Today we’re going to talk about how to relax while playing the guitar, and how to play with less tension. Relaxing and playing relaxed is one of the keys to increased stamina in guitar playing. As we play guitar, tension can build up in the arms and hands, and cause fatigue and prevent us from being able to play at our best.
If you have been playing and learning guitar for a while, and you’re at a point where you notice you get tired quickly while playing, you might want to look at you’re state of relaxation, and any tension that might exist as you play.
Or, if you find that you are not playing the guitar as fast as you want to, even after much practice, you might want to investigate the area of relaxation, and tension in guitar playing.
We want to be very comfortable with the guitar when we hold it and play it. We want to think of the guitar as an extension of our arm, hand, finger, an extensions of ourselves. We want to aim to hold the guitar in a comfortable way, and to use left hand and right hand techniques that are gentle, efficient, natural, and relaxing.
These are the goals. They are not always easy to accomplish, though. But it’s worth taking some time and effort to continuously work towards these goals. The payoff is great playing, with a minimum of tiredness and fatigue.
You will be better able to play guitar at your best when you are playing in the most relaxed manner possible, with the least amount of tension and stress possible. Let’s turn now to the list of ways to relax more when playing the guitar:
Warm up before playing. Before you play a song, or even before you begin a practice session, take a moment to get your hands ready to play the guitar. This warm-up could consist of a number of different exercises, you could try some and choose the method you like best. The important thing being to have some sort of personal warm up routine.
Some people find it useful to make a clenched fist for a few seconds, and then release the pressure. Music stores sell these grip strengthening / exercise type devices that some people find useful for warm-up purposes. Some musicians find that playing some different scales makes a good warm up exercise.
You may want to invent something to play on the guitar that you use for a warm-up exercise. The idea being to transition into a playing guitar state, and get yourself ready to make music on the guitar.
And, in addition to a warm up for your hands, consider a warm up of sorts for your mind. The state of your mind, whether happy, worried, etc will affect the way you play. It’s to your advantage to have it in the best shape possible.
Clear your mind, and put aside any minor annoyances or clutter thoughts that could get in the way of a good performance. Put your mind in a state that it is ready to make music, ready to communicate with an audience musically, and ready to entertain people and have fun.
Use the least amount of pressure possible when you fret a string. To see how little pressure you really need on a string, start by playing with a buzzing note, then slowing increase the pressure pressing the string against the fret just until the note sounds cleanly.
This is the minimum pressure and this is the amount of pressure to aim for with everything you play. Think of the value this light pressure will have on allowing you to play more relaxed. And don’t worry about string buzz. A slight buzz here and there is easier to correct than getting into the habit of clenching down too hard on the strings. Always aim for as light a touch as you possibly can as you fret the strings. Relaxation will soar.
By the way, there is something similar to this for the right hand. The playing relaxed goal for the picking hand is to aim to keep the amount of pick movement to a minimum. Work on moving the pick the least distance possible. For alternate picking, keep the back and forth distance as small as you can. Aim to play with the left wrist as straight as possible.
As we play guitar, the fingers on our left hand are moving around quite a bit as the fret chords and lead parts. As the fingers move around to play their chords and lead part on the fretboard, there is a lot of tendon movement inside the wrist. By maintaining the wrist as straight as possible, there is the most space and least resistance for the tendons to move around unobstructed.
Depending on what is being played this is sometimes easier said than done, but think of it as a goal to shoot for whenever possible. The benefit will be less fatigue, less chance of wrist injury, and a more relaxed and pain free guitar playing style.
Sometimes it’s helpful to watch yourself play guitar in front of a mirror in order to see how your hand and wrist is coming off the neck of the guitar. You can use this information to make adjustments in positioning to get the optimum wrist angle. Often it is simply a matter of adjusting how the guitar hangs from the strap.
Keeping the wrist in line might mean having to hold the guitar body a little higher up but it will reduce tension during play and allow for a more relaxed playing style.
Take a deep breath. Concentrate on breathing and be sure to consciously take a deep breath as often as you can. When we tense up for a difficult part or for some other reason, we tend to stop breathing or do it less. This point will benefit you in your personal practice sessions, but also in any live performance situations. If you focus on regular breathing, and take deep breaths, you will relax your entire body and give it the oxygen it needs to be at peak performance level.
Take your time when working out a new piece of music or a new guitar technique. Try not to underestimate the amount of time and effort learning something new on the guitar is going to take you. Spend a lot of time playing a piece slowly and accurately before speeding it up.
Speeding up too quickly can force mistakes, and create tension in playing. Practicing a piece patiently and moving to tempo when all technical issues have been addressed will maintain calmness, and contribute to a more relaxed style of guitar playing.
Every guitar player is little different. Your mileage may vary, etc. Some items on this list will come naturally to some of us, and others will need to have more work and attention. Some guitar players are naturally more relaxed than others. No matter where each of us finds ourselves, we can always move towards being more relaxed when we play.
Some experts suggest that putting a smile on your face is a way to relax and release tension. There’s no question how naturally relaxing it is to simply smile, and if this can help relax and relieve tension and promote better playing go for it.
But the fact of the matter is that anything you can do to increase your relaxation while playing the guitar will benefit you in the area of being a better player, and being able to play longer without getting tired.