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Author Topic: tone, tension and practicing (or if you prefer, managing tension when playing)  (Read 3444 times)

Offline prjacobs

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One thing we always hear, (and maybe it's just me hearing my own voice :) ) is that playing with tension produces bad tone. (Can we please not revisit the other bizarre thread about tone). My point here is to talk about tension. It's obvious that you can't play guitar without tension. When we all learn our first barre chords, the effort it takes is huge. You need physical strength to play the guitar. From my experience, we need to use tension at the precise moment when it's needed and then release that tension as soon as possible. There is only one way to do that. Slow practice. I'm not suggesting that every moment of practice must be slow, but I am saying that when you practice slowly, you can control the onset and release of tension. You feel the entire process and grow to understand how you uniquely play, when different technical and musical moments present themselves.  This is the way we train our hands, bodies, and minds. And don't underestimate the mental aspect. If you're feeling tension when practicing, you're impatient. Get over yourself, relax, do the work at it's pace, not yours. I can't emphasize enough how tension kills music.
Happy Labor Day, parker brothers and sisters...
 

Re: tone, tension and practicing (or if you prefer, managing tension when playing)

Offline Noodler

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No doubt tension affects playing adversely.  I experienced that first-hand again today during our traditional Labor Day outdoor gig.  Even though I used to play out 20 years ago, these days I feel a lot less comfortable and lot more concerned with my playing than back when I was practically a kid.

I think one of the best ways to get past tension is to practice sufficiently so that what you're playing becomes second nature and you can focus on the music instead of the technical challenges in playing the piece.  Some of the songs in our set went off quite well since we know them cold.  Others not so much.   :o

Re: tone, tension and practicing (or if you prefer, managing tension when playing)

Offline prjacobs

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No doubt tension affects playing adversely.  I experienced that first-hand again today during our traditional Labor Day outdoor gig.  Even though I used to play out 20 years ago, these days I feel a lot less comfortable and lot more concerned with my playing than back when I was practically a kid.

I think one of the best ways to get past tension is to practice sufficiently so that what you're playing becomes second nature and you can focus on the music instead of the technical challenges in playing the piece.  Some of the songs in our set went off quite well since we know them cold.  Others not so much.   :o

I think that everyone can take it as a given that tension effects playing. What I'm getting at is:
There is a time tested way to develop proper technique, keep any player as relaxed as possible, contribute to a better tone and keep us all from being injured over a lifetime of playing.
Yes, practicing enough to really know your material will make you less tense. If you're playing on a part time basis, you have to make the judgement as to whether you feel comfortable enough to get out there and do it. But if you've practiced properly, you'll still be bringing less tension to any gig you have.
Respectfully, on the pro level, it's a given that everyone has practiced a lot and knows the material. My point is that any player, at any stage of their development can tap into a way of learning that will make a huge difference in the quality of tone and technique. It's not about being afraid of tension, it's about understanding it's role in playing.
 

Re: tone, tension and practicing (or if you prefer, managing tension when playing)

Offline sybersitizen

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What I'm getting at is: There is a time tested way to develop proper technique, keep any player as relaxed as possible, contribute to a better tone and keep us all from being injured over a lifetime of playing.

I think they call it 'beer'.
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Re: tone, tension and practicing (or if you prefer, managing tension when playing)

Offline Obsidian

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There is a time tested way to develop proper technique, keep any player as relaxed as possible, contribute to a better tone and keep us all from being injured over a lifetime of playing.

For me there is the relaxed state of mind, which for me comes from confidence and enjoying the time I spend playing music. I considder myself lucky in that I have always been able to translate feeling tense (like what you feel before stepping onto stage) into something that makes me perform better. I guess it is excitement. Really wish I could describe that better in English!   (just wish the tension (adrenaline?) would stop making my hands so cold!)

There is also the physical side of things. Most guitar playing people I know want to play faster, tensing up their hands and shoulders excessively when they practice. When I got told to relax it took me a long time to really get the physical side of things. These days I am consciously working on relieving tension (especially from my shoulders, alas, I tend to slump when I am playing). Being able to get that relaxed feel can also come from economy of movement, better posture and, dare I say it, accuracy. These days it seems I get better results from working on relaxed feel and accuracy at roughly 40% of my maximum speed for a couple of days, then rotating in a couple of minutes devoted to say 60, 80, 100 and 120%.

Of course there is also the intangible late on the beat timing that could be a result of un-relaxedness. That's a different beast altogether, for me at least.

That's how it works for me... How would you go at keeping any one player relaxed? I found beer doesn't _really_ do all that much, or does too much you see. Help me learn :)

Re: tone, tension and practicing (or if you prefer, managing tension when playing)

Offline Paul Marossy

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The only time I get tensed up is when I have to perform. I don't like performing at all, I much prefer to be in a studio environment. There is also a fine line between liking and not liking my tone on any given day, which I suppose is part of my ongoing love-hate relationship with guitar speakers and/or amps. That can make matters worse, and if the two conspire together, it's not a very good day for me. :-\

So what do I do? I get up in front of about 1500 people for two services on a Sunday morning and play my guitar!  ???

Some days when I get home after playing at church I find my that my left arm almost hurts, probably because of tension, not sure. If I have to do a lot of barre chords because of the keys the songs are in I especially notice that. But I have been using a pair of these to strengthen my hands lately.



They were the strongest ones available at the store. When I first got them, I could hardly squeeze my left hand once. In a few weeks of using them once a day I can now do 15 in a row without too much trouble. I've noticed that my legato technique which seemed to go out the window as of late has improved greatly in just a few weeks.  In any case, I think for sure I sound better when I'm relaxed. 8)

Re: tone, tension and practicing (or if you prefer, managing tension when playing)

Offline billy

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In my mind anyway, music itself is all about tension and release.

In terms of technique, this should correlate, the right tension at the right time.  The Jamie Andreas book was pretty good to help develop this awareness.

When I used to teach, I had more than a few students completely tense up when they were stretching the boundaries of their technique.  Guess what happened?  Flub city.  Helping create that awareness helped them push their boundaries, and soon after they were successful.

Being aware of what your body is doing is crucial. 
Billy

[always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.  e. e. cummings]

Re: tone, tension and practicing (or if you prefer, managing tension when playing)

Offline prjacobs

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In my mind anyway, music itself is all about tension and release.

In terms of technique, this should correlate, the right tension at the right time.  The Jamie Andreas book was pretty good to help develop this awareness.

When I used to teach, I had more than a few students completely tense up when they were stretching the boundaries of their technique.  Guess what happened?  Flub city.  Helping create that awareness helped them push their boundaries, and soon after they were successful.

Being aware of what your body is doing is crucial.

Billy, you're absolutely right. When you're learning an instrument you're doing something totally new. Why blast through the process and leave your development to chance? Learning must start out as a conscious act. I really don't care if you get nervous at your gig. It ultimately doesn't matter. What you will draw on in those times is what you've repeated over and over. As I.... um.... "mature" I find myself wanting to pass down things that I've learned from some amazing teachers. This isn't me talking, this is me passing on some of the very best advice I've been given. And lived.

@Paul ....Personally, I'd work on being more relaxed as you practice. In general, weights or other strengthening exercises just tighten the muscles and don't improve technique.Take a few days and work really slowly and see how you feel. Swimming, however, is good :) .
 

Re: tone, tension and practicing (or if you prefer, managing tension when playing)

Offline Paul Marossy

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@Paul ....Personally, I'd work on being more relaxed as you practice. In general, weights or other strengthening exercises just tighten the muscles and don't improve technique.Take a few days and work really slowly and see how you feel. Swimming, however, is good :) .

I am very relaxed when I'm all by myself in my "studio". I hate anything to do with performance (in front of an audience), doesn't matter what it is. I've gotten better with dealing with it as I've gotten older, but I never am comfortable performing anything. I guess that's a pyschological thing.

Anyhow, maybe because of my age or whatever my left hand for a while has been really weak.

Sometimes in the last few years I get this tendinitis-like thing where the muscle between my hand and thumb would get really really sore for no apparent reason. It would hurt to touch it or do anything that involved using my thumb and forefinger. I even had it in both hands at the same time once. I don't know that it's carpal tunnel or not, but this would happen to me when I wasn't even playing the guitar much, so it certainly wasn't from over practicing. It might have been because I was building guitar pedals for a living for a while, most likely - that involves mostly a pencil holding type movement in both hands for maybe up to 6-8 hours a day depending on how busy I was that week.

The hand squeezer thingies I bought recently definitely has made a very noticeable improvement in my legato playing. It wasn't a technique thing, I've had that developed for a long time. It was because for whatever reason my left hand seemed to lose its strength. (I think maybe it's a depletion of hormones thing). Anyway, it takes considerable hand strength in your left hand to have a good legato technique when you're doing one pick for every 3 or 4 notes you play. Technique and strength go hand in hand as far as I concerned when it comes to legato.
« Last Edit: September 06, 2012, 09:03:10 AM by Paul Marossy »

Re: tone, tension and practicing (or if you prefer, managing tension when playing)

Offline prjacobs

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@Paul ....Personally, I'd work on being more relaxed as you practice. In general, weights or other strengthening exercises just tighten the muscles and don't improve technique.Take a few days and work really slowly and see how you feel. Swimming, however, is good :) .

I am very relaxed when I'm all by myself in my "studio". I hate anything to do with performance (in front of an audience), doesn't matter what it is. I've gotten better with dealing with it as I've gotten older, but I never am comfortable performing anything. I guess that's a pyschological thing.

Anyhow, maybe because of my age or whatever my left hand for a while has been really weak.

Sometimes in the last few years I get this tendinitis-like thing where the muscle between my hand and thumb would get really really sore for no apparent reason. It would hurt to touch it or do anything that involved using my thumb and forefinger. I even had it in both hands at the same time once. I don't know that it's carpal tunnel or not, but this would happen to me when I wasn't even playing the guitar much, so it certainly wasn't from over practicing. It might have been because I was building guitar pedals for a living for a while, most likely - that involves mostly a pencil holding type movement in both hands for maybe up to 6-8 hours a day depending on how busy I was that week.

The hand squeezer thingies I bought recently definitely has made a very noticeable improvement in my legato playing. It wasn't a technique thing, I've had that developed for a long time. It was because for whatever reason my left hand seemed to lose its strength. (I think maybe it's a depletion of hormones thing). Anyway, it takes considerable hand strength in your left hand to have a good legato technique when you're doing one pick for every 3 or 4 notes you play. Technique and strength go hand in hand as far as I concerned when it comes to legato.

Paul, if it's working for you, great. I've just always been taught that strength work doesn't help technique.  I actually found that when I did lots of weight work, even though my muscles got bigger and stronger they would cramp up, specifically the big muscle that controls the thumb. I'd still recommend a week of only practicing slowly. Other than that, it sounds like you're falling apart :) . You're not alone there...
 

Re: tone, tension and practicing (or if you prefer, managing tension when playing)

Offline Paul Marossy

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I hear what you're saying. In my case I think it's because I don't get to use my hands (the left one anyway) in a way that allows them to be exercised and keep the strength up. I know part of it also has to do with my un-ergonomic workspace at work, it requires my left hand to be in a somewhat awkward position 9.5 hours a day, four days a week.