This blog is all about dropping your shoulders, breathing deep, relaxing your muscles and shredding some mean guitar. This is a simple thing that you can do in order to improve on almost every technical aspect of your guitar playing and it's all about not trying so hard.
Identify Your Issue
The reason I’m writing this is because I am the number one culprit of over-tensing. In my guitar playing, singing, sports and pretty much everything in day-to-day life, I would tense my body far too much at the expense of what I was trying to do. My natural instinct was that, if you try harder you’ll do better, but I now know that’s not the case and it was holding me back. Even if you’re not as guilty of this as I am, being conscious of your body and how it affects your playing technique is always beneficial.
If you’re like me, and you tend to tense up a lot while playing, you’ll notice some side effects of your bad technique. These can range from symptoms that restrict your playing, to physical discomfort, and even permanent damage to your body. If you notice any of these occurring while practicing or performing, then this article might do something to help you out.
- Tensing in your neck, jawline or back. Sometimes leading to pain
- Cramping in your hands
- Finding your hands just cutting out and stopping doing what you want them to do.
- Exaggerated body movements to perform a certain part (even something like playing a bar chord)
- Hand/wrist/arm pain during practice (this is bad)
- Hand/wrist/arm pain that persists after practice (this is really bad and you should revise what you’re doing immediately)
These are all the extreme noticeable symptoms of overtension caused by bad technique. Luckily, it is easy to overcome this problem and with a little practice you will do it subconsciously and will quickly see vast improvements.
Doing A Body Factory Reset
This idea comes from the Alexander Technique, which I’ve found referenced quite a bit and looked up during my research for this post. The technique is a set of ideas about posture and conscious body positioning that can help you to maximise your movement efficiency and is often connected to musicians.
Here are some videos that go over some of the techniques without going too in depth when it comes to music.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6IHPrT7sggVideo on Alexander Technique in guitar playing
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prN9kbDtedcTed Talk about Alexander Technique in posture
http://www.alexandercenter.com/pa/musicjonesii.htmlPage that talks about alexander technique for musicians
So when you go to start practicing next, try to consciously reset your body as to allow it to act most efficiently and start with your posture. This isn’t supposed to be a hardcore “tall as possible, chest out, stiff body” approach, as that will probably yield the same problems as a slumped and sloppy posture. Instead, it is best to use our minds to maximise our efficiency and minimise discomfort.
1. When you’re sitting or standing, scan over your body with your mind and try to identify any stiffness, imbalance, unnecessary pressure and discomfort. This may be how your feet are distributing your weight, your back supporting a slouch, your shoulders pressing forward and tense, or just clenching of your jaw.
2. Adjust yourself according to what you notice. And again, the goal here is to have as little tension as possible over your whole body. These might be large adjustments like changing your stance in your feet or straightening up your spine. They could also be very small muscle adjustments, like moving the pressure in your hip bones or wiggling your jaw to loosen it up.
3. Repeat the process when necessary. You’ll find that as soon as you go to do something, like grab a glass of water or play a new passage, that you’ll very quickly revert to your old ways. Like anything else, practice makes perfect and the more conscious you are, the quicker these changes will become second nature. The other good thing about this technique is that you can practice it at any point in the day. Sitting on the bus, standing in line, at your computer or even walking it helps to think about what you’re doing with your body and how you can fix your posture (I’m doing it right now as I’m writing this)
Bring In The Guitar
Now that you’re posture is how you want it, let’s put an instrument in your hands. Before you even play a note, get yourself into your playing positions and check your posture again. Whether standing or sitting, you will find that you may arrange your body in a certain way that, when looked at from the outside, seems counter-intuitive, uneconomical and sometimes a little bit weird. You may need to make some adjustments to counteract these habits.
One that I’ve notice that I do is an awkward leg thing that I never noticed until I look deeper into my posture and it’s very bizarre. I would bend my left ankle and have my foot sitting sideways with my right foot resting on top of it. I did this to keep my guitar in a comfortable position and stop it from sliding off my leg. The side effect of this was that my leg skewed my hip position and threw my whole body out of alignment. You can buy guitar foot rests for this purpose, but I found that just putting a suitcase under the desk fixed my position right up. You might notice similar body distortions when you start playing. Try to be conscious of what your body is doing and take the necessary steps to create as little tension as possible.
Here are some articles that I found helpful
Now it’s time to start playing and this is where you’ll hopefully find the biggest difference in your playing. We’ll start with your favourite warmup technique. mine is an alternating chromatic pattern which I find is good for coordination, but you can use whatever you normally do. When you start to play, try to be conscious of all these things, they’ll take a bit of time at first but soon become second nature.
|This is my warm up exercise. It continue's all the way up to the 12th fret|
1. Go through all of the posturing that we’ve already been through. Scan your body for any unnecessary stiffness and make the bodily adjustments to relax them to a comfortable state. Even the muscles in your face can be strained when playing.
2. Breath normally. Something that I’ve seen a few people do, especially beginners, is to stop breathing while they’re playing. Their chests cramp up as they put all their effort into playing the guitar. Make sure your breathing is normal and consistent.
3. Check your picking hand is nice and relaxed. Your joints should be nice and loose from your shoulder, to elbow, to wrist, to finger joints. Do not squeeze your pick. In fact, hold it as loose as you possibly can without dropping it.
4. On your fretting hand, place the meaty part of your thumb in the centre of the back of the neck and place all four fingers loosely over the fretboard. Check that your wrist is in a comfortable position and that you aren’t tensing your shoulders.
5. Start playing your warmup technique and put only as much pressure on the string as is required to make the note sound. Start off very slowly and go through each previous point in your mind as you do so. Are you tensing up when reaching for specific notes? Has your posture changed? Are you gripping your pick tight? Has your thumb slipped over the neck to a gripping position? Are you pressing hard down on the frets?
Don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t come straight away and you find yourself slipping out easily, this kind of thing takes practice. If you start feeling the tension build up or you’re noticing that your technique is causing discomfort or pain: stop, go back to the start and go again. It’ll get easier each time. Once you’ve done this in the warm-up, start using the same techniques in your practicing. Go over songs that you know well, only now you can focus on your body positioning and your mechanical economy.
Live A More Stress Free Life
You’ll find that this new found technique will provide you with many benefits. You’ll have more comfort in your playing and, if done right, significantly decreased your chance of severe physical conditions like tendonitis. You’re stamina will increase quite a bit and reduce cramping in long playing sessions. Your faster passages will have the chance to to get a lot faster. You may notice your tone getting better, and this has to do with the fluidity and lighter touch of your picking hand. FInally, your tuning will improve as your fretting hand presses lighter on your frets, you’re not bending the notes sharp as you would if you were squeezing the fretboard down hard.
Comment below or e-mail me at Lockyberesford@gmail.com if this helped your playing, or post your own technique changes that have increased your abilities.