Discover Your Discomfort! Why Are So Many Guitarists Masochists?
Okay, I’m going to explain some powerful things for anyone who wants to see RESULTS from their guitar practice, and really learn how to play the guitar well. In other words, the guitarist who wants to do what I call CORRECT PRACTICE.
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Have You Ever Had Trouble Playing Something On The Guitar?
Have you ever seen or heard someone play something, tried to do it yourself, maybe practiced it for a long time, and ended up with only frustration and bad feelings about yourself as a player? Be honest now. I’ve been playing for 30 years, and giving guitar lessons for 27 years, and I have never met a player, including myself, who could honestly answer no to that question.
There are a few things that are always true when we are unable to play something we want to play on the guitar.
Uncontrolled Muscle Tension
One of the things that you will always find if you look for it, is what Aaron Shearer called, in his first book, uncontrolled muscle tension. Many, many players have in fact commented on this fact, mainly because this fact becomes obvious to anyone who plays for a while, pays attention, and starts to discover the path to gaining increasing ability on the guitar. Many people mention it. The problem is they never tell you what to do about it!
Oh sure, you’ll hear people say “play S-L-O-W-LY”, or “RELAX”! I asked, ordered, screamed, and pleaded with students to do that for probably 20 years before I realized that almost no one was listening to me, or maybe they didn’t believe me, or maybe they thought I was kidding (well, his face is turning purple, but, Nah, I don’t think he’s serious)!
No, it seems most people would rather try to play that bar chord or that scale with their shoulders tensed up to their ears, their pinky tensed up and pulled 2 inches from the neck as they dislocate their shoulder trying to get it to its note on time, practice and play that way day in and day out, and then wonder why they find that scale hard to play, that it breaks down at a certain speed. Or maybe they wonder why they have pain here or there. Hell, they may be really persistent and keep at it till they qualify for this new disease I’m always reading about, Repetitive Strain Injury.
Student Guitarist "Tom"
Guitarists, Discover Your Discomfort
Tom inspired me to invent a phrase, something for him to always keep in mind when he practices. In fact, I told him to do what I do. Write it out on a sign and keep it somewhere in front of him as he practices. On the music stand or taped to the wall as I do. The phrase is “DISCOVER YOUR DISCOMFORT”. Pay attention, and notice what happens in the body as you play. How does it feel? Good players are not experiencing that discomfort when they do the thing you struggle to do. If they had to struggle they wouldn’t be good players!
Now as usually happens, I began to use the phrase myself and began to discover new levels of my own discomfort. And I began to see my playing improve, I mean fundamentally improve. You see, there is no end to this process.
Why do so many of us allow such discomfort when we practice and play? There are many reasons, I’ll go into them at another time. What I want to do now is give you some ways of discovering your own discomfort, and begin to minimize it.
- Hold the guitar as comfortably as you can.
- Allow your left arm to hang limply at your side.
- Place your right-hand fingers on the strings, keeping them very loose and relaxed. If you use a pick, float the pick in between two strings and keep it there.
- Focus your attention on your shoulders, as you raise your left hand slowly. Raise it straight up without extending it, and place all your fingers on the sixth string, around the tenth fret. Keep them on the string so lightly, you don’t even press the string down. (Not easy at first)!
- Do you feel anything in your right shoulder as you do this? Do you feel any tightness come into the picking hand, perhaps you are gripping the pick tighter, or tensing your wrist? Be honest now.
- Keeping your left-hand fingers on the string lightly, begin to move your hand down toward the first fret. You must do this VERY SLOWLY. Notice what happens throughout your body. As I have had students do this, I have seen everything from tense ankles or bellies, to practically falling off the chair!
I hope I have provided a starting point for further investigations and insights for you. Take anything you find hard to do, stop yourself in the middle of it, and check out what is happening in your body. You will be amazed.
Copyright 2000 Jamie Andreas. All rights reserved.
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