How to Play Fast, Part 1: Relax

telewallpaper011Hello and welcome to the first of a three part series on how to play the guitar, fast!

Regardless of the technique or style employed by the guitarist, I’ve observed these three principles that almost all of them were following.

The first principle I want to talk about is relaxation. The basic idea is that excessive tension throughout your hands and body will tire your muscles quickly. It will also make it difficult to play accurately, and in worst case scenarios it will lead to injury (eg. carpel tunnel). We’ll apply the principle to the hands and then the rest of the body.

Left hand: Make sure you apply good fretting technique.  IE fret with your fingertips and as close to the frets as possible.  You would be surprised to find how little pressure it requires to get a clear sounding note when you’re doing everything else right.

Right hand: Avoid gripping the pick too tight and picking too hard. Many people have a fear of dropping the pick when playing, but it’s actually a good sign that shows you’re not gripping too hard.  Volume can be an issue in loud settings, but hopefully you’ll have amplification so that you can avoid slamming on the strings.

Let’s take this one step further and observe how to relax other parts of the body too. This is important because the body is an interconnected system where tension in other body parts may affect your playing.  For example, I notice a lot of hunching and raised shoulders with my students when playing challenging music.  After a few minutes of practice, they’ll often need to stretch or take a break to address the soreness that builds.

Keeping good posture is fundamental to a relaxing other body parts.  If you’re standing, make sure your feet are planted roughly shoulder-width apart and your spine is upright in an S curve. If you tend to sway when playing, this will keep your body balanced and stable. The same concepts apply when you’re seated.  Watch out that you don’t start to hunch over the guitar.

I often see dramatic and immediate improvements in speed and accuracy when these concepts are applied by my students. I hope they work just as well for you!

Keep an eye out for part 2 and 3, and then a practical exercise to apply the three concepts to tie it all together.

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