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minimal work is optimal


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This hot weather has been making my guitars move. The careful set-ups are compromised or ruined. Only a couple seem ok.

I re-adjusted the Les Paul on Monday, just prior to practice.

I tried to adjust the Esprit yesterday, but that’s proving a little awkward. Rather than undertake a lengthy comprehensive set up, I thought I would just play it for an hour as it was.

‘As it was’ is with the G, B and ‘e’ sitting higher off the fingerboard than is usual, and the strings are also more taught than normal. So I had to apply more pressure to play properly. That’s not a huge problem, but I had become unaccustomed to this feel. Before I knew it, I had overcompensated and became heavy handed. That’s a big no-no!

I had to spend a few minutes re-adjusting my left hand to minimise the pressure needed to fret properly. For some reason, my left hand had ramped to the same force as my right (picking) hand. This is how I used to play, and it’s how many less experienced players play too.

I was surprised at how difficult it had suddenly become to consciously make each hand do a different amount of work. They just seemed to want to synchronise their effort.

I made up a corrective exercise on the spot. I used a quick alternating pick with my right hand on the low E. When I thought I had that at its optimal level (it varies according to what pick is being used), I gradually brought a fretting finger to bear on that string so it was only just enough to bring it into contact with the fret. Now I had just the right amount of force needed in each hand to do their job properly.

Crucially, each hand was doing a different amount of work. Still keeping the fanning action of the picking hand constant, I slowly played an ascending scale with the other hand, with 8 picks to every fret change. After running up and down the scales in this way I got each hand working at their optimal best.

I haven’t had a pupil for many years, but that would be a useful exercise to teach them.

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