There’s one basic polarity that seems to yield such a huge effect and has so many repercussions that one of my students sent me a long email about how much her experience of practicing had changed after she became aware of it. Here’s an excerpt (printed with her permission):
“I am feeling a direct connect between my mind, hands and back and shoulders and what sounds are happening. So I feel in control. By contrast I guess it felt, before focusing like this, that every time I played, I was pulling the handle on a slot machine…”
What is it? In my next post, I’ll reveal that, and I’ll give you a detailed exercise on how to access it’s benefits! Stay tuned.
So here’s the polarity: it’s basically an inside/outside thing: feeling vs. observing
How often do you look at your hands when you play? For most people the answer is “all the time” or “quite often.” But how often do you feel your hands when you play?
Most people are only dimly aware of the actual sensations in their hands when they play, even though the hands are exquisitely sensitive, and contain a wealth of information about what needs to happen, technically, in each moment, that can’t be accessed through watching your fingers.
In summary, guitarists spend a lot of time looking at their hands, and very little time feeling them. This is one of the worst mistakes you can make, because it’s a mistake that just keeps on creating more and more mistakes.
(an aside: this is why tendinitis can sneak up on us)
I am finding this to be one of the most immediately beneficial distinctions to make when struggling with technical problems. In fact, I’m almost afraid to tell you this, because you might just start figuring things out for yourself from here on out and not feel the need for a guitar teacher anymore!
So here’s an exercise that you can do to start accessing this awareness:
Almost everyone, unless they have been trained in esoteric yogic principles of some kind or other, approaches their instrument with a noted lack of body awareness. The more you are aware of , the more naturally you will develop your technique, musicianship, and the more supple and effective it will be.
Here’s a left-hand focused exercise for you to develop some insight into this important and often overlooked distinction that can often make all the difference. Before you start, find a short piece or a section of a piece that is causing you some technical trouble.
- Stretch beforehand. ( I will soon be posting some awesome, unique pre-practice “active” stretches that you can do in your chair. They were given to me by a cutting edge fitness expert/yoga teacher, and not only do they warm up your hands and forearms, they loosen and release the places that typically hold tension for guitarists)
- Sit up straight while at the same time relaxing and getting as comfortable as you can with the guitar.
- Breath deeply and release the breath several times. Become aware of your body. Try to stay aware of every aspect of your body, especially your back, your shoulders, and how they are connected to the arms and hands.
- Let go of the need to be perfect.
- Look at your left hand.
- Play the musical passage that you have chosen.
- If there is a mistake or a glitch, play it again, trying to fix it using whatever technical instructions you are aware of for optimum left hand positioning.
- Now, once you have a sense of the “lay of the land,” breathe in again, and release, coming back to as complete an awareness of your entire body as you can achieve. Especially focus on the shoulders and the arm.
- Soften the focus of your eyes, or even close them (this allows you to focus on subjective sensations)
- Pay attention to the sensations in your left hand.
- Play the musical passage you have chosen.
- Feel sensations in your hands and fingers as fully and completely as possible: how does it feel when your fingertips touch the strings? How does it feel when your hand moves, shifts, attempts a difficult transition? ? Aim for a state where your left hand is feeling relaxed and alive.
- How does your hand want to move? What does it want to do? Does this feel comfortable or uncomfortable?
- What is more comfortable? What is less comfortable?
- As you explore this, let your hand start to find its own way to a solution to your technical issue, using just the sensations and its own intuition.
- When you’re ready, focus your eyes back on the left hand and see what it’s doing now. Is there any difference in how it wants to move now, and how you were telling it to move a few moments earlier? Which is more comfortable or effective in solving your technical issue?
- If it’s still not clear how to play this passage technically, continue this process for as long as you need, going back into the sensation of playing, and comparing it your observation of what is happening, while staying relaxed and aware of your body and breath as possible.
I’ll be offering more detailed instructions later on, complete with video and specifics on ideal right hand usage. But for now, try this out. If it works for you in any way, I’d love to hear about it in the comment lines of this post!!
If you don’t want to keep having to check back, join my Art of Guitar mailing list! You can opt out at any time, and I promise only to send helpful and interesting updates. Here’s a limited time offer, while I work on some more learning-related content to offer you: if you join you will get a free mp3 download of my San Francisco Concert CD.
This is a concert that went exceptionally well, and I was fortunate to get a good recording of. It contains over an hour of high energy, highly communicative and virtuosic guitar playing, including great live versions of the Variations on a Mongolian Folk Song, the Spooky Blues, and other published scores. It also includes a rip-roaring performance of Jose Luis Merlin’s popular Suite Del Recuerdo, and some pieces that I love but only performed a few times: the adventuresome and quirky Quando Rondo, and three movement Sonata (published by Les Productions d’Oz.
Jay, what a superb website and content!!!