Fatigue in picking arm

I have this problem and I cannot overcome it. I don’t know why but my right arm gets fatigued and needless to say that ends up harming my picking technique. Sometimes I don’t even realize it’s like this because it has been for a while, so this fatigued sensation becomes “normal”. I believe that this is the reason my technique sometimes gets worse the next day after practicing a lot of alternate picking.

Now, I use the conventional playing posture, so my right arm has to be a little suspended in order to pick above the pickups and not far to the left, above the neck. I rest my forearm on the body of the guitar but not so much that it’s practically limp. That’s because the more weight I rest on the body, the harder it is to move my picking hand across the strings because of the friction between the skin of my forearm and the wood. If I’m using a long sleeved t-shirt, on the other hand, my arm just slips down straight towards the floor.

This issue has been a pain in the ass for the longest time. I don’t even need to do any motion for my arm to start building fatigue, I can just have it completely still in that position and after a few seconds I can start feeling it, ever so slightly. I seem to have plateau’d on alternate picking speed because of it. Don’t know what to do about it, so I’m hoping you guys might have an idea.

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Sorry to hear about the fatigue issue! I found a couple previous discussions that might be relevant:

Could this be an overuse issue, mainly after long practice sessions, or does it happen almost right away even if you haven’t been playing much? If you’ve tried adjusting positions, periodic rests, etc. and nothing seems to be helping, could be worth seeing a specialist to try to figure out if there may be any more serious underlying issues.

If you get fatigued before you even play a note, you might need to adjust your posture. I can’t say how exactly, since we don’t have much information to go on. I recommend uploading a video where we can see your whole upper body as you play.

Hello and thanks for taking the time to answer. I forgot to mention that the issue is more pronounced when I’m picking stuff on the lower strings. It seems that I can rest my arm properly when picking on string 1, but it feels impossible to rest on string 6.

Some days it seems like fatigue comes a lot sooner than others. But I haven’t noticed if it’s due to the same issue. I recorded a video so you guys can tell me if my posture is bad, and during recording, almost immediately after putting my hand in position to start the exercise, I could feel the slight “burning” sensation on my muscles from when you’re making effort.

It stops if I completely rest my arm on the guitar body, but like I said if I do that then it sticks to the wood and it becomes really hard to move across strings.

Nothing in this video looks unusual, so I can’t really guess what you might be doing wrong. But… if you think like an engineer, you can try changing things systematically and seeing if the issue goes away. There are lots of things you can change about your technique, including your arm orientation (the spectrum from pronation to supination) and your wrist setup (spectrum from flexed to extended).

Your grip alone provides lots of variables, including different spots along the index and thumb, and even middle finger grips. Different grips will require different arm and wrist orientations so you can even start with grip changes and see where that leads you. Again, don’t be afriad of the “weird” ones like middle finger grips and trailing-edge (a la George Benson and Shawn Lane) grips. They may help crack open a little breakthrough, even if you return to your original technique.

Edit: Just as one example, a flexed wrist setup touches the guitar body at the forearm anchor and then lightly as the fingers graze the body. Here’s what that looks like:

Notice that the wrist doesn’t sit on the bridge or strings any more. One advantage of this is that your form across all the strings becomes more similar, since nothing really changes about your contact points when you’re on the lowest string or the highest one. Again, I’m not saying play this way all the time. I’m just giving you an example of something you can try to see what it feels like.

The short story is be relentless and experiment. If you get the same result with one of these tests, cross it off the list and keep going. You are looking for a picking motion that feels smooth, fast, and comfortable. When you do it, and it clicks, and you go aha, that feels really good — keep that form and do more of it. Or see if you can figure out what it is about it that made the difference, and apply it to all your other form experiments.

Good luck!

Thanks so much for answering, Troy. I’ll certainly try harder to isolate and identify what’s causing this. I might be wrong but I believe this is causing other issues too, like how sometimes I have big setbacks in my picking technique that happen from one day to the next. I believe the reason might be that I practice while fatigued or strained, even if it’s just slight enough that I don’t notice. These problems do not exist in my fretting hand which is the funny thing.

Also, could this possibly be simply an issue of lack of endurance in my picking hand? I have seen lots of advice on how to improve left hand endurance for legato, but hardly anything on the picking hand. I hear people tell me that I have to get rid of tension on it, so I never really worked on endurance. But I honestly doubt relaxation would be enough to enable me to play for a long period, especially at high speeds.

  1. Is your problem while SITTING, STANDING, or both?

  2. Have you tried sitting with your left leg up a few inches and the guitar moved to your left leg, by analogy to how the classical people sit? That position has much better ergonomics, perhaps it will help.

It’s mostly sitting. I haven’t tried the classical posture, that’s a good idea. I’ll try it to see if it gets better, and report back.

Edit

So far it feels better with the new position, but it’s tough on my back. I will also try resistance exercises and the stuff that Troy suggested.

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