Has anybody got any tips on how to relax when playing the guitar? I find that the more tense your arm or hand gets, the harder it becomes to play. However, I also find it difficult to relax my arm all the time as I drift off and get into the guitar playing.

Any ideas?
It's a practice thing. You just have to force yourself not to tense up .
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It's good to see your concerned with relaxation; most guitarists don't even consider this an integral part of learning their instrument.

Anyways, what you need to recognize is that total relaxation (i.e., no tension at all) is one-hundred percent impossible when applied to the guitar. Your muscles need a certain amount of tension in order to perform things such as strumming, alternate picking, etc.

Try this. Pick up your guitar and put it in the classical position (foot elevated around six inches off the ground) and leave your picking hand down at your side. Pick up your picking arm slowly and place it on the guitar (don't pick or strum yet!). There should be little if any tension in your body at this point.

Now, try to pick one note and you'll feel a little tension, which is necessary to produce the sound of the desired note. Your shoulder, however should be completely relaxed, as should your wrist, elbow, and picking hand fingers. This "necessary tension", as I would tentatively label it, is the result of simply playing the instrument. Remember this "tension" and internalize it. Play at slow speeds for extended periods of time until you are ready to combust...if you're playing to a metronome, which you should be, try play at a constant speed for three to five minutes. If you're comfortable enough, move the speed up one to four beats per minute. Want to see a player who used this approach with great success? Here you go: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3DDdD7thLk

Most players don't realize that some tension is necessary. A popular technique for novice players is to play at speeds they are not comfortable with in order to maker their slower speeds more effortless. A major flaw in this approach is that these players will take the tension they use at these higher speeds back down with them to the slower speeds. How do I know? I've done this myself before. It's so disheartening to one day pick up your guitar and realize that you ultimately have no control over your instrument without using tension.

If you can get these ideas down, guitar practice can become extremely fun and challenging (not frustrating). Playing in control will boost your confidence, too. Remember, don't forget to make music. Chromatics at 160-180 BPM sound awesome, but good music they do not make.

tl;dr - Play without tension, play in control, and play with awareness.
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Last edited by plainsight at Jan 10, 2010,
Know what it feels like in the morning when you wake up? After your muscles have been relaxed for so long, it's like a moment of bliss. Well, remember what that feels like. Now sit down, put a guitar in your lap (preferably classical position), and remember the feeling of relaxation. Raise your hands up to the necessary positions to play, but only do what is necessary. The big thing with playing guitar (and any other instrument for that matter) well is to only do what is necessary to actually move your pick across the strings and fret notes.

It is indeed an interesting concept to have to work so hard to be relaxed, but in time it will eventually be easy to relax.
Thanks a lot for the advice. I'll definetely start practising relaxation techniques and try and become more aware of how tense I am while playing.

If for no other reason than to save money on strings...