How to Change Your Technique in an Instant – Use Half the Effort
Most of us want to play guitar fluidly. We want effortless grace, so we can move around the instrument with ease.
But most of us also battle excess tension. And this tension is getting in the way of our playing. If we can release it, we will play with the ease and poise we would prefer. But is it that simple? It can be.
Notice Tension and Suggest Otherwise
Most tension is habitual, so we don’t notice it. For example, chances are right now you can find some muscle in your body that is tensed without reason.
For every action, there is an appropriate amount of muscular effort. This is true even for sitting, reading, or laying down.
If we use the appropriate amount, it’s easy. If we use more than needed, it’s not as easy as it could be.
The first step is to play with ease is to acknowledge that we are doing more than needed. We are using muscles more than is required to sit up and play the notes on the guitar.
The next step is to release the excess tension. This can be tricky. We probably do not know what is appropriate. This is because what “feels natural” is actually whatever we are familiar with.
Excess tension, therefore, feels natural.
But there is a quick and painless way to release loads of tension in an instant.
“Can I use half the effort to do this?”
We can pause and ask the question, “Can I use half the effort to do this?” When we do, if we allow it, we will then release unnecessary tension. No work on our part needed.
We can then ask the question again. And again. We may notice changes in our bodies for the first 2–4 times we ask the question and allow a response.
We can practice this by walking across a room, lifting something, or just sitting. It may feel like falling.
Note: This does not mean we need to collapse. We can stay upright, supported by our skeletons, which are designed for this purpose.
Now, as we put our attention on something specific, such as playing guitar, the tension may return. This is because tension is a habit.
If we notice that tension has returned, we can ask the question again. We release, work, release, work. One after the next, all at the same time.
Over time and with practice, we change our habits of tension. We begin to feel more natural when playing with ease and appropriate tension.
Practical Applications of the Tension Release
We can practice this release throughout our days. Any activity will likely improve if we use ourselves more efficiently.
But in guitar especially, we can use this to great effect.
If a passage in a piece of music is difficult, we can play it slower, focused on using half the effort. In our necks, shoulders, arms, wrists, palms, and fingers.
Likewise, we can bring tension awareness into our technique practice. Scales, right-hand patterns (arpeggios), exercises, and more can all benefit from this work.
Stretches come more easily without undue stress. The fingers move more lightly and dexterously across the strings. Chords are more precise and shifts land more accurately.
In any moment, we can ask this simple question and allow our body to respond with an answer. And as we ask and ask again, our technique improves, whether we make other changes or not.
*Many thanks to Robert Rickover for this idea.
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.
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