Alternate picking/elbow concerns

Discuss playing styles and techniques, or share your own here.
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Posts: 61
Joined: Fri Mar 12, 2004 4:37 am

I have a question for anyone with reasonably lengthy experience of using alternate picking. This could be a long post but please bear with me as I could really use some help and advice. I've noticed something in my right elbow and wanted some advice about my use of the technique. I noticed when I did this, so any alternate pickers, it'd be a help to me if you could try this as well:

Stand up and put your arms by your sides. Lift up your picking hand by your side (so not in front of you, but to the side) so that it's perfectly horizontal at a 90 degree angle from your body, with the palm of your open hand facing the floor. Now, maintaining that hand direction, bring your picking hand towards and then away from your chest only by moving your forearm from the elbow, while keeping the part of your arm between your shoulder and elbow as still as you can. You don't have to do this fast. It should look kind of like you're doing a salute or a karate chop away from your body when you move your arm back out again. Do the same thing again with your other arm (the arm of your fretting hand). Do you notice a difference in how your elbows feel?

I've noticed that when I do what I described above with my right elbow, my picking hand being my right hand, sometimes I can feel what seems like a little click, not enough to sound loud and it's not majorly sore yet, but if you have it or have had it, you'll know what I mean, it's enough to notice something in my elbow. It almost feels like when you feel your pulse, only it's when you move your elbow. It's not always there, but after a practise especially recently I can feel it more than at other times. With my fretting hand, I've not noticed this.

For other factors affecting my playing, I'm fairly new to alternate picking. I started practising it around late February/early March and haven't always played guitar all of the time, having not bothered at all for maybe a couple of months in that time. I've also recently tried to alter the way I play electric guitar and hold the pick so I wonder if that could be it. If you imagine a strat-style three single coil pickup setup, I used to play between the neck and mid pickups, holding the pick between my thumb on one side and my first and second fingers on the other. Now though, for things like palm muting for sweep arpeggio practice, access to the volume knob and making it easier to go in and out of tapping, I've been switching to playing between the mid and bridge pickups with my palm over the bridge and holding the plectrum between my thumb on one side and only my first finger on the other side, leaving my second finger free to tap or mute strings if I need it to do that. I also try to show a reasonable amount but not too much of the pick as I want to be able to go from picking normally to pinched harmonics and vice versa without having to adjust my grip on the plectrum. I've previously had my guitar strap fairly high, so as to try not to put too much strain on my back, but while this was comfortable previously, I just lowered it towards the end of practising yesterday after I felt my elbow have this clicking-like thing going on in it as I thought that might help, maybe in case my new picking position closer to the bridge had caused some of my elbow aches from having had to move my elbow further across from where it would have been previously. I've not played today and might not play tomorrow (but I might!), so I can't say yet if that will help.

The thing is, I know that alternate picking should be done with the effort being made from the wrist and not from the elbow and I've tried very much to make a conscious effort to do that from the moment I really became aware of the technique and took up practising it. What worries me is that I've heard horror stories of people, including guys like Dave Kilminster who some people may well know of here, having to have operations done on their elbows because parts of their elbow joint have fused together after years of bad technique. While I'm hardly as regular or as good a player as someone like Dave Kilminster and would hope I'm nowhere near elbow operations, I worry that this clicking-like thing could be the start of that and want to put as little strain on my elbow and on my joints in general as possible. Dave Kilminster for example isn't old and while I have been getting the hang of alternate picking to a reasonable extent and would use it as a big part of my playing, I don't want to put myself through operations if I can avoid them. Plus it's bad enough for well-known musicians getting problems, but they can afford, usually, really good treatment, whereas on the NHS in Britain if most of us got this sort of thing it'd probably be a long wait to get anything done about it as rightly enough it'd hardly take priority over more urgent and not self-inflicted illnesses and injuries.

Has anyone had bad experiences of alternate picking in terms of injuries here, or could anyone give advice as to whether I've been getting something wrong with it or my new picking position, or is it just something to expect while I'm getting adjusted to it? If I'm doing soemthing wrong, what should I do to get it right?

Many thanks in advance for any replies about this.

Posts: 3
Joined: Thu Jul 01, 2004 3:33 pm

I've had problems with my elbows clicking when i did somewhat the same thing so i started trying to use my wrist more it seams to have stoped the clicking in my elbow it still take alot of concetration for me to just use my wrist its one of those practice till u get it right things. I still don't know what causes the elbow clicking but ive fallen on my elbows alot which has some what sifted their correct position. The best thing to do might be to ask your doctor.
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