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This is the kind of question I most often see asked by beginning guitarists, or maybe those who've played a few years and want to become shredders of sorts. I'm at the opposite end of all this. I'm in my early 60s and have been playing over 45 years. I've played all kinds of music in my time, including Jazz back when I had 4 or more hours a day to practice, but now I'm back to being just a plain vanilla rock player, and I'm just trying to beat back the affects of aging. Over time I've had both carpal tunnel and cubical tunnel surgeries, and during recovery was the first time I considered other exercises besides just normal playing. Just simple things like squeezing a spring cloths-pin between each finger and thumb. Just like in a sports injury, its good to do such moderate exercises to speed recovery, and my doctor had no objection once I was out of the woods and the stitches were out.

Well now I'm wondering if such exercises and others like it might be helpful to keep doing even when not practicing, say when just watching TV (I know I know... I should be practicing NOT watching TV :-) ). But anyway, I'm no "shredder" by today's standards, but I can hold my own mimicking players of old like Page, Clapton and such, and love long jam solos like the Allman Bros work. But I can feel that in recent years my left hand endurance is slipping. A perfect example, both myself as well as many old rockers always got a kick out of listening to the end Jam of Free bird. All simple riffs, for sure, but the jam goes on forever. And I've come to realize that there's no way I can go on and on with even those simple riffs for even half that time anymore, without my hand getting tired.

So what can I do besides the usual recommendation to practice as many hours as you can. What about various hand exercisers? I'm sure my thinking is flawed here, but back in Physics class we learned the f=ma, meaning force = mass x acceleration. So it seems to stand to reason that by increasing strength by exercising with something harder to push on than guitar strings, that would allow you to move the mass of your fingers faster, and faster fingers (one would think), might have more endurance too. And then there's the argument about light and dark muscle cells, for speed and endurance respectfully. Would not continual exercising away from the guitar increase endurance, so I actually could get through a "Free Bird" length jam?

There's a commercial played on TV lately that i think has to do with healthcare, and during it many older people are shown pushing themselves, and poem about death by poet Welsh Dylan is being recited with the refrain "do NOT go Gently into that long 'good night' ". That's all I'm doing here folks. I've been a musician all my life, and I love to play. I know eventually my skills will have to fade. I'm just not giving any of them up without a fight.

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It sounds to me like you may be working too hard with your left hand which could be causing more problems than it is solving. While hand strength is necessary, relaxation and a light touch are more important with respect to being able to play fast and with endurance.

Make sure you not using more pressure than needed to get the note to come out clearly. Following is an instructional video on legato technique by guitarist Tim Miller that demonstrates this concept:

  • I appreciate that, but first, while I was able to make use of those lighter finger pressure techniques when I played Jazz, rock playing requires some "expression" applied into every note., meaning more bending and vibrato applied. This takes a bit of force, even with thinner strings. A lot of phrases require hammer on's and pull offs too which also require more energy. In fact I'll often pick more notes when my left hand gets tired. The more important factor though is that is that these are things I used to do endlessly and more easily, so I think for my case its all age related. – Randy Mar 7 '17 at 16:53
  • But... I do agree about keeping the fingers close to the fret board, and will admit that I've never been able to get that under control. At least not for my little finger. – Randy Mar 7 '17 at 16:56
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    Don't get me wrong. Personally, I don't do alot of legato playing. I just found that when I had to relearn after a 20 year layoff caused by an ulnar compression injury, I went through the same issues you are talking about and found (from extensive research and trial and error) that relaxation even while doing 3 step note bends, vibrato, etc., is just as important as hand strength. – mikeford Mar 7 '17 at 17:52
  • Interesting as I've had both carpal tunnel release and Ulnar nerve transposition (cubital tunnel ) surgeries. – Randy Mar 7 '17 at 19:35
  • By the time I was diagnosed, the nerve damage was too great for me to continue playing as a full time pro and the best the surgery offered was to keep it from getting worse so I went back to school, and switched professions. They told me if I stayed away from playing that the damage would heal up but it would take a long time. They were right about both (it healed up but took 20 yrs). – mikeford Mar 7 '17 at 20:33

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