Help with deathgrip issue

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HendersonPiper413
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Real Name: Thom Henderson II

Help with deathgrip issue

Post by HendersonPiper413 » Fri May 31, 2013 10:24 am

Hello everyone!

I have an instructor teaching me quite a bit about piping and I'm well on my way now, but I have two questions that maybe you guys could help me answer!

1) did any of you have a deathgrip on the chanter when you first started playing?
2) any good suggestions on how to solve the deathgrip issue?

I have the deathgrip problem so I can't practice for more than 20 minutes without my hand cramping like crazy!

Thank a million,

Thom

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PJ
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Re: Help with deathgrip issue

Post by PJ » Fri May 31, 2013 10:57 am

My memory of having death grip was that there was at least two things going on in my mind. Firstly, I wanted to make sure that the holes were covered and not leaking air. You just have to learn to relax your hands. There's no trick there.

Secondly, I was trying to keep air pressure up in the bag and bellows, so my arms and shoulders were tensed. It's difficult to relax your hands when your arms are tense. Keeping up air pressure is not all about squeezing on the bag. These days, I find a comfortable position. The bag is not really at my side. It rests partly on my thigh, so when I need more air pressure, I don't have to squeeze the bag, but instead lean into it. That means my arms are not tensing up, which helps me keep my fingers relaxed.
PJ

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scottymcc
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Re: Help with deathgrip issue

Post by scottymcc » Fri May 31, 2013 12:12 pm

HendersonPiper413 wrote:Hello everyone!

I have an instructor teaching me quite a bit about piping and I'm well on my way now, but I have two questions that maybe you guys could help me answer!

1) did any of you have a deathgrip on the chanter when you first started playing?
2) any good suggestions on how to solve the deathgrip issue?

I have the deathgrip problem so I can't practice for more than 20 minutes without my hand cramping like crazy!

Thank a million,

Thom
It is still easy to fall into the deathgrip. I've been playing for 13 years. The idea is to spend time practicing holding the chanter loosely. Try playing without your right thumb touching the chanter as an exercise. That will show you what is happening with your other fingers, also just how much pressure is needed to successfully close a hole. Additionally, practice using a light touch. Work for basic control of the instrument while focusing on maintaining a light touch. Something easy like scales of repeated notes, i.e. DDDD EEEE F#F#F#F# GGGG, etc... No ornaments just basic control. Go slow, use a metronome, focus only on the grip itself, not tone, volume, bag mechanics, or anything else. Try to determine the LEAST amount of effort it takes to successfully control the instrument, or even make a sound, then work in that range (as an added bonus, this kind of practice can also be used to mind the height of your fingers while not on a hole, developing a greater economy of motion) You should be able to feel the air pressure under each of your fingers.

The biggest alleviation of deathgrip I have had was in proper setup of my set. Building an easier reed, took a lot of the athleticism out of playing my pipes so I was able to relax my shoulders and by extension my arms and hands. Now when I find I'm strangling the chanter it is because I am trying to properly seal the chanter on my popping strap. I need a tighter seal so I have to press harder against my knee so I have to have a stronger grip to facilitate all that, when really, I need a better angle of the chanter sitting on my knee because my bag is out of place. Being mindful of your posture and how you are cradling the instrument as a whole will lend some answers as to where you can cut some of the grip pressure.

Good Luck!
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bensdad
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Re: Help with deathgrip issue

Post by bensdad » Fri May 31, 2013 2:10 pm

Try playing without your right thumb touching the chanter as an exercise.

I endorse this. It's a weird sensation, but it's entirely possible to play rolls and staccato triplets perfectly without the RH thumb.

outofthebox
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Re: Help with deathgrip issue

Post by outofthebox » Sat Jun 01, 2013 5:30 am

Playing without the left hand thumb grip is a very good idea, as it will help you to achieve a lighter touch on the chanter. Also think about bag position - if the bag is positioned too high the left shoulder is forced up and this creates a lot of tension all the way down the left arm. Both shoulders should be down in a natural position - only the point of the elbow is required to apply pressure to the bag and it should be positioned just behind the neck of the bag. It is important also to have the bellows not too high - again the action of the bellows should be controlled by the point of the elbow. The front of the bellows should be pointing at an inward angle, diagonally rather than straight ahead. All of these things will help to find a comfortable balance which will make fingering and pressure control easier. Of course with this instrument nothing comes easily - but it's all about the journey rather than the destination 8)

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djm
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Re: Help with deathgrip issue

Post by djm » Sat Jun 01, 2013 6:07 am

Yep, have to agree with the above. I tried to teach myself for the first year, but when I finally got in front of a teacher he told me I'd have to start all over again to get rid of my deathgrip.

Practise the grip itself as opposed to worrying about tunes or techniques. Also, practise not raising your fingers more than a centimeter off the chanter. Lifting your fingers too high is sort of the reverse of the deathgrip, and is just as debilitating to your playing and timing. Do this type of "feel" practise for at least twenty minutes before attempting to do your regular practise for playing or learning tunes. It must become a body habit, and just like bad habits, you can only develop good habits by constant repetition.

The other thing that doesn't get mentioned much, and still plagues me from time to time, is frustration; frustration at the bloody reeds, frustration at not hitting a difficult or unfamiliar note sequence, frustration at not getting a technique clean enough or fast enough. This kind of tension is an open door to old deathgrip habits creeping back in, and you have to keep an eye out for them. Take a deep breath and shake your hands and wrists loose before attempting to have another go at it. The fastest, easiest playing comes from being relaxed and fluid in your movements. You can only get to this level of playing by deliberately practising playing in this mode.

djm
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Draighean
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Re: Help with deathgrip issue

Post by Draighean » Sun Jun 02, 2013 11:41 am

Only a couple other things to add: especially in a dry climate, it helps to get a better air seal on the tone holes with less pressure if your hands (fingers) are moisturized. Use Bag Balm or a good hand cream a few hours before you practice (so that your chanter doesn't get greasy with the excess).

The other thing is to realize that when your playing position is good, the chanter is held pretty well between the neck of the bag and resting on the popping strap/your leg. i.e. you don't need a strong grip to hold the chanter there, just think of it floating or suspended between the bag neck and your leg, and a very light touch is all that is needed to keep it there.

Another useful thing that my teacher had me do early on was to practice scales and sight reading with the chanter only, no bag or bellows attached. Your touch will naturally be a lot lighter because you are not tensing your arms to push on the bag as bellows as has been previously said. It helps you get the feel of a light touch on the chanter.

Good luck with your practice, and keep at it. Like Gay McKeon and Nollaig MacCarthaigh keep saying on the NPU tutor DVD's, don't worry, it will get better with time and practice. :)

HendersonPiper413
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Re: Help with deathgrip issue

Post by HendersonPiper413 » Thu Jun 13, 2013 6:29 pm

Thank you all so very much! I am loving the pipes, even though they are frustrating and my chanter keeps falling out of tune due to weather changes, Which because i live in michigan that is really going to piss me off lol! But anyways! I am very happy that i have some things to work on now! :)

MickBauer
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Re: Help with deathgrip issue

Post by MickBauer » Mon Jul 29, 2013 8:34 am

One other thing that has helped me: using a strap to hold the bag higher (with apologies to outofthebox, who advised the opposite -- much in piping is subjective and individualized!). Although practicing with the right-hand thumb lifted helped me learn to relax my right hand, nothing helped my left hand until I reduced the amount of work my left arm & shoulder were doing to support the bag by adding a strap.

This is the same type of strap Seamus Ennis used: a simple loop that passes under the mainstock right where it's tied in to the bag, and over your left shoulder (i.e., you stick your left hand and the entire bag through it, to put it on). At present, I'm using an ordinary men's leather belt for this, waist size 38, and about an inch wide.

This seems to be a somewhat unusual setup nowadays, but it works for me. I find that when I do go strap-less, I still enjoy the benefit of a more relaxed left hand, so it's definitely helped me to isolate arm/shoulder tension from hand tension in a lasting way.

Regards,
Mick

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Otto Kraan
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Re: Help with deathgrip issue

Post by Otto Kraan » Wed Jul 31, 2013 2:36 pm

It seems unrelated to what your hands are doing, but try this: sit back in your chair, straighten your back, and look at the ceiling while you play. Do this for extended periods.

Often with death grip, or any other overly-intense aspect of piping, the afflicted piper's body can be seen curled and focusing everything on that one hand. Much like a magnifying glass on an ant in the sun. You've got to disengage parts of your body (and mind) that are not directly involved in what you are pursuing.

I also recommend trying watching TV or reading a book while you are playing. It is much like the effect the hyper-activity drug Ritalin has on the body: your brain, on over-drive with multiple tasks, eases up on each a wee bit. Sometimes you would be surprised at the breakthroughs that result. For me, this was the key to learning circular breathing....watching the telly!
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