My Vote for Guitar Practice 2

Following on from my last blog, “My Vote for Guitar Practice”, this the 2nd installment looks at a vital but often overlooked aspect of music; breathing.

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 looks at breathing; yes something we do 24 hours a day every day.

The comedian John Bishop, in a comedy sketch about his wife - “After 16 years, the way they bleeding breathe, it’s just constant init, you know what I mean, every day, in and out, in and out”.

Breathing is something we do but rarely take note of unless, like John Bishop, the act of someone breathing starts to irritate.

Music breaths and, as any wind instrument player would vouch, requires far more attention than it does for us as guitarists.

But lets not get too involved as I want to start from the beginning and give you a reason to consider breathing as a way of controlling how we practice rather than look at the specifics of what we practice.

How many of you are involved in physical exercise?
Do you visit the gym on a regular or occasional basis?

When exercising there are generally 3 controlling factors that limit the time spent -

  1. The desire to exercise.
  2. The strength or fitness of our muscles.
  3. The capacity and ability of our lungs to deliver oxygen to our muscles.


As a guitarist-

  1. I have the desire to play my guitar.
  2. My fingers are happy moving around the guitar.
  3. Breathing? Yep no problem, well I never get out of breath playing my guitar.


So as time passes and speaking from experience, why do a lot of guitarists suffer with hand/tendon problems?

These are my thoughts and I’m not a doctor so bear with me –

So let’s say –

  1. You have the desire to play – great - and
  2. Your fingers are happy moving around the guitar – even better – that leaves
  3. Breathing -


Muscles become fatigued during long periods of vigorous activity and will stop contracting efficiently

During exercise, and yes playing the guitar is exercise, muscle cells respire more than they do at rest this means that –

Oxygen and glucose must be delivered to the muscles quicker than when at rest.
Waste carbon dioxide must be removed quickly.

This is achieved by increasing the heart rate, rate of breathing and depth of breathing.

Because we are only talking about the smaller muscles in our body and because the initial signs of fatigue in these muscles is not easily recognized we can easily overlook the tension build up that is the result of tired muscles and consequently it is easy to encourage these smaller muscles to keep working when really they should be resting. This can eventually result in long-term damage which none of us want.

So what can we do?

  1. Breath
  2. Relax







Breathing – learn to phrase your music; all music is phrased some visually, great I love it as this makes life so much easier, and some is not which means I have to work it out.

Breathing happens during and between phrases.

Depth of breathing alters depending upon the movement within the phrase.

For example let’s look at this section of Capricho Arabe by Tarrega.

capricho arabe section

Imagine that you are literally walking/running through the music and that each note is one small step moving forward, one note one step.

From the beginning –
Step into bar one and wait for 3 beats.

Bar 2 requires twelve short quick running steps through to bar 3 where you arrive on the E and wait for 2 beats.

Get the idea?

As an example let’s say we breathe in at the beginning and step to the dotted minim in bar one where upon we slowly exhale during the length of the bar –

Just before the end of bar one breathe in ready for bar two taking in enough air to run through the semi quavers landing on the minim in bar three where we hold for 2 beats, step to chord on beat 3, quick step through the semi quaver E to land on the final minim chord before resting on the last beat of the bar.

And Breathe.

Now doesn’t that feel good!

You will now feel like you have exercised.

Benefits –

  1. The music has more shape
  2. Your muscles will be topped up with oxygen
  3. Long term there is less risk of damage


My Vote for Practice 3 looks at the hugely important art of relaxation.