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Guitar Lesson Article:
by Jamie Andreas
Discover Your Discomfort!
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Okay, I'm going to explain some powerful things for the practicing
guitarist who wants to see RESULTS from their practice. In other words, the
guitarist who wants to do what I call CORRECT PRACTICE.
Have you ever had trouble playing something on the guitar? Have you
ever seen or heard someone play something, and then tried to do it yourself? Maybe
you practiced for a long time, and ended up with only frustration and bad feelings
about yourself as a player? Be honest now. I've been playing for 30 years,
and I have never met a player, including myself, who could honestly answer no
to that question.
There are a few things that are always true when we are unable to play
something we want to play on the guitar.
One of the things that you will always find, if you look for it, is
what Arron Shearer called, in his first book, uncontrolled muscle tension.
Many, many players have in fact commented on this fact, mainly because it
becomes obvious to anyone who plays for awhile, pays attention, and
starts to discover the path to gaining increased ability on the guitar. Many
people mention it. The problem is they never tell you what to do about it!
Oh sure, you'll hear people say "play S-L-O-W-LY", or "RELAX"! I
asked, ordered, screamed, and pleaded with students to do that for probably 20
years, before I realized that almost no one was listening to me, or
maybe they didn't believe me, or maybe they thought I was kidding (well,
his face is turning purple, but, nah, I don't think he's serious)!
No, it seems most people would rather try to play that bar chord or
that scale with their shoulders tensed up to their ears, their pinky tensed
up and pulled 2 inches from the neck as they dislocate their shoulder trying
to get it to it's note on time, practice and play that way day in and day
out, and then wonder why they find that scale hard to play, that it breaks down
at a certain speed. Or maybe they wonder why they have a pain here or there.
Hell, they may be really persistent and keep at it till they qualify for this
new disease I'm always reading about, Repetitive Strain Injury.
I was teaching a new student about a year ago who we'll call Tom. Tom had
been teaching himself for a few years, and he is very musical and very intelligent.
He'd managed to learn fingerstyle guitar well enough to attempt some rather
challenging pieces, including some classical repertoire. In fact, he
would play for friends and often impress them.
However, he never played anywhere near
his best in these circumstances, and the piece would often break down somewhere.
He also had a growing pain in his left shoulder when he practiced.
Tom has two very important qualities that a player must have in order
to overcome problems, and make what I call Vertical Growth. Those two
things are Desire, and Honesty.
Tom doesn't have the pain in his shoulder anymore, and his playing is
getting better and better. This is because he has learned a few things. He has
learned about the incredible state of muscular relaxation that a player
must have as they play. He has learned how difficult it is to actually make
sure you have that relaxation as you play. He has learned about Sympathetic
Tension, how every time you use one muscle, others also become tense,
and how if you are not aware of it and allow it to be there, it becomes locked
into the muscles through the power of Muscle Memory.
Tom is also learning, over time, that by always making the effort to
focus his attention on this muscle tension, he can always eliminate some part
of it, and by consistently doing this in practice, things begin to feel
easier and easier, because he was really fighting his own muscle tension,
which made it feel so hard.
Tom inspired me to invent a phrase, something for him to always keep in
mind when he practices. In fact, I told him to do what I do. Write it out on
a sign and keep it somewhere in front of him as he practices. On the
music stand or taped to the wall like I do. The phrase is "DISCOVER YOUR
DISCOMFORT". Pay attention, notice what happens in the body as you
play. How does it feel. Good players are not experiencing that discomfort when
they do the thing you struggle to do. If they had to struggle they wouldn't
be good players!
Now as usually happens, I began to use the phrase myself, and began to
discover new levels of my own discomfort. And I began to see my playing
improve, I mean fundamentally improve. You see, there is no end to this
Why do so many of us allow such discomfort when we practice and play?
There are many reasons, I'll go in to them at another time. What I want to
do now is give you some ways of discovering your own discomfort, and begin to
Hold the guitar as comfortable as you can.
Allow your left arm to hand limp at your side.
Place your right hand fingers on the strings, keeping them very loose
and relaxed. If you use a pick, float the pick in between two strings and
keep it there.
Focus your attention on your shoulders, as you raise your left hand
slowly. Raise it straight up without extending it, and place all your fingers
on the sixth string, around the tenth fret. Keep them on the string so
lightly that you don't even press the string down. (Not easy at first)!
Do you feel anything in your right shoulder as you do this? Do you feel
any tightness come in to the pick hand, perhaps you are gripping the pick
tighter, or tensing your wrist? Be honest now.
Keeping your left hand fingers on the string lightly, begin to move
your hand down toward the first fret. You must do this VERY SLOWLY. Notice what
happens throughout your body. As I have had students do this, I have seen
everything from tense ankles or belly, to practically falling off the chair!
I hope I have provided a starting point for further investigations
and insights for you. Take anything you find hard to do, stop yourself in
the middle of it, and check out what is happening in your body. You will be
For more information on how to develop these insights, visit http://www.guitarprinciples.com.
Click here for more of Jamie's articles
Copyright 2002 Jamie Andreas.
Jamie’s provocative writings examine all aspects of becoming a true musician…the technical/physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions. Guitar virtuoso, recording artist, composer, and teacher of 30 years, Jamie is recognized by music experts around the globe for her major contribution to the advancement of guitar education.
Her method book, “The Principles Of Correct Practice For Guitar” (1999) continues to bring the highest acclaim, world renowned as “The International Bible For Guitarists”, and the “Holy Grail Of Guitar Books.” With a straight forward writing style, her tried and true, result-oriented guitar book powerfully reveals the correct practice methods that no other book has revealed…taking the student from the beginning stages all the way to the highest levels of virtuosity.
Jamie is already familiar to aspiring guitar players, as her wisdom is present throughout the Web on all major guitar sites, including her own. Visit: www.guitarprinciples.com
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