As tends to happen naturally to me, when I'm playing something speedily... the tension in the fretting arm, the hand itself, and fingers (especially the thumb) becomes a great amount after a short while. I've been trying on my own to figure out a method of relaxing while playing at speed... but I always end up with so much tension, my fingers develop "slow fingers syndrom"... This is almost as bad as trying to play while high... the fingers just won't catch up to what they need to be going at.

So how do you relax the fretting arm, hand, and fingers while playing with a higher speed than what the body is used to?
"grateful is he who plays with open fingers" - Me


Through slow, careful practice. Play slowly and keep your muscles relaxed, and gradually speed it up, keeping relaxed. If you can't keep the tension out of a certain muscle, don't go any faster until you can do it relaxed.

Check out www.guitarprinciples.com

Its a great book, I bought it off there - as did quite a few other people on this site, all who recommend it.
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first of all, playing high is not bad at all. lol. anyway, focus on your shoulders, make sure you have that relax too. i am not gonna explain right now cause i'm high. but look for a john petrucci video on youtube. he have one lesson about getting warm up before playing and posture and stuff. but to me the relax and level shoulders help me a lot to playing fast.
Oh no, playing high isn't bad at all... I just get the slows a bit when I do.. so it's harder for me to play when I'm high... but I bet when I know enough, I'll be VERY creative... hehe.

I've been spending quite a bit of time... at least 8 min. or so on each level of speed using guitar-pro 5's speed trainer...... i go up by either 2 or 3 percent after I reach 50%... which is where my probelms begin (usuallty around 60 or 70% of actual "normal" speed for that piece).

Currently I am trying to learn Paranoid (Iommi version). I'm stucko n measures 41-44, the fastest of the entire thing I do believe...

I Managed to get up to 70 or so before the tension slows hit...

I'm currently on 78%, but it's really tensiony even if I try my best to relax, but at 70 and below I can play completely relaxed ... I don't really get's what's causing such a huge amount of tension in the area between 70% and 78% speed of the origenal 164bpm... I mean, it's not that HUGE of a jump going in intervals of 2 or 3 %'s at a time...

I'm really at a loss for words at this point now...
"grateful is he who plays with open fingers" - Me


Last edited by Outside Octaves at Sep 16, 2006,
^You're simply not playing slow enough for enough time for you to be able to feel the tension at slow speeds - and not giving yourself enough time to get rid of the tension, and encourage tension free playing into your practice routine.

If you want to get rid of tension, you have to know it's there - when you're playing in excess of the speed where you're allowing yourself to be aware of your whole arm, your mind is elsewhere (normally on keeping time, or looking blankly at the fretboard wondering why you're still getting the same problem) - you have to slow riiiiiiight the way, as slow as you have to (which is normally almost motionless) for you to be in a kind of 'inner stillness' state of mind where every little movement of your hand is picked up on and analyzed - when you're going this slow and you're aware of your muscles, you can see the tension - and when you can see it, know where it is - you can get rid of it.

Most people will play for 10 minutes and go 'Oh okay, all the tensions gone, woohoo!' and stick the metronome on and try to play as fast as they can but end up in the same situation, like you're in.

That doesn't work - it just isn't as easy as that. You can't automatically play without tension, if you've been playing with it for X amount of months/years, and expect and 8 minute half-hearted practice session to be the end of your problems, no way.

You play what we call no-tempo practice, practicing without a metronome and without the worry of keeping time. Just you - that leaves your mind free to be completely aware of what you're doing, and will open your eyes to the tension holding you back, once you're happy you're consistently playing these ridiculously slow excercises and have a completely tension free arm do you ween yourself into tempo practice with a metronome or along to a song. This way, you're still playing without tension and encouraging the tension free movement and mindset into your playing gradually, instead of going all out.

It's not as easy as play for 8 minutes, brother - sorry. It takes patience, dedication and microscopic awareness to be able to play completely tension free.
I know I can't play fast without my face changing it's look rapidly, and getting really tense, I guess just practise for me.
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Thank you to everyone who's replyed so far, but especially iain4444 and even more so to Johnljones7443. I appreciate your lengthy post Johnljones7443.

I've been playing for 4 or 5 years now I think, though seriously for the past year and a half or 2. I'm definatly all into the guitar at this point, which is why this has frustraited me. I mean 8 minutes is the minimum that I will be on an area... ****!, sometimes I spend days at the same speed trying to get the tension out and perfect it as much as I can. I just didn't have a clue as to how to do that. Relaxing seemed impossible... but now I get to notice that I have that tension, and work on those zen like exersises you spoke of. I've been told this in various ways over the years... From the simple "Just relax man," to what similar things as to what you said, but not in as much detail. Again, I thank you and a certain other unnamed individual for helping me here. I'm about to begin streaching out my arms, wrists, fingers, and thumbs and start work on just unmetered/untimed playing of Paranoid's Solo, as to what I know so far of it (Iommi version of course).

I did find one thing last night, a large sorce of this tension is the 2x bending Iommi has in the solo. That causes a huge amount of tension. How does one relax on 2x or more bending? I do plan on going to a lighter tension string (I'm on DR Blues Nickel 9's currently, probably going to 8's or lower if such exists).

I'll report back any findings I ... find.
"grateful is he who plays with open fingers" - Me


Last edited by Outside Octaves at Sep 16, 2006,
^By bending 2x, do you mean bending up two whole steps?

Okay... the whole principle of 'getting rid of tension'... is that you control the tension, you choose when it isn't there, and when it is there - when you're aware of it, you can use it
to your advantage, instead of letting it hinder you.

I mean, there's always going to be situations where stress is unavoidable and sometimes, needed in your playing.

Bending, vibrato... agressive playing is an important one... some people think of no tension playing as quiet and timid playing with no force - sure, in principle it is. If you want to retain a completely free tension arm, but that really isn't a reality in some playing situations. One of the main principles of the website quoted above is learning not only to find and rid tension, but to be able to control it.

The same thing applies to bending - if you're bending in the correct manner, you're going to be bending with the wrist - and a two step bend is definitely going to put your wrist under stress and generate tension. No doubt. Always.

Buuuut... if you can learn to control your tension - once you've finished that bend, you can learn to maintain relaxation inbetween notes, which lets you effectively control when and where you have no excess tension, and when and where you need it.

It's as simple as not letting tension maintain in your playing - if you don't allow for maintenance of muscle tension, you can physically and mentally control it with enough awareness - and with time, the feeling of controlling it becomes second nature and a subconscious thing ingrained within your body and mind.

Before and after you take that two step bend is fundamental... you're aware of the tension coming up - you know it's there when it's there, and can feel it - and as soon as you've finished, you're aware of being tension free again - what you're doing is not letting that brief tension accompany you're playing, controlling it.
Hmmm... thanks again Johnljones7443. I am most grateful that you put this out there for me and others to read. Not many would.

I'm currently working on measures 41-44 of Paranoid (the faster bit of the solo), as a means of finding and controlling that tension. One thing I have noticed in this relaxing, is this sorta... heat that occurs with any note I lightly touch, and with greater amounts in the 2x bending (yes whole tone bending... going 2 strings up thus 2x). But if I'm not relaxing, I definatly don't have that heat... at least it isn't percievable. It's almost as if I'm putting more strain in relaxing than playing with a little bit of force... though obviously that's not what's happening.
"grateful is he who plays with open fingers" - Me


^Well, that heat you're feeling could be anything depending on a lot of things.

Most of the time I feel that after any long practice sension where the finger and forearm muscles have been worked for long periods of time and to feel slight pain, soreness or heat sensations is normal, it's called stress and recovery - you work out, feel fine.. wake up the next morning and your muscles are sore - which is DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).. and is a completely natural bodily function where your muscle fibres are repaired after being contracted and disrupted.

If you're doing long practice sessions - tension or no tension, this process is always going to happen - (that's how athletes progress to build their muscles mass and endurance they run 5 miles a day everyday continously, they're not working their muscles to new stresses - so they won't improve. So they run 5 miles this day, 7 the next, 10 the next and so on and so on).. so after a long practice session, you come back to it the next day and start to work those muscles again, they're going to feel sore and you're going to heat sensations.

Course... this is natural, but really - you shouldn't be exerting yourself to the realms of pain - that's un-necessary for guitar playing directly - most guitar techniques require accuracy and effortlessness which you won't get from force and muscle.

What you're feeling could and probably is related to excess tension, and tension is probably at the heart of it - from playing to fast with too much tension and then not letting your muscles recover by mindlessly doing the same thing day after day.

As for... 'It's almost as if I'm putting more strain in relaxing than playing with a little bit of force.'.. Okay, it's common for people who play with an anchored hand (I know you don't anchor, but the same applies, it's just easier to explain in this context ).. to feel awkward, uncomfortable and strenuous when they're making the transition from anchored to un-anchored (you possibly felt that yourself)... which is your body adjusting to a new habit.

You've been playing with tension for X amount of time, that it becomes natural and you don't notice it - but when you isolate it and are aware of it, you're going to feel it before you get rid of it - which is part of having awareness and attention to your muscles - you're simply noticing and feeling this tension that you didn't know was there, because you were oblivious to it, where as when you're applying force and playing with tension you don't know is there - you can't feel it because you're not aware of it - and hence when you become aware of it, it feels like this transitional process is causing tension, when infact you're simply becoming aware of the tension within your arm. If you know what I mean..

On another subject... there's nothing wrong with playing X bit of X solo as means of an excercise, I mean.. lots of people use excerpts and mutate them into excercises to keep it fun and stuff.. but what I'd suggest is taking an excercise that concentrates on a specific area of your body and technique.

Ergo take an excercise or excerpt from a song which solely concentrates on one specific area, whether that's legato, picking, an excercise where you need correct posture to execute... whatever, something you can use to isolate a specific area.

What I'm getting at is that both of your arms and hands are seperate... so while you're busy trying to decrease tension in your picking hand and arm, your fretting hand and arm are still going to be under the same stress as before if you haven't worked on them... so use something that isolates a muscle, and work from there as a long process in insuring all your muscles are equally trained.

Last edited by Johnljones7443 at Sep 16, 2006,
Rather short post, eh? LOVE the long ones man, love them. They really begin to help people like me.

I am only really working on my fretting side . I know picking is VITAL, but right now I need to really work on the fretting side of things. Everything on that side preaty much sucks..... which is what it is to be a noobe`. hehe. I may have years under my belt now, but I'm still nowhere near my "idols" Randy Rhoads, Zakk Wylde, and a few others.

But as for the whole exersize thing.. uh... we will discuss this in msn or something for a few before I post back here .

And JFYI: in all of this, even before "relaxing" I didn't have a "death-grip" on it or anything. I learned to get rid of that and anchoring a while ago. It's just this Uber-Relaxing that I've never done. I've just played with what little force was neccisary, or so I though, hehe.
"grateful is he who plays with open fingers" - Me


Last edited by Outside Octaves at Sep 16, 2006,
Double posting to bump ...

Well, I guess I should report this:

I tried those technieques.. and ended up triggering that sorta thing thoughout the entire body. I couldn't even pick up a glass without being aware of the tension in just that... that got VERY agrovating! I had such a terrible night because of that.
I tried it again tonight without that effect going all over... what was that all about? I wonder if I just did something wrong or ... bla... sh!t happened?!?

-Outside Octaves
"grateful is he who plays with open fingers" - Me