. I never play ninths and am unable to reach a tenth. But holding my hand in octave position while moving my arm is apparently enough to set off my left elbow. The same spot gave me trouble when I used to play guitars of a Les Paul shape, so I gave those up. So far, my right is ok (knock wood), but when playing montunos, I can definitely feel the burn in both upper forearms. I'm still chalking that up to normal muscle fatigue that might disappear as I strengthen that otherwise little used portion of my arm.

One cure would be to play more interesting, even contrapuntal lefthand parts. But being a long time rhythm player, and having always sucked at coordinating two hands on piano, I'm quite happy to just comp. But rock comping (lefthand broken octaves) and Latin jazz montunos (each hand constantly playing filled in octaves) have me constantly wanting to keep my hands in this minimally tense, tendinitis-inducing situation. I mean, this kind of comping is relatively easy, sounds good, and sounds "native" to the music.

As I said, I'd appreciate anyone's two cents, but you don't feel obligated to re-cover territory already on these boards.

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Re: octaves and elbow tendinitis
JimmyTheSaint #1943060 08/15/12 07:50 AM
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You might get some useful ideas from this video of Edna Golandsky showing a pianist how to play octaves without stretching and tension:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJG2eVYpVTM


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Re: octaves and elbow tendinitis
JimmyTheSaint #1943064 08/15/12 07:58 AM
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Originally Posted by JimmyTheSaint
But holding my hand in octave position while moving my arm is apparently enough to set off my left elbow.
That's probably your problem - don't form the octave till you get there.

Re: octaves and elbow tendinitis
JimmyTheSaint #1943074 08/15/12 08:17 AM
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Oh, I see, nice video. That looks like exactly what I need to work on for montunos because you frequently go two or three eighth notes without playing the octaves. But what about broken octaves in rock piano? You can go the whole tune without ever leaving the octave position in the left hand, i.e. you're always there, so the octave's always formed.

I'm playing on semi-weighted action and not using the pedal, if that's relevant.

Re: octaves and elbow tendinitis
JimmyTheSaint #1943138 08/15/12 10:49 AM
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Not forming the octave till I get there is actually working out great. A lot less right hand tension. I was wondering why I didn't know this technique. I don't think it's something I forgot from earlier piano study. Back then, when I wasn't practicing Czerny, I was always partial to baroque music and jazz piano. I'm thinking I simply never played music that called for the kind of sustained octave positions that you get in Latin and pop.

For left hand broken octaves, I'm trying holding 1 and 5 a little more than a sixth apart, which is slightly wider than their natural position. Then I'm sort of "throwing" my hand right and left to cover the broken octaves. How does that sound? Before, I would assume the full octave position and rotate my hand back and forth to alternate playing the two notes.

Re: octaves and elbow tendinitis
JimmyTheSaint #1943139 08/15/12 10:53 AM
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Originally Posted by JimmyTheSaint
But what about broken octaves in rock piano? You can go the whole tune without ever leaving the octave position in the left hand, i.e. you're always there, so the octave's always formed.
I have played (and taught) an advanced classical repertoire for many years. I came close to injury only once - pounding out the bass line of Day Tripper for a choir. Moral? Don't mean to play the bass when actually you're on a piano.

Re: octaves and elbow tendinitis
JimmyTheSaint #1943145 08/15/12 11:06 AM
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Originally Posted by JimmyTheSaint

For left hand broken octaves, I'm trying holding 1 and 5 a little more than a sixth apart, which is slightly wider than their natural position. Then I'm sort of "throwing" my hand right and left to cover the broken octaves. How does that sound? Before, I would assume the full octave position and rotate my hand back and forth to alternate playing the two notes.
Sounds good. Now try and relax your hand/fingers whenever possible between every note. Allow the natural elasticity of the hand a chance to realize its function.

Re: octaves and elbow tendinitis
chopin_r_us #1944252 08/17/12 02:45 AM
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Whoa, this is working out great. I'm glad I posted for advice here; I had just kind of assumed that there was no solution for my particular set of tendons. At this early stage of elbow tendinitis, I could tell that it would go away with just a few days rest, but I get alarmed quickly due to several bad experiences. Instead of resting a few days, though, I've been playing with the new technique, and the pain is going away as if I'd rested. I've been playing stuff like this:

[Linked Image]

15-20 minutes non-stop with no problem (slow to medium tempo). Of course, lots of double note strikes while I get muscle memory for where the "edges" are. As a rhythm player (bass guitar) I must say this stretch/return motion is actually a lot of fun because it feels good in your hands, like you're in a more intimate connection with this kind of music's sensibility.

Re: octaves and elbow tendinitis
JimmyTheSaint #1944309 08/17/12 06:35 AM
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Originally Posted by JimmyTheSaint
As a rhythm player (bass guitar) I must say this stretch/return motion is actually a lot of fun because it feels good in your hands, like you're in a more intimate connection with this kind of music's sensibility.
...and you can practice all day without getting tired!

Let me know when you want to try left hands like this:[Linked Image]

Re: octaves and elbow tendinitis
JimmyTheSaint #1944344 08/17/12 07:52 AM
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Glad it's working out! It's great how moving right is better than rest!


1989 Baldwin R
Re: octaves and elbow tendinitis
chopin_r_us #1944353 08/17/12 08:13 AM
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Originally Posted by chopin_r_us
Let me know when you want to try left hands like this:[Linked Image]


Rock comping is even simpler (just the broken octaves), so I'd be interested in any additional suggestions. As I said, for broken octaves, I'm leaving my hand spread about a sixth (virtually no tension), and sort of waving my arm back and forth to play the octaves instead of playing the octaves trill-style. That substitutes bigger muscles for smaller ones. But the sound is doomed to be more staccato than I might sometimes like.

Re: octaves and elbow tendinitis
JimmyTheSaint #1944359 08/17/12 08:20 AM
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Few people can intuit how to apply these relaxation techniques - you're lucky you're one of them. Keep thinking!

p.s. your 'waving your arm back and forth' is probably what we term 'rotation'.

Re: octaves and elbow tendinitis
chopin_r_us #1944376 08/17/12 08:50 AM
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Lots of lessons in the past, on piano, but mostly flute. Eliminating tension always loomed large, so when someone suggests something I would think I can understand it based on previous instruction, even if I don't know the terminology. (Not sure what "rotation" means here.) My earlier mistake with the octaves was applying the principle of minimizing motion (keeping my hand stretched to octave width), rather than minimizing tension (moving the hand in and out of a tensed configuration).

I self-studied guitar techniques for a long time to minimize tension on that instrument. But there's no way I could think of to avoid the tension in your left arm required to keep your hand up and suspended over the fretboard. You're always working against gravity equal to the weight of your arm, plus your arm is extended out to the side two feet from your torso on a bass guitar. I never had fatigue or alignment issues, but over the long run it was apparently enough to set off a tendon in my shoulder. Then all those nearby shoulder muscles responded to immobilize the tendon to produce a horror show overnight.

Re: octaves and elbow tendinitis
JimmyTheSaint #1944394 08/17/12 09:14 AM
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I was taught by an oboe teacher to empty the weight of the left arm into the instrument. I applied that to classical guitar as well - to some extent you can empty the arm weight into the fretboard. You get the sensation of pushing the guitar into your thigh as you finger.

Re: octaves and elbow tendinitis
JimmyTheSaint #1944406 08/17/12 09:40 AM
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Yeah, but bass guitar is 5-9 inches longer. In addition, on bass you can stay in first or second position (full extension) for long periods of time. I actually have no problem with regular guitar. I did move to short scale bass, but that's when I got injured. To solve back and neck issues, I always played bass sitting down, but I needed to rest the guitar on my left leg instead of the right or else my right shoulder would be under too much tension for slap style. So short or long scale, the thing just sticks out too far to the left. I didn't really feel this as a problem until I woke up one day with my left arm locked up. Funnily enough, the injury didn't actually prevent me from playing the bass; the motion that set off the tendon wasn't itself painful. If I'd been making rock star money to play the bass, I'd have been happy to trade in the full use of my left arm for a few years. But I quit the thing for good and a year later took up piano again just for fun.

Re: octaves and elbow tendinitis
JimmyTheSaint #1944413 08/17/12 09:51 AM
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You know the answer don't you. String Bass! (and a station wagon)

Re: octaves and elbow tendinitis
chopin_r_us #1944417 08/17/12 09:58 AM
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I had a Barker Bass for a while. They sound great, but they also require a station wagon. Also, getting one custom made in short scale to cut down on left arm extension would have been really expensive.

Re: octaves and elbow tendinitis
JimmyTheSaint #1944422 08/17/12 10:08 AM
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Hey, that's real neat. I can't help thinking you want to stick your elbow out on a vertical bass. Do you do that when you drink a cup of tea? Brush your teeth? No need to. For most applications the upper arm rests by your side.


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