by Jamie Andreas
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Discomfort I urged you to become aware of
the sensations of discomfort you experience while practicing and playing.
The reason is very simple. Until you do, you will not be able to be aware
of the sensations (that is, your mental awareness of the physical feelings in
your body) a good player has, the sensations that you must have to play
well. I call this sensation, or feeling in the body, "The Incredible
Lightness". I call it this, because once you experience it, and allow it to grow by
Correct Practicing, well, it's Incredible. This feeling of lightness is what
makes fast, accurate playing possible. Unfortunately, because of ignorance of
how to practice correctly, far too many players create for themselves "The
I will quote myself to bring this point home:
"The relative state of tension or relaxation in the muscles is one of
the hardest things to be aware of. I once saw a person play with so much
tension in her right shoulder that it was up to her earlobe! Always trying to
be helpful, I pointed this out to her when she finished. As she let her
shoulder down a few inches to it's normal position, she told me I was wrong,
she wasn't tense, but very relaxed!
The reason she felt this way is because we very quickly become used
to whatever we experience, and consider it normal. We never question
whatever tensions we experience in learning new skills on the guitar, and in
fact consider it part of the doing of it. And it often is, but it doesn't
have to continue to be that strenuous. We can learn to do the movements with
However, when we first try something, it is often not possible to do it
without a lot of excess tension. The mistake is, we assume that the
tension is inevitable, and never realize we can get to a point where we can get
the result we want without all the huffing, puffing and straining. Often,
more stretch or muscle development is required, which will come with a
Of course, as we continue to try the new skill, and assume the effort
we feel must be that way, it becomes ingrained into our approach, and gets
worse. So we have a vicious circle, that leads to frustration and bad playing.
So extra tension in the muscles, which every advanced player knows is
the number one cause of playing difficulty, becomes a blind spot for us.
Usually we are only aware of the result of the tension, which is that mistake
we just made. Often it happens we are not even aware of that, because we start
to filter out those unpleasant reminders of our troubles.
As you will see shortly, the correct approach to dealing with
"mistakes" caused by tension, is to repeat the movement extremely slowly, with a
great focus on keeping all muscles relaxed. With each repetition, the muscles
learn the relaxed way of moving to produce the result you want. "
So you see, it is lack of understanding of how the body/mind functions,
and lack of honest attention while practicing, that gets us in to trouble.
You must start to observe your own "Tightness", and replace it with
"Lightness", then you will see your level as a player change upward,
what I call Vertical Growth. Since many players have no idea what this
lightness feels like, here is a very simple way to connect with it. You must then
begin to cultivate this feeling in actual playing. Believe me, it feels good!
In fact, when you see a good player "making it look easy", it's because
it is easy, when you have the "Incredible Lightness".
Let's discover "The Light Finger"
The first step in finding "The Incredible Lightness" is to discover The
Light Finger. The Light Finger is the completely relaxed finger, brought to
the string, and touching the string, with only the weight of the finger. It
does not press the string down until told to do so. To discover the
sensation of the Light Finger, do this:
Raise your arms in front of you, without the guitar, and take hold of
the index finger of your left hand with the thumb and index finger of your
right hand. Completely relax the left index, and wiggle it around with your
right hand. This is the Light Finger.
Touch the palm of your right hand with your left index. Raise the left
index two inches from the palm. Now let it drop by it's own weight back to
your palm, touching it very lightly, with no pressure. This is how the
finger feels when it first touches the string.
Now hold the guitar, paying attention to the being comfortable and
relaxed throughout the body, and slowly raise your relaxed left arm up to the
neck, bringing the hand up so that the index finger is lined up with the
ninth fret. Have your fingers in a relaxed curl over the 6th string. Allow
your Light, relaxed middle finger to fall to the 6th string, behind the 10th
fret, so that it touches the string, but applies no pressure. Look at the
string under your finger, and see the distance between the string and the
fingerboard. Make sure the string does not get move at all down toward
Raise your finger an inch, and then bring it back to touch the string
again in the same way. Do this over and over, touching the string with the
Light Finger, bringing it away, and touching it again. This is called Finger
Flapping. Do this a few times with each finger every day. Make sure you
keep the inactive fingers as relaxed as possible while touching the string
with the active finger. This will get you used to the feeling, and over
time, very sensitive to the feeling of complete relaxation.
This light feeling is how your fingers will be when they first touch
the string to play a note, and it is the feeling they will return to when
they release from a note. It enables them to be prepared for their next job.
Many people never have this light feeling, and play with tense fingers all
the time, and their playing suffers greatly because of it.
This exercise is what I call a Foundation Exercise, one that should be
done regularly, no matter how long you have been playing. It will
continually act to increase your awareness of the correct and necessary sensations you
must have in order to play well. Learning how to bring this feeling in to
all playing situations is often a tricky matter, and there is much else to
know, but we have to start somewhere!
Here is why. Speed, or the ability to execute movements rapidly and
accurately, is simply the result of continuous correct practice that
promotes "The Incredible Lightness". If you are creating "The Incredible
Tightness" when you practice, you will suffer because of it. Think of walking and
running. Does a little kid have to practice running? No, it just
happens after balance is mastered, and the ability to place one foot in front
of the other, and have all the body parts work together to keep the movement
going. After the two year old gets that down, don't worry, he'll be
In closing, let me say that all the preceding is founded upon the first
two Principles of Correct Practice. I will state them pretty formally, and
they apply to all instruments.
Principle of Correct Practice #1: Your aware, thinking mind is your
primary practice tool.
Principle of Correct Practice #2: Control of the fingers is developed
by infusing conscious awareness into the muscles through the mechanism of
attention while practicing.
Remember, as in all things in life, you get out of it what you put in
to it (and believe me, it makes me feel pretty old to hear myself saying
that, but it's the truth.) So read this over and over, and do the exercise, and
apply these understandings to your practice. Good Luck!
For more information on how to develop these insights, visit http://www.guitarprinciples.com.
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