My Vote for Guitar Practice 3

Following on from my last blog, “My Vote for Practice 2”, this the 3rd installment looking at the Secret Art of Relaxation.

The three blogs I am writing on this subject are not designed to show you the specific detail of what to practice, but to encourage you too consider how you practice.

My Vote from Practice attempted to show the value of practice rather than just playing.
My Vote for Practice 2 looked at breathing; yes something we do 24 hours a day every day.
My Vote For Practice 3 looks at the Secret Art of Relaxation.

RELAXATION yes the one thing I should be good at!

But is it as easy as we think?

To be more specific I am talking about the ability to relax whilst carrying out other activities namely playing the guitar.

Never mind the stress, the tension, the shear overwhelming difficulty of not achieving what we’d wish for, to succeed we must master the art of relaxing.

So to basics -

If I hold my arm up in the air and then give myself the instruction relax, my arm falls down encouraged by gravity.

Well this is what should happen.

Think it's easy?

Try - sit on your guitar chair and with assistance from a friend, ask him/her to take hold of your left hand middle finger and raise you hand to just above shoulder height but don't let go.

Now you relax.

Ask your assistant if they can feel the weight of your arm?

Now at any time over the next few minutes your friend, without telling you lets go of your finger.

What happened?

If you arm fell directly down towards the floor with the weight of a sack of potatoes, great, if there was any hesitancy or your arm stayed in place then you have a problem because you haven’t learnt the Secret Art of Relaxation.

First - Practice the arm exercise until your arm falls with ease, don’t worry this won't take long.

Now that you have the basics of how to relax let's look at how we can use this to help play the guitar –

A little knowledge will always help understanding-

  1. We have 17 muscles in the palm of our hand.
  2. We have 18 muscles in our arm that work the hand
  3. That’s a total of 35 muscles (working in synchrony) enabling you to move your fingers.
  4. The fingers themselves have no muscles they are operated by tendons which connect to muscles.
  5. Muscles move tendons.
  6. Muscle movement starts IN THE BRAIN.
  7. Within your brain there is a portion that is allocated to control all movement within your body, one fourth of this portion is given over to controlling just the hands.

WOW – that’s a lot yet it does help to show why our hands can be so expressive. All we have to do is to learn how to control them.

So let’s get away from science and learn a few training exercises that will assist in learning how to move our fingers and help us to improve performance on our guitar.

Right hand - if we wish to move the index finger to play a string we are contracting the muscles which move our Flexor tendons (flexors move fingers into the palm and allow you to hold or grasp things), I prefer to say pull rather than contract because my younger pupils understand this more.

Pull the index finger and touch the palm of your hand.

Easy –now the finger has to return – remember nothing happens unless your brain commands it.

For the finger to return we have two options -

  1. Using the muscles located on the back of the hand, overpower the muscles on the inside of the hand and pull; the finger now moves back to its original position.
  2. Relax the muscles that pulled your finger into the palm; the finger will return near to its original position; don't worry as you get better the return will improve.

The preferred method is no2 with no1 being the road to injury and frustration.

Most of us do a combination of 1 & 2 but without realising exactly how we move.

Training – are you up for it?

Ok let's go -

With the right hand positioned to play the B string and using your index finger, easiest one to see so you will learn the basics quicker.

First - Contract muscles and pull the index finger to contact and play through the B string and only cease movement when the fingertip touches the palm - Stop hold this position.

Second - Relax and watch the index finger start to return.

Remember the arm exercise? Can you remember how it felt when the muscles relaxed and the arm fell? This is how your finger will feel just on a smaller scale.

If you can't remember how this felt try the arm exercise again.

When you first start to learn this exercise your index finger may not return to its original starting position. This is basically because our muscles are not necessarily very flexible and need to learn how to tense and relax.

Now having relaxed the index finger let’s, engage, the muscles that move our Extensor tendons.

With our index finger relaxed start to raise this finger (keep a curved playing shape don't extend or point the finger) to its highest point and hold – then relax – and the index will lower itself back down.

That’s it, job done!

Easy?

Of course it is.

Hmm not really - The difficulty comes when we try to bring this into our playing so this is where practice pays off.

RELAX – RELAX – RELAX.

I can’t emphasis this enough.

From a very early age movement is something we learn to do.

However to perfect movement we must also appreciate the opposite which is to RELAX and I want this to be the focus of your practice.

If it helps keep reminding yourself of this –

It is impossible for me to move until I relax.

True –

Try this –

Stand upright and lock all your bodies muscles so that you feel like an iron bar.

Now try to move –

You will find the first thing your body does is start to relax muscles.

We want to understand and harness this action and we can do this with the exercise I mentioned above.

Index finger – Contract, pull the index finger through the B string and with the fingertip touch your palm - Stop hold this position - then RELAX allowing the index finger to return – Stop hold this position - then raise this finger to its highest point – Stop hold this position – then RELAX – and the index will lower itself back down.

Repeat the above as many times as you can, maintaining focus.

When you lose concentration stop as when this happens you are no longer learning.

Now all you have to do is carry out the same exercise on all other fingers namely m – a – and e (little finger).

Keep returning to our Guitar Campus page as I intend adding videos of this and further exercises.

And after having read to here, if you are starting to have doubts or feel that you do not have enough years left in life to practices

DON’T DOUBT – this does work and if you add it to your daily routine you will reap the benefits.