The “Dead-Handing” Exercise for Less Guitar Tension and More Stamina

Here’s a fun guitar tension exercise for you.

It will allow you to play each note with less tension and more ease.  This can help you build speed, avoid injury, and last longer on the guitar.

And all this leads to more freedom and flexibility in your guitar playing.

It’s super-easy, and you can do it even if you only started guitar yesterday.

And you won’t even need a guitar! You can do this right now, sitting at your computer or looking at your phone.


The “Dead-Handing” Guitar Tension Exercise

In the piano world, this exercise and technique is sometimes called “dead-handing.”

It sounds grim, but it’s how the greatest players stay loose at breakneck speeds.

As guitarists, the method makes for greater agility with less muscle. This means more stamina and less wear and tear.

Let’s start this exercise with the left hand. The added freedom and ease will help both left and right hands, but it is more immediately useful for the left hand.

Here we go…

We’ll do this on a tabletop or the arm of a chair.

Step One: Finger down

Touch the tabletop with the tip of your middle finger. Your fingers can curve naturally.

If other fingertips touch the table, that’s fine. But the middle fingertip is the tip of the spear.

Step Two: Release

Imagine your fingertip stuck like glue, while the rest of your finger and hand grow lighter and softer.

No need to push. The weight of the hand and arm are enough pressure.  Just imagine the fingertip heavy.

Let the softness and lightness move through your palm, wrist, forearm, upper arm, and shoulder.

The fingertip is solidly weighted to the table. All else is relaxed and easeful.

Step Three: Drop the wrist

Keeping your fingertip rooted to the spot, let your wrist drop. Release all the tension.  The weight of your entire arm is now supported by your fingertip.

If you notice any tension in your arm or shoulder, let it go.  Let go of your wrist, elbow, shoulder, neck, and anything else you can.

Just hanging.

Step Four: Stand up

Now “stand up” on your fingertip. Press into it. Your wrist comes up as your finger straightens.

Keep your shoulder and arm free and soft.

If you notice any excess effort, release it.

Repeat steps three and four and few times to get comfortable with it.  Imagine your surplus guitar tension melting away.

Step Five: Fall to the sides

Next, keeping your fingertip rooted, let your hand fall to the outside. Then return to midway and let it fall inward (it won’t go as far in this direction, but your loose wrist will come over).

Repeat this a few times to get comfortable moving side-to-side with the fingertip planted.

Step Six: Around the world

Now, keep your fingertip rooted and your arm and shoulder free (no need to lift or brace your shoulder).

Then move your hand in all directions.

Keep the tip heavy and rooted while your hand and wrist can move in 360 degrees around it.

Swing your weight from one position to the next. Go up and down, side-to-side, and all around the circle.

Step Seven: Invite other fingers to the game

Do this exercise with the other fingers.

Also, practice rocking from finger to finger as you move your wrist around the circle.

The more fluidly you can step from one note to the next with, the easier it will be to play.

That’s it!  You can now play guitar with less tension.

This exercise allows you to keep your wrist free and your hand and arm soft. All while keeping a fingertip placed solidly down.  This will help reduce your guitar tension and lead to better playing.

When you fret a note with the left hand on your guitar neck, you can bring this freedom of movement to it.

NOTE: At first, you’ll probably be stiffer than necessary. Do it a few times and use progressively less effort.

You can do this exercise anytime, so you’re always getting better at playing strong notes while keeping your big muscles loose and responsive.


Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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