The Most Important Advice For Any Musician
This might be the most important topic I've ever written about and maybe the most important advice any musician can get. So what's this holy grail of massive improvement of playing? Not to keep you waiting, it's playing relaxed.
I too was a slave to my body for a long time. I simply didn't realize what was holding me back. I thought I wasn't talented enough, I thought I had physical obstacles and whatnot. I was always struggling with more difficult parts, no matter how much I practiced them. Even worse, when I as practicing and no one was listening I sounded good sometimes, but on stage and under pressure my performance was poor. Simply because no one has ever told me what I'm about to tell you.
Muscle tension is the worst enemy of playing lightly, fluid and effortless. Have you ever wondered how your guitar hero makes it look so easy, so effortless? Of course you have, haven't we all? To some of them "naturally talented" guitarists, playing relaxed came by accident. They weren't aware of it, and therefore they actually couldn't advice anyone to do so. To them it's obvious and not worth of mentioning.
When we're talking about playing relaxed, we firstly think of our "tools" - our hands. Our hands should be as relaxed as possible. We should push our fingers to the strings just enough to get the tone we want, anything more is a waste of energy. The same goes for our right hand, we should limit our pick movement to the amount of getting the string to sing with the desired articulation. Anything more is a waste of time and energy. Of course, the proper technique is just as important, but that's what you should get from a good and competent teacher in your area. Along with some relaxation techniques and exercises to separate fingers one from another.
But our hands are not at all everything we should be careful about. Every muscle in our body counts. You should pay attention to what is happening in whole of your body while you play. At first it will be overwhelming, you will have a difficulty thinking and playing at the same time, but if you pay attention and relax constantly, your body will learn how to play relaxed spontaneously. Many of my students automatically lift their shoulder while they play. I used to do so as well to be honest. Even more of my students don't sit straight up, but have bent back. All this can lead to tensions in your hands - more difficult to play, but in a long run also bad posture, which after time results in back pain, or even scoliosis. This might also damage your nerves after some time lead to obdormition. You should always take care of having a proper body posture while you play, no matter if you're standing or sitting. A footstool can make a lot of difference in relaxation of your legs, the position of your guitar should be such, that it stays in place if you lift your hands and sit relaxed.
But it's not always easy to even stop the tension, because you get used to the feeling, and it becomes natural for you. Sometimes it becomes so natural, that some of my students almost refused to relax, since this was their "style" of playing. It's important to be able to spot the tension. For this you will almost certainly need a good guitar teacher, who will spot it, point it out for you and keep reminding you of it when you slip back to your old habit, until your body stamps it into your muscle memory. A good way to spot the tension and especially bad posture is also to practice in front of a mirror. Here you should follow a simple rule - if it doesn't look right it probably isn't.
If you'll keep attention to your body and keep it constantly relaxed, you will soon acknowledge the difference and improvement in all aspects of your playing. And even better, you will feel almost as if you don't have to give your best to sound perfect.
This article was written by a professional guitar teacher from Slovenia, Nejc Vidmar. He went through this processes by himself, but also constantly encourages his students to apply it to their playing, so he's able to point out its advantages firsthand.