20 September 2010
Tension, The Guitar Players Enemy
Many guitarists play with a lot of tension in their bodies. Usually they're not even aware of this tension because they have become used to it. It was there all along as they learned and now it feels normal.
But tension is an insidious enemy that makes it harder for you to play guitar. To see for yourself how powerful an enemy tension can be try this simple experiment...
1. Pick up your guitar and get ready to play
2. Place your left hand (if you're right handed) fingers across any four frets of the sixth string
3. Clench the muscles in your left shoulder and arm as tight as you can, don't clench your hand or fingers as you do this, concentrate only on your arm and shoulder muscles
4. Now try to walk your fingers across the strings and frets one at a time
It's hard to move your fingers isn't it?
Now release the muscles and repeat the finger walking exercise, it will be much easier this time around.
This exercise demonstrates two things:
1. Tension in your body makes performing guitar playing movements harder
2. Tension in places that don't seem directly related to the exercise have an effect
Now, in this exercise we voluntarily exaggerated the tension a bit (well maybe, some guitarists do play clenched up like that). But even if you don't usually clench all your muscles before you play it's pretty certain that some of your muscles have unnecessary tension in them.
What Happens When You Relax?
Now, if exaggerating the tension can have this much negative effect, imagine how the reverse could be true. If you exaggerate the relaxation of your muscles then this can have an equal effect in the opposite sense - making playing movements easier.
Your playing can become more accurate and fluid and you will reduce fatigue so you can play better for longer.
How to Relax
There are a wealth of guides, tools and courses to help you to learn to relax. In fact it's a whole field that goes way beyond the scope of this blog. But in my experience you don't need to study the literature for years to get major benefits, a simple exercise can help you become more relaxed and focused when you practice or play guitar.
One of the easiest ways to bring about a relaxed state I've found is to take a couple of minutes to do a calm breathing exercise.
I do this sitting in a comfortable position on a chair or on the floor. I close my eyes and simply breathe in and out calmly. While I do this I concentrate on my body as it breathes, I visualize the air going into and out of the body, the movement of the belly, ribs, back and all their muscles.
Do this before you pick up your guitar to practice and you will start your session calm and relaxed.
Give Relaxation A Try
Why not give yourself a chance to relax when you practice guitar in the coming days? It will cost you only a couple of minutes or so at the start of each session. You might be surprised by the results you get and who knows, maybe you'll get so hooked you wind up becoming a guitarist yogi ;-)
If you want to learn more about the power of relaxation techniques that can help you play better guitar I recommend Jamie Andreas' Principles of Correct Practice for Guitar book. You can learn more about Jamie's principles and methods at the principled guitar web site. If you choose to order the Principled Guitar book from Amazon because of this article I'd appreciate it if you use this affiliate link, it earns a small commission that helps recompense the time invested in building this site.
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Photo by exfordy.