Sore Thumb

Help for new mountain dulcimer players of all ages!

Sore Thumb

Postby 9751tonywt » Fri Feb 24, 2017 2:12 pm

I new to the dulcimer, picked it up in the past, and now back again. Both times I've noticed that my when I intuitively let my fingers decide how to finger chords, I find that I end up using my side of my thumb, up close to my nail, and that area becomes quite sore. If I try to alter my fingering so that I'm not using the side of my thumb or try to change the fingers I'm using, it just feels very awkward. Do I need to force my self to use the tip of my thumb? Am I doing something wrong? BTW, as an example of the fingering I'm talking about... Let's say the base finging is an A (101) and the Melody note changes (1-0-4 to 1-0-3 to 1-0-2). My 1st and 3rd fingers want to hold down the bass and melody strings at the 1st fret, while the thumb works the transitions along the melody strings.
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Re: Sore Thumb

Postby KenH » Fri Feb 24, 2017 3:27 pm

You aren't doing "anything wrong", except that hurting is always wrong...

The Is No Right Way or Wrong Way to Play the Dulcimer, just what works for you. You could

* Use other fingers
* Slather the side of your thumb with Liquid Skin or superglue
* Work at using your thumb tip, until it is no longer awkward. Playing dulcimer is not an instant skill! It could take six months to get this thumb-thing feeling good.
* Quit trying to play Chord Melody style and learn to play Fingerdance or Noter & Drone style where the thumb is irrelevant!
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Re: Sore Thumb

Postby Ken Bloom » Sat Feb 25, 2017 8:41 am

All of Ken's suggestions are good ones but let me tell you about other players with the same problem. I am a concert zither player and the use of the thumb in zither playing is essential. It takes time to build up a callous on the side of the thumb. You simply play until it gets a bit sore and stop. The soreness is a minor grade injury and you can speed up the healing by using some aloe vera cream on it. It will take several weeks to get that callous but it will come. The secret is to let the soreness completely disappear before using the thumb again. I went through this in my early zither playing days. Hope this helps.

Ken Bloom
http://www.boweddulcimer.org
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Re: Sore Thumb

Postby Steve Smith » Sat Feb 25, 2017 9:33 am

It may be from my piano lessons in third grade when my teacher always wanted to see "white knuckles", but I try to play with my hand above the fret board, not next to it. My hand is positioned as if I'm holding a tennis ball, if that makes sense. That way my thumb is fretting more toward the tip than the side. Just a suggestion, but it's worked for me for about 37 years.
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Re: Sore Thumb

Postby Strum-Numb » Sat Feb 25, 2017 6:18 pm

Keep your finger and thumb nails trimmed as close as possible.
Sounds trivial perhaps, or obvious, but it matters.
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Re: Sore Thumb

Postby asterhunter » Sat Feb 25, 2017 9:33 pm

By coincidence I am going through the exact same thing as I learn my MD that we built as a kit many years ago. I am taking the suggestion above by stopping when it gets to hurting and giving my thumb a rest by using another finger for a while in that spot. Gradually, my thumb is becoming desensitized in that spot. It's actually with my fingertips as well as I have never played a string instrument before. I think sometimes we get to enthusiastic in the beginning and push our hands too much before they are ready. It's never a good idea to push your hands beyond the point of hurting or soreness. With musical instruments, it's not about playing harder, it's about playing smarter. I know of at least two professional musicians that had to stop playing altogether because they pushed their hands too much,one had to quit for more than a year.

David E.
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Re: Sore Thumb

Postby GrantOlson » Sun Feb 26, 2017 9:06 am

I will echo Ken Bloom in that you really just need as callous and you will get it soon. I think that you should finger chords the way that is most comfortable for you because that will make it easier to finger everything smoothly.
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Re: Sore Thumb

Postby 9751tonywt » Sun Feb 26, 2017 5:02 pm

Thanks all for your suggestions. I'm all to familiar with possible symptoms, because I am a guitar player. I think if I'm going to play chords, I'm going to have to trim down my thumb nail more and work on not letting my thumb roll to the side so much as I try to move up and down from the 2nd, 3rd and 4th frets, while my other fingers are holding at the 1st fret. My thumb nail IS too long right now, and I subconsciously know this and do what I must.. erroneously use too much of the side of my thumb.... For crying out loud : )
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Re: Sore Thumb

Postby Strum-Numb » Sun Feb 26, 2017 9:17 pm

It's easy to roll your thumb over onto it's side when reaching for a stretch or pulling a walkdown.
I think that's OK, honestly. Do what ya gotta do to get it done.
Trying to get and stay more vertical with the thumb is probably good practice, but hey, again, do what ya gotta do.
Close and often, with the nail trims. My best advice.

I don't know if you've discovered Bing Futch yet, but if not, google him up on YouTube for hundreds of instructional videos featuring Blues style and classic rock, folk, etc.
Here is his Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Playing:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZzWbbG5JTD8

Also, a little inspiration can be found here with Sam Edleston:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1nzkYr_JDM

Mr. E participates in this forum occasionally, and submits his videos here as well.
He will also be doing workshops at this year's Kentucky Music Week.
http://www.kentuckymusicweek.com/

- Tony
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