Last week I was talking about the importance of sending tension packing so creativity and flow can move your way instead.
Here are a few general tips and checkpoints for relaxed and effective playing technique
- Work on your technique regularly so over-gripping and overworking become a thing of the past.
- Let the big muscles get out of the way and let the smaller, finer muscles do the work.
- Learn to place your thumb correctly so you don’t grip the neck like you’d grip a broom handle (AKA “The Pistol Grip“).
- Coordinate between right and left hands so they pluck and fret at the exact same time.
- Coordinate individual fingers in each hand (like alternate picking and permutations)?
- Listen for how tension affects tone. Pay special attention to whether you sometimes choke the notes.
- Use consistent and stress-free fingering.
- Always use a strap, have a relaxed and upright posture (not slumped over) and keep your shoulders down.
- Use as little movement as possible.
- Listen for good timing. Tension affects timing. Relax.
- Drop the hand like it’s a wet sock at the slightest feeling of tension. (Tension is like an avalanche – without interrupting it, it will only build and gain momentum. Best to disengage for a second and remind the body what relaxed feels like, hence dropping the hand to reset). – This is an extremely powerful exercise. Make sure to let gravity take your hand, don’t place it down into dropped position, instead, gently hand it over to gravity.
- Listen to what is happening (get out of your own head).
- Think of your hand as soft and limber.
- There are many targeted exercises that can be done to improve a relaxed hand, speed, timing and tone. If you “just play songs” pay attention to what you are doing, but also practice technique in a targeted fashion. While there is a myriad of exercises I recommend and created, a good start are permutation exercises. I teach them many different ways, here is one example.
- No perfection required. Just your best intention and effort.
If this list seems overwhelming, remember the PORA technique: pick up to three or four details you want to work on and rotate your attention, just following the step by step guide. My Music Theory book describes what good relaxed technique looks, feels and sounds like. And here is a handy one-sheet to post on your wall.
If it looks tense, it likely is tense and will sound tense. The same is true of the opposite: if it looks relaxed the music can flow. And if you look like you are having a great time (rather than appearing to be fighting with the instrument) the audience and fellow musicians will pick up on it.
Here are a few more advanced technique exercises from our Music Theory course. Step by step exercises over the course of 20 units lead you there… and they can even sound pretty and double as theory and note finding exercises!