Improve Your Guitar Playing The Easy Way
Are you practicing hard but still feel like you’re not making much progress with your guitar playing? Here are some suggestions for making improvements by taking a more relaxed approach.
In western culture there’s this very pervasive and rather silly macho attitude where hard work is seen as a great virtue. Many people even appear to think that nothing that’s worth having comes without a struggle (and the longer and harder that struggle, the better!). Many musicians also have this belief, which is unfortunate, since it’s counterproductive in most cases – because it ignores the fact that real achievement often follows work done in a state of flow: a good-feeling state from which stress and strain are absent.
Regular guitar practice is certainly necessary if you want to progress, but these practice sessions shouldn’t be unpleasant or difficult. If you’ve been attempting to improve your guitar skills the hard way, and still aren’t progressing as you’d like, try making three extremely simple changes. Your practice will be less stressful and more enjoyable, and it’ll almost certainly become easier to play guitar better too.
1. Relax Physically
First, it’s important to stay physically relaxed. It’s easy (and common) for people to tense up when playing, usually without even realising it. Tension often develops in the arms, shoulders and hands, which can affect your performance, and even lead to injury eventually. I used to have a bad habit of pressing the strings too hard with my left index finger, and eventually the top joint became so painful I had to take a break from playing altogether. You don’t want that to happen!
So make a point of checking yourself every now and then, and making sure you’re not tensing up. In particular, don’t use too much pressure in your fretting hand – just press hard enough for the notes to sound without any buzzing. Learning guitar is challenging, and can even be a bit painful in the beginning when you’re developing your calluses and getting used to holding your hands in odd positions, but once you’re past that it shouldn’t be hard physical work. It’s difficult to play an instrument well when your body isn’t healthy, so don’t bring problems on yourself by developing bad habits that put the body under unnecessary stress. Your playing will be more expressive and fluid when you’re relaxed too, and the whole process more enjoyable.
2. Take Regular Breaks
Following on from the above point, it’s important to take regular breaks while practicing. This will not only give your hands and other body parts a rest, but your mind and ears too.
Try stopping every 5-10 minutes or so to stretch out your hands and arms, and every 20-30 minutes, put the guitar aside and stretch your legs and the rest of your body too, and give yourself a physical and mental rest. This will help to prevent overuse injuries by keeping your muscles relaxed, and to prevent ear fatigue too. And since even the most interesting activities (like guitar playing!) can pall a while, changing your focus periodically will help keep your practice sessions interesting.
3. Lighten Up
Your mental attitude can sometimes be another source of stress. People learn to play for different reasons, but the most successful musicians are those who play primarily for the love of it.
Stress is often the result of other considerations getting in the way. These include external factors like music exams, trying to impress other people, critical teachers, trying to make money from playing, etc. If things like this are a large part of your motivation for wanting to learn to play, it can be easy to begin taking your guitar playing too seriously (in a negative way). This attitude can destroy the joy that comes with playing simply because you love it, and can turn practice sessions into a chore.
There’s nothing wrong with having these other factors play a part in your musical life – but such end goals should never be more important than the pleasure that you can gain from playing your guitar right now, in this moment. Try to keep your focus in the present, and not only will your guitar practice sessions be more fun and effective, but the secondary goals will come more easily too.
Keep these tips in mind, and remember that above all, this should be fun – you’re “playing” the guitar after all, not working it!