#1
Hello All,

First post here, though I've read quite a lot here. I'd like to thank all of the people here who are willing to share their knowledge and experience in a constructive manner, especially when their advice is backed by solid logic and reasoning. Now onto the matter of discussion (I did a search and have found bits and pieces, but nothing too detailed on this topic).

After playing for about 15 years, I've been on a serious plateau for the last several. I knew that I was not, until recently, practicing both for long enough and the right stuff to continue progressing. However, the idea of slowing everything back down has really opened my eyes and allowed me to pinpoint the weaknesses that still exist in my playing, which are:

-lack of finger independence/control, especially at speed
-reliance on the same few licks/chords/theoretical concepts that were comfortable, to the point where it was hard to learn and play anything outside of this zone due to muscle memory/laziness

So my question is this. It seems there's a very fine line between finger/hand STRENGTH (and more importantly, employing that strength) and TENSION. When developing muscles, it seems like a certain amount of tension is inevitable; that's basically what a muscle contraction is, a tensing of the muscle to move some shit. At some point though, the muscle becomes strong enough to easily complete the task at hand and therefore the tension required to do so is reduced or perceived as minimal.

When in the process of building these muscles and this finger strength, how is it possible to stay both relaxed and maintain perfect form, while doing something that is beyond your level of strength/comfort?

Is it simply a matter of going as slowly as possible, fretting each note while keeping all other fingers relaxed and then increasing in speed until you are now longer able to maintain perfect form and overall relaxation?

If so, how does one go about reaching that next level of speed, while still maintaining accuracy, form and relaxation?

For example, playing an electric guitar strung with .09s, I am able to stay relaxed. Playing the same thing on my acoustic strung with .12s, the same amount of exertion does not result in clean playing. Get me?

I could continue with this wordy, probably overly philosophical dissection of the dilemma, but I'll leave it at that so that potential answerers won't get bored reading and instead jump to another thread. Please weigh in though, and preferably with something more detailed and explanatory than "just keep it slow and relaxed". Even if that's the "right" answer, a bit of explanation and justification would be much appreciated.

Thanks for taking the time, as I think this is something a lot of people struggle with!
#2
The biggest thing for me is playing slow first. I mean almost uncomfortably slow. And, while your doing that focus on efficiency, cleanliness, and staying relaxed while doing those things.

Now when I say slow you may think, maybe 20 bpm less? If something is at say 120 bpm in eighth notes, I'll learn it first at 40 bpm, and the whole time focusing on playing it relaxed and with good form.

This does two things. First, it builds your muscle memory correctly. That is to say that not only are your muscles remembering the movements, but they are remembering those movements without tension. Second, it forces your mind to really focus on what you're playing, and how you're playing it. At this speed you can greatly influence your technique and understanding of how that technique is employed.
#3
The main thing that is an issue is sympathetic tension. As you say, a muscle contracts (tenses) every time we physically move our fingers. This isn't a problem - and indeed, we can develop those muscles and our strength and stamina by using them frequently etc.

What is a problem is when a lack of control or an improperly learnt co-ordination causes other muscles to contract. This then impedes the surrounding muscles in a similar manner and this cascading effect is the "locking up" you feel at the ceiling of your picking speed or fretting speed.

Is it simply a matter of going as slowly as possible, fretting each note while keeping all other fingers relaxed and then increasing in speed until you are now longer able to maintain perfect form and overall relaxation?


Doing this sort of practice improves our co-ordination and helps us train fingers out of bad habits and lower the amount of sympathetic tension. It will help with control and relaxation but will not build much strength or stamina.

If so, how does one go about reaching that next level of speed, while still maintaining accuracy, form and relaxation?


You have to do lots of practice!

You have to improve both your co-ordination and your physical strength and speed. Personally I spend my "practice time" on nearly purely co-ordination and relaxation exercises, as I tend to "play" for an hour or two a day and tend to tire my hands out a bit. If you don't have enough time to do both thoroughly then perhaps a few well chosen exercises that use all four fingers equally could be used to build strength but it won't be as much fun.

When in the process of building these muscles and this finger strength, how is it possible to stay both relaxed and maintain perfect form, while doing something that is beyond your level of strength/comfort?


It's not, really. You may have to leave perfect form behind when doing some work on your stamina or strength, unless you're willing to do a hell of a lot of repetitions.

Anything questions?
#4
...keep it slow and relaxed

but seriously you mentioned that you cant play cleanly on the acoustic as well as your electric
play more on your acoustic until your fingers are used to that so you can play on it as effortlessly as on the electric thats a good way to build strenght

but the slow thing is just so that your not learning it wrong
if you cant play it at that speed youll learn to play it with the mistakes
if you learn it slow and correctly speeding it up will not be as much as a problem than learning it correctly
#5
Quote by Freepower

Doing this sort of practice improves our co-ordination and helps us train fingers out of bad habits and lower the amount of sympathetic tension. It will help with control and relaxation but will not build much strength or stamina.

You have to do lots of practice!

You have to improve both your co-ordination and your physical strength and speed. Personally I spend my "practice time" on nearly purely co-ordination and relaxation exercises, as I tend to "play" for an hour or two a day and tend to tire my hands out a bit. If you don't have enough time to do both thoroughly then perhaps a few well chosen exercises that use all four fingers equally could be used to build strength but it won't be as much fun.
?


Great responses everyone. A question about this. Indeed, I have limited time to practice (an hour a day at most on weekdays, as much as I can fit in on weekends). Could you suggest some helpful exercises or licks to accomplish the above quoted things?

I currently do variations on the 1-2-3-4 drills, as well as the 5 fret stretch 1-3-5 ones. But if I only have an hour to practice, I'd like to continue to develop my playing of actual MUSIC, so anything that combines the two would be awesome.

Over the years, I've gotten advice from two different camps: the ones who are like "**** drills and exercises. Playing 1-3-5 on each string isn't going to help you when it's time to solo!" and then the people who say "drills are essential for building technique, as long as you can step away and learn some real music too", which I must admit, is hard for me since I seem to spend as much time running drills as I do playing "real music".
#6
I think what you should do is either compose or choose a selection of pieces that "drill" your problem areas but are still "real music". That's the ideal if you have limited time, perhaps combined with a few really tricky exercises to really push the bar. No need to do dull drills even if you have to do some for the technique occasionally.
#7
I have just read this thread with interest. Freepower and others have supplied some helpful information!!

Although if you don't mind me asking Freepower, could you explain how you go about achieving strength and stamina?? You touched upon it but wondered if you have more information on it!?

Cheers!
You Are Reading A True Guitarists Signature. Stop Thinking I'm Not You Know I Am.

Quote by imdeth
Eblast over her face and tell her you need your privacy.
#8
Well, I have a huge pile of different things I practice when my chops slip or just for fun. There's loads of exercises in the main sticky and the exercise sticky, but for building strength and stamina I would suggest that good exercises for the purpose-

1. Either focus on a a weak finger or finger pairing, or else all four fingers evenly.

2. Can be looped - they start and end at the same point so you can do constant repetitions without any breaks.

3. Are relentless - with good technique your hands will take any relaxation offered. An absolutely constant stream of notes is much more punishing than the same string of notes with a tiny pause every now and again.

4. Are fun!

What I'd do is warm up, stretch a little if I'm doing tricky stuff, then I'd go through each exercise at a tempo that isn't challenging to play clean but will tire me out in a a minute or two, to the point where I get a little tiny bit of "burn" or they get tense or tired - then I'd take a few seconds of rest, shake the arm out a bit, get back into it. After a few times round that I'd just do practice on co-ordinations or fun stuff, I'm not about punishing routines.

If it's something like downpicked riffs or heavy metal gallops I can just use open strings, zone out and surf youtube at the same time.

Hopefully that's a little more specific.
#9
Nope, you don't need any complicated exercises unless you plan to play complicated lines.

I'd just spend more time downpicking during my practice times and then downpick in downtime (lol) like sitting with the guitar in my lap on UG or whatever. I started doing that kind of thing when I had tendinitis in the left hand - no reason to stop practising!
#10
Glad to see other people are finding this thread valuable. I think this is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for most all players, whether they realize it or not. It may take them ten years, but they will!
#11
Lots of nice information here.

Freepower is KING
TOTAL BRO
#12
I think the whole tension and strength thing is GREAT for short time playing.. reason being 30 minutes on both, or 1 hour a day on tension, the next on strength, and your hands and mind will have all that it can take.

Tension is great because you can apply it to just about anything you do. You can go back and look at solos you know how to play and take it slow, watching your tension. Freepower's video on youtube has some great sings to realize while you're playing if you're using too much pressure on a finger. But yeah, you can take any song, a scale, or I try to utilize the spider exercise, and just watch your fingers and make sure you're relaxed.

Strength is something I always thought should come from working much harder than you'll play. For example... In the army our pt test is a 2 mile test, but prior to taking the test we dont try to run 2 miles as fast as we can each day, we run 4+ miles a day so that on the PT test a 2 mile run doesn't seem so bad. For me, the way I take guitar strength... I play an electric guitar set up with 9 gauge, so when I practice I use my acoustic with 12 gauge strings. I just got my acoustic sent to afghan and I've reached the speed I can do on my electric after a few months, learned new solos I couldnt do before.. Which means I should be a lot faster and better on my electric when I get back.. Thats how I look at strength at least.
#13
When ever Im on Ug or something and im reading (like this thread) I just run some simple warm up with my left hand without picking just to keep my fingurs moveing. Another thing I do its just jam! I dont ccare if it sounds good just throw ever technique i have in my arsonal out hammer ons,slides,Legato,tapping, Ect so to get warmed up and practice all my techs i think I need to work on.
My gear
Schecter 7 string hellraiser
1984 Charvel (model unknown)
Mesa boogie Dual Recto Solo head
and some pedels!

UG's HateCrew Member
#14
One more question about this: what about when playing stretches? For example, I've noticed that when I'm playing 5 fret stretches (3 note per string patterns), it's pretty much impossible to keep my hand/fingers relaxed because the muscles are already taut from the stretch.

It doesn't seem to matter how slowly you play something like this, so it is just another example of a situation where you have to get the finger muscles to a place where they're stronger and then focus on accuracy and relaxing?

Thanks again everyone, especially Freepower, per usual. And to the dude in Afganistan, stay safe.
#15
Well, first thing is to make sure the hand is in a good position for stretches - making sure the wrist is straight, and the thumb in the centre or even lower on the neck, roughly opposite the point between the middle and ring fingers. Some stretches do require more stretch from the index finger or something else, but in general the stretch should come evenly from the index and little finger.

Second thing is (and this is important) - let the muscles that separate your fingers do the stretching. Don't "push" out with the muscles that open the hand or try and leverage the fretting motion for extra reach. Hold your hand out in front of you - separate your fingers and bring them back together without opening or closing your hand.

With stretchier licks there comes a certain point where the sheer separation causes tension and difficulty. Try not to do too much practice at the limits of your reach, as you can easily damage your hands and tire them very quickly (this is how I messed up my left hand years ago).

If you want to improve your reach (the amount you can stretch without too much extra tension) then try to spend some time each day on stretches that gradually increase in intensity (chords moving down the neck are excellent for this) and try and hold them a few seconds each. Don't push to pain, just get to the point where you feel stretched, then loosen up and practice something else. Start and end of practice sessions is a good time to do this.