February 26, 2024

“Hi everyone. I’m new to the site. I played clarinet in high school but gave it up after college. It’s not 15 years down the pike and I picked it up again to study seriously about 6 months ago. I was classically trained but I’m learning jazz.

Anyway, I have always been plagued by bad finger tension, especially in my right hand. It really impedes my technical ability. My right hand becomes almost like a rigid claw in just a few minutes of scale workouts. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to maintain a more relaxed posture/fingers when playing?”

You might consider stretching exercises for your fingers, and maybe getting one of those grip master things as well. Fingers have muscles, and the muscles need stretching and stuff. And frequent breaks. And doing something other than “assuming the position”. Ask pianists. Or guitarists. There are lots of things on the net too. But, I’d start with trying to stretch the fingers first, and your wrists.

7 thoughts on “Finger Tension

  1. One common cause of right hand finger tension is the high of your thumb rest.

    To relieve tension your hand must be in the most natural position possible and almost everyone will find that their natural grip say to hold a can etc. your thumb will be in line with your pointer finger. However most clarinets are designed to have your thumb inline with your middle finger. Even clarinets with adjustable thumb rest often can’t be adjusted high enough, causing much strain on your thumb, fingers and wrist.

    Professional instrument repairers can raise the high of your thumb rest (and of course fill the holes from the previous position) in both wooden and plastic clarinets. If you don’t have an adjustable thumb rest already ask for one (jupitor is good because it has a hook for neck straps).

    Neck straps are also great because they mean you don’t have to support as much weight and you can place your fingers over the holes rather than gripping them, which causes tension.

  2. Long term, try looking into something like the Alexander Technique. I know a lot of musicians who have benefited from AT, which works on building awareness of how your body naturally holds tension. All the best. hf

  3. What works for me is this which I picked up from the Sneezy bboard.

    “Try this, sit or stand in your normal playing position, hold the horn in your left hand at the base of the top joint. Bend your right arm upwards at the elbow 90 degrees. From the wrist to your fingertips, let them hang completely limp. Next, give it five or six good deliberate shakes to get all the kinks and stiffness out. Your right hand shaken out it should be naturally somewhat shaped in a squashed backwards C. Moving just the fingertips at the first and second knuckles slowly bend them slightly inward duplicating playing position, again release any remaining hand tension, wrist and arm. You should notice your fingers should have stayed where you moved them. Keeping the hand perfectly still, rotate your hand parallel to the right so your thumb is at a 45-degree angle (you want to approach the thumb rest at that angle and not right to left). With your left hand guide the lower joint INTO your right hand and playing position like you�re slipping on a glove. Balance and rest the right thumb under the thumb rest at its most top and outside left corner but squarely on the knuckle so you could make a “thumb print” on the bore (if you already have calluses all the better). With your left hand, begin shifting and supporting the weight of the horn slowly to your right hand until you achieve a comfortable “right in the pocket” feel. Still, not disturbing the hand and fingertip position you established deliberately and slowly position your middle three fingers resting them slightly on top of the ring keys, rest your right pinkie between the Ab/Eb and F/C right lower cluster keys not on top of one or the other.”

    This comes from a post from “Ken” which you may find at http://test.woodwind.org/clarinet/BBoard/read.html?f=1&i=53674&t=53489.

    With all due thanks to Ken and Sneezy it is the best piece of advice I read in 50 years.

    The whole key is relax.

  4. i totally know where you’re coming from, man. Same thing plagued me as well for a while.

    Sometimes too much tension is put on the right hand as that thumb pushes up on the thumbrest. whenever you can, try to hold up the clarinet with the left hand fingers a bit. This’ll remove strain on the right hand a bit, and might give you a better time.

  5. I believe finger tension is the result of trying to play too fast without a proper build up to the speed you want. It’s like starting a weight lifting routine with the heaviest weights you can lift.
    So, practice things slowly at first, with these things in mind: Don’t grab for notes, but release them from your fingers. Do exercises where you slowly raise and lower fingers to the point of actually smearing notes. Play the clarinet like it is a pillow and smoothly press down on the keys. (Don’t squeeze the Charmin, Mr. Whipple.) Lastly, keep your fingers very close to the clarinet and keep them relaxed. All of this will take much time to incorporate in your playing.

  6. There is a cheap gizmo, which might help. It’s called a thumb saddle and is available form Tom Ridenour. I was suffering from terrible tension, with pain running up my right arm into my neck and head. I imported some thumb saddles from Tom and within a week all my problems had disappeared.

    .You can get more information at http://www.ridenourclarinetproducts.com/Thumb.htm

    I hope this helps

    Dave Cox

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