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Brass Knuckles or Something to Play Guitar with Better?


Theresa
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One of my kids came to class this week very excited. He had a "show-and-tell" object in his hand. He said, "This is going to make me play guitar better."

He held in the palm of his hand this plastic/metal device with plastic pads to support the fingertips. It looked deadly--it looked like something sort of sophisticated from the underworld used in back alley fights.

I asked, "What do you DO with that thing!"

He said, "You squeeze it."

I said, "Let me try." I put it into my hand and began to press the little plastic pads--and had to work like the devil to move them.

He said, "That'll make you a better guitar player."

I said, "Are guitar strings THAT hard to press down?"

He said, "No, but my teacher says this will make me play my chords better."

Have any of you ever used one of these things? And do violinists or violists or cellists or bassists use them, too?

All I could envision as this child described how he likes this brass knuckular device was poor old Schumann forever crippling his hand with his piano device.

Thanks for responding, if you can shed light on this topic--and, if you know anything about fine tuners or bridges, please take a look at Ann's questions.

Best regards,

Theresa

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I play violin and guitar, and I've never used such a thing - and never will.

The type of strength and flexibility required for playing violin and guitar are completely different than those used to compress a resisting object.

The goal isn't to put potholes in your fingerboard - the goal is to press those strings down just enough so that they sing without you choking them to death.

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I agree that the best way to strengthen the hand for the guitar is simply to play the guitar. After all, it's an exercise perfectly suited for the purpose! There are plenty of strong men who have complained when learning the guitar how hard it was to hold down a barred chord. I'm sure it's because the kind of strength a musician needs in his hand is pretty unique - like being able to exert a force with his fingers stretched way out in various ways. An exercise device will never train the hand to do that.

Theresa! What is the story about Schumann and his piano? I've never heard it. Can you share?

[This message has been edited by Oldbear (edited 10-29-2000).]

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Old Bear, there are people on this board who can tell this story much better than I for it's been over four decades since I heard it--although someone on the Fingerboard referred to it a few months back.

Here's what I can remember full of inaccuracies, I'm sure:

Schumann was concerned about the lack of strength in his 4th fingers (3rd finger in violin). So, apparently, he or a friend invented a device in which the 4th finger (piano) would meet a lot of resistance in attempting to play a note on the keyboard. The idea was that through continual resistance in practicing piano works, the 4th finger would build up extraordinary strength.

Schumann--like typical crazed, obsessed musicians that we are--practiced and practiced--used the device over and over--to the extent that he permanently cripped his 4th fingers and could no longer perform publically. From that point on, Clara did all the performing of his compositions.

Now, Old Bear, that's what I remember of the story. I'll stand to be corrected because, as I said, it's been a long, long time since I heard the tale, front to back.

Best regards--and thanks to all above for pretty much telling me my hunch about the brass knuckles was correct,

Theresa

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True confession time: I got one shrotly after they first came out, back in my serious guitar-playing days. I don't know that it helped my playing directly, but having it banging around in my jacket pocket did make me think about music more often. I think a guitar pick would have as much effect.

I think they can be dangerous. Since a lot of guitarists play with the instrument waaaay too low, they (over)compensate by (over)developing their flexor muscles with devices like that, setting themselves up for a boffo case of carpal tunnel. Some Dounis of Flesch-style tapping exercises would probably be much more effective and much less likely to result in injury to your hands or fingerboard.

This reminds me of a quote in Hemingway's _Death in the Afternoon_: A fan asked a famous bullfighter who was slight of build if he lifted weights as part of his training for the ring. The bullfighter did not. When the fan expressed shock, the bullfighter said, "I think the bull is strong enough for both of us."

Trent

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Theresa,

I've seen those conraptions, and I think that they're a stupid idea. Here's why:

The goal in stopping a guitar string is to use as little force as possible while getting a clean, buzzless tone.

As you know from violin playing, pressing hard on the strings is an impediment to both speed and endurance. As mentioned above, overuse injury is another possible problem.

Just about the only time strength is required in guitar playing is when playing a prolonged bar chord. (That's when you lay your index finger accross the fingerboard and depress as many as six strings at the same time, at the same fret.) However, even this skill is not developed using those devices, since pressing with the fingertips calls on different muscles.

A more rational exercise would be to have him practice "bar-ing" all six strings with his index finger while gently strumming to locate any buzzes. If there are no buzzes, lighten the left hand pressure until they appear, then squeeze ever so slightly until they disappear again. This will help train him to use the minimum required force.

I've played classical guitar pieces that require minutes-long bar chords while the other three fingers dance all about. If I were to use too much pressure, my hand would cramp in only a few seconds.

Hope this was helpful.

Rat

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I actually have one of those things. I used to throw it in my backpack when I couldn't take my guitar with me. I got it because I was having trouble with my fourth finger, and I still do, I think it did help remember to practise my guitar more, though. I ended up using it on both hands to simply help build strength as it does take a fair bit of strength to press all four fingers down.

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Theresa,

These things have been around for quite a while. There are a number of similar "cheater" products (like sprays to lubricate your strings) on the market that appeal, particularly, to the metal "shredder" type player where speed (and volume) is much more of a concern than musicality. Your student probably studies with someone that is a metal or speed metal player.

I've grown up on hard rock and metal, so don't accuse me of dissing the genre (I still like some of it today, particularly some of the new groups like Creed), but I've never known any serious player being able to get much use out of those gimmicks. Certain guitar set ups, i.e.- acoustic guitars with steel strings, are tough to play barre chords on, period. With certain set ups, i.e.- electric guitars with light strings and jumbo frets, too much pressure will wreak havoc with intonation. I have heard, though never verified, that too much of these things can seriously damage your hands. I, personally, wouldn't take the chance.

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At least on violin, a minimal-pressure clean stop of the string will get you sufficient articulation. What takes practice and is worth building up are the extensors -- what you use when you lift a finger from the string -- a very fast vertical action which actually only barely raises the finger above the string. Get good at this and your playing sounds nice and clean.

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Who needs it? If someone has trouble playing bar chords then they should try different guitars/setups. Neck thickness and width make a tremendous difference. And if you still can't do it on an acoustic, then switch to an electric. The string height on electrics is much closer to the fingerboard, making playing bar chords much easier. IMHO.

CJ

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