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  1. #1

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    I've been working really hard on hashing out all the extra tension in my body while playing. I have found it to be a real mental and physical challenge. I have found that getting my back, neck and shoulder muscles relaxed is the biggest challenge of all. Over the years I have really tensed myself up, and I am starting to feel the consequences. Of course the concentration and mental aspect is up to me, but i was wondering if there is there anything you guys found to be helpful to solve this problem?

    Thank you
    Last edited by blues442; 07-08-2015 at 10:56 PM.

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  3. #2

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    You might consider doing some very light stretching and maybe 15 minutes of quiet meditation before playing. I think your whole body "follows" your hands when playing, so if you're "clenching" the neck, everything else tenses up too. That being said, "total relaxation" is a misnomer when playing; you have more control of your fingers when you keep a consistent, barely perceptible activation of muscle fibers in your hands. For me, the process of maintaing my fingers close to the board with fingers hovering "where they'll most likely be needed next" is just the right amount of "tension". Again, this is a very minimal activation of muscles (not that you have any muscles in your fingers - they're in your forearm) prepared for a coming task. Completely relax your hand and your fingers will naturally curl inward, now extend them straight and hold them without locking the joints- that's minimal about of "tension" is just what you need.

  4. #3

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    As in virtually all technical problems, the best solution is to slow down and be totally focused and mindful of each hand, and both together. Depending on time available, a good program would include several "movement forms": alternate picking of chromatic patterns across the fingerboard (1,2,3,4; 1,3,2,4; 1,4,2,3; 1.2.4.3; 1,3,4,2; 1.4.3.2), a chord study or two, and perhaps some string-skipping exercises like 6ths or 10ths. Start at 1/8 notes with the metronome on 30, spend 10 minutes on each form (you can do a different chromatic pattern each day up and down the fingerboard, and a different chord study, etc., as long as they are they same approximate level of difficulty). 30 minutes a day, increasing the metronome speed by 5 each day. You will double the tempo in one week, and double it again in 12 more days. As you do this in a reasonably relaxed manner, you will find that in about 3-4 weeks you will have changed your approach and become less tense; your left-right coordination will be much improved, and, if you're listening to your practicing (not everybody does), you'll have an improved tone as well. Most likely the Leavitt Berklee Method will have the exercises that will be most useful. But do this for a month, and you'll see real progress.

  5. #4
    Thank you guys, plenty of good information here. Will try it out.

    I have been really slowing down lately, trying to relax and play at very slow speeds. I'm seeing progress in my hands, left hand dexterity, and my picking hand. Over the passed couple weeks, I've been working similarly to how you described I should. A lot of great improvement. Today I really zoned in on my neck and shoulders and it's actually starting to become less tense and achey.
    Last edited by blues442; 07-09-2015 at 03:37 PM.

  6. #5

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    Sometimes doing deep breathing exercises with a relaxation device can work wonders...


  7. #6
    No doubt that sometimes works, but sometimes it does the opposite.. I wish it was as easy as getting toasty
    Last edited by blues442; 07-09-2015 at 03:38 PM.

  8. #7

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    Sometimes it is as simple as taking notice of the tension and saying let it go. Also figuring out the why of it, may help a lot.
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  9. #8
    destinytot Guest
    Alexander Technique Self Study

    Studying Alexander Technique helps with learning Tai Chi, which I swear by:

  10. #9

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    Go watch a video of Julian Lage, who is one of the most relaxed looking guitarists I have ever seen. He uses the Alexander method and has gone so far as to apply the principles to picking and fingering. At the same time he is not one to pussyfoot around on the guitar- he has a strong attack and is of the mind that you have to give it a pretty good thwack to get the most out of it tone-wise.

  11. #10

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    @Cosmic, thanks, I am now wiping the Doritos off my screen.

    How about a humor alert next time.

    I'm telling you(shaking my head), what a sense of humor. LOL
    "Ahhh - those Jazz guys are just makin' that stuff up!" - Homer Simpson

    "Anyone who understands Jazz knows that you can't understand it. It's too complicated. That's what's so simple about it." - Yogi Berra

  12. #11
    thanks a lot everyone

    the alexander technique is actually something I have been looking into. I heard you can learn from a teacher, as a lot of music schools seem to include the alexander technique in their curriculum. I also read that the creator of the alexander technique developed it through self-study. so I assume that anyone can develop alexanders technique on their own. Also, the tai-chi video you posted is great. I am seriously considering practicing it, through this guy's videos. I am open to a lot of things, I meditate daily as well, so I'm really happy you suggested this.
    Last edited by blues442; 07-09-2015 at 11:45 PM.

  13. #12

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    Breathing is something to be aware of. If you hold your breath when you tense up it can affect your muscles, making the tension worse.

  14. #13
    that is a great suggestion. thank you.

  15. #14

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    One teacher told me to play a major scale with so little pressure that the notes fret buzzed.
    Brings the attention back to the fingers and demonstrates how little pressure is needed.

  16. #15
    destinytot Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by blues442 View Post
    thanks a lot everyone

    the alexander technique is actually something I have been looking into. I heard you can learn from a teacher, as a lot of music schools seem to include the alexander technique in their curriculum. I also read that the creator of the alexander technique developed it through self-study. so I assume that anyone can develop alexanders technique on their own. Also, the tai-chi video you posted is great. I am seriously considering practicing it, through this guy's videos. I am open to a lot of things, I meditate daily as well, so I'm really happy you suggested this.
    I'm glad. There is plenty that you can do without a teacher.

    I would start here (EDIT: it may not be obvious, so I'll take the liberty of adding that the intro credits on this video are ironic), paying special attention to what is said from 6m10s (about tucking the tailbone) and staying within soft limits:


    I find the Alexander Technique to be the perfect complement to studying tai chi; you can't practise tai chi until you know enough form, and the Alexander Technique can help you learn form quickly because it involves bringing body awareness to action, and making an art of change. This TEDx talk is an interesting introduction:


    What I recommend most about the Alexander Technique is the 'semi-supine position of maximum rest for the spine.' (I have something on an old cassette - PM me if interested.) The 'self-talk' of Alexander helps focus intention and purpose, although ultimately I prefer the flow - meditation in movement - of tai chi because it's suited to art on many levels (not just physical).

    Regarding 'complete relaxation', I actually consider the quality which Ian Sinclair explains in this video (not the martial application ) to be the most useful when it comes to playing guitar - for which, as with tai chi, we need to know form.


    PS This is the form I practise: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheng_...g.27s_Sequence
    Last edited by destinytot; 07-11-2015 at 11:51 PM. Reason: addition

  17. #16

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    Great thread! I know many people who look for the ways of relaxation. Personally I suffered from anxiety and the only thing that helped me was Medical Cannabis. But recently I've tried yoga, professional massage and started attending pool and gym. I should say, it really helps. But I've also found several great suggestions here and I'm going to try them. Thanks for sharing your experience, guys!

  18. #17

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    Learning a presencing technique in which you practice experiencing your body "at rest" is a great help in quickly recognizing quickly when you begin to tense up. Once you learn the exercise you can do it throughout the day for 30 seconds. The better you get at it the easier it is to bring yourself back to relaxed. It's teaching your whole body to be relaxed and you to be centered.


    I can email you an exercise if you're interested.

  19. #18

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    Since this old thread has found new life, I'll offer my technique.

    I tend to turn my head down and to the left looking at my left hand. Eventually my neck, shoulder and arm are locked-in and tense with shallow breaths.

    For me, doing the opposite releases much of the tension. In other words, look up and to the right and breathe. Free to try. Easy to do.

  20. #19

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    I think if I was completely relaxed I would start dosing off. I know I would always fall asleep in college drama class when we would do relaxation exercises. A bit of tension keeps me focused and alert.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by vashondan View Post
    Learning a presencing technique in which you practice experiencing your body "at rest" is a great help in quickly recognizing quickly when you begin to tense up. Once you learn the exercise you can do it throughout the day for 30 seconds. The better you get at it the easier it is to bring yourself back to relaxed. It's teaching your whole body to be relaxed and you to be centered.


    I can email you an exercise if you're interested.
    Could you PM it to me?

  22. #21

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    10 breaths, eyes closed, in through nose, out through mouth.

    The other great way to eliminate tension while playing is to make sure you know the songs you're playing.
    Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/jeffreymatz

    "Jazz is like life...it goes on longer than you think, and as soon as you're like 'oh, I get it,' it ends."

    --The Ghost of Duke Ellington

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    Could you PM it to me?
    Hi, will do when I get home this afternoon. Dan