Winter is quickly descending on we New Yorkers- bringing both smells of spices and falling leaves, but also shorter days and fewer hours spent in the sun. After less time spent outside, and with end of the year deadlines impending, I'm not surprised to see more students come to their lessons with greater stress loads. Stress and tension, however, are the archenemies of the guitarist, cramping our hands, furrowing our brows, and making guitar less enjoyable and less rewarding to play. Fortunately- with a little care, we can come back to our natural state of easy and relaxed guitar playing!
But how do we relax in New York City?! (aren’t we even famous for stress?)
I’d like to humbly offer a few suggestions:
1. One way to reduce excessive tension in your body is to simply be mindful of it. Ask yourself before you begin playing:
How does my body feel right now? Am I tense in my neck? back? between my shoulder blades? What would happen if I released that tension?
2. Listen to yourself breathing for ten full breaths before picking up the guitar. (aaaahhhhhhhh)
3. Begin practice by playing through familiar exercises slowly- let your guitar playing muscles warm up gradually. Observe your body and mental state. Be compassionate with yourself.
4. Focus on just one achievable goal at a time. Don’t multitask.
5. Set a timer for intervals between 5 to 15 minutes. Every time the timer rings, ask yourself if you feel relaxed or tense. Is there any tension while playing? If so, where do you feel it? The wrist? Palm of the hand? Very tip joint of the index finger of the right hand? Inhale, and on your exale, release that excess tension. You don't need it to play well- a relaxed mind and body will be much more helpful.
Most of all- enjoy your music to the fullest!
Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are. -Chinese Proverb