Discover Your Discomfort!

Okay, I'm going to explain some powerful things for the practicing guitarist who wants to see results from their practice. In other words, the guitarist who wants to do what I call correct practice.

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Okay, I'm going to explain some powerful things for the practicing guitarist who wants to see RESULTS from their practice. In other words, the guitarist who wants to do what I call correct practice. Have you ever had trouble playing something on the guitar? Have you ever seen or heard someone play something, tried to do it yourself, maybe practiced it for a long time, and ended up with only frustration and bad feelings about yourself as a player? Be honest now. I've been playing for 30 years, and I have never met a player, including myself, who could honestly answer no to that question. There are a few things that are always true when we are unable to play something we want to play on the guitar. One of the things that you will always find, if you look for it, is what Arron Shearer called, in his first book, uncontrolled muscle tension. Many, many players have in fact commented on this fact, mainly because this fact becomes obvious to anyone who plays for awhile, pays attention, and starts to discover the path to gaining increasing ability on the guitar. Many people mention it. The problem is they never tell you what to do about it! Oh sure, you'll hear people say "play S-L-O-W-LY", or "RELAX"! I asked, ordered, screamed, and pleaded with students to do that for probably 20 years, before I realized that almost no one was listening to me, or maybe they didn't believe me, or maybe they thought I was kidding (well, his face is turning purple, but, nah, I don't think he's serious)! No, it seems most people would rather try to play that bar chord or that scale with their shoulders tensed up to their ears, their pinky tensed up and pulled 2 inches from the neck as they dislocate their shoulder trying to get it to it's note on time, practice and play that way day in and day out, and then wonder why they find that scale hard to play, that it breaks down at a certain speed. Or maybe they wonder why they have a pain here or there. Hell, they may be really persistent and keep at it till they qualify for this new disease I'm always reading about, Repetitive Strain Injury. I got a new student about a year ago, we'll call him Tom. Now Tom had been teaching himself for a few years, is very musical, very intelligent, and managed to learn fingerstyle guitar well enough to attempt some rather challenging pieces, including some classical repertoire. In fact, he would play for friends and often impress them. However, it was also true that he knew he never played anywhere near his best in these circumstances, and the piece would often break down somewhere. It was also true that he had a growing pain in his left shoulder when he practiced. Tom has two very important qualities that a player must have in order to overcome problems, and make what I call Vertical Growth. Those two things are Desire, and Honesty. Tom doesn't have the pain in his shoulder anymore, and his playing is getting better and better. This is because he has learned a few things. He has learned about the incredible state of muscular relaxation that a player must have as they play. He has learned how difficult it is to actually make sure you have that relaxation as you play. He has learned about Sympathetic Tension, how every time you use one muscle, others become tense also, and how if you are not aware of it, and allow it to be there, it becomes locked in to the muscles through the power of Muscle Memory. Tom is also learning, over time, that by always making the effort to focus his attention on this muscle tension, he can always eliminate some part of it, and by consistently doing this in practice, things begin to feel easier and easier, because he was really fighting his own muscle tension, which made it feel so hard. Tom inspired me to invent a phrase, something for him to always keep in mind when he practices. In fact, I told him to do what I do. Write it out on a sign and keep it somewhere in front of him as he practices. On the music stand or taped to the wall like I do. The phrase is "discover your discomfort". Pay attention, notice what happens in the body as you play. How does it feel. Good players are not experiencing that discomfort when they do the thing you struggle to do. If they had to struggle they wouldn't be good players! Now as usually happens, I began to use the phrase myself, and began to discover new levels of my own discomfort. And I began to see my playing improve, I mean fundamentally improve. You see, there is no end to this process. Why do so many of us allow such discomfort when we practice and play? There are many reasons, I'll go in to them at another time. What I want to do now is give you some ways of discovering your own discomfort, and begin to minimize it. * Hold the guitar as comfortably as you can. * Allow your left arm to hang limp at your side. * Place your right hand fingers on the strings, keeping them very loose and relaxed. If you use a pick, float the pick in between two strings and keep it there. * Focus your attention on your shoulders, as you raise your left hand slowly. Raise it straight up without extending it, and place all your fingers on the sixth string, around the tenth fret. Keep them on the string so lightly, you don't even press the string down. (Not easy at first)! * Do you feel anything in your right shoulder as you do this? Do you feel any tightness come in to the pick hand, perhaps you are gripping the pick tighter, or tensing your wrist? Be honest now. * Keeping your left hand fingers on the string lightly, begin to move your hand down toward the first fret. You must do this very slowly. Notice what happens throughout your body. As I have had students do this, I have seen everything from tense ankles or belly, to practically falling off the chair! I hope I have provided a starting point for further investigations and insights for you. Take anything you find hard to do, stop yourself in the middle of it, and check out what is happening in your body. You will be amazed. Copyright 2005 Jamie Andreas. All rights reserved. GuitarPrinciples.com.

69 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    RjNjimmypage
    and also you will not see imediate results from doing this it is over periods of time you will play and fell better
    MetalFTA
    the peoiple who dont under stand whats happens is when you try to play stuff you may tense up a muscle and it may cause alot of pain if its continued. now sit in your chair go completly limp(unless your going to fall of then try to remain stable) lol and hold up your arm and just wave around your fingers without twisting your wrist and stuff just your fingers. the muscles in yur fore arm moving should be all thats moves in freting, now pick up your guitar and play a song without pressing the strings down far enough to make a sound.go through your entire repertoire of songs. now go back and play them all but only press down hard enough to make a sound but remain relax. when i was first starting this i had a restless foot but once you start gettuing used to it you will see your self get a little better every time you practise
    Slidey O'Neil
    I had pain and discomfort in my left arm when I played... I fixed it by taking my watch off. Way quicker than identifying what's wrong with your muscles.
    wair138
    so, um, how do i "correct" my discomfort if i feel constipated while pratcing? it just happens, every time i pick up my guitar, i feel constipated, plz help
    ChicNStu0017
    ok...you told us about what's supposed to happen with the muscles when we do what you said, personally I didnt feel anything in my shoulders like you explained, but you didnt really go into what to do about it...
    Mihyaeru
    this artile was originally wiritten by Jamie Andreas I read it on Ibreathmusic.com ages ago, tho I did findi t quite annoying that I didn't know ohw to correct hte problem, found the discomfort tho technically i do every time i play but how to correct it I hadn't the foggiest playing relaxed is actually really hard it made me more tense :S clearly I was doing soemthing wrong there :S
    Fobus Maximus
    This is a great lesson. I discovered this for myself last year, and found that when I was relaxed, I played more accurately, and as weird as it seems, I played more musically. It's really important in my playing now.
    Dude...
    I'll help this guy out. Some beginners are really uptight causing stress and pain in said areas. This article was basically like a "relax and play slowly" statement made into an article, not the best lesson but has some potential to help someone out.
    JamieQ
    Sounds like a Buddhist Monk or somethin' "Release your tension. Free yourself from your pain"
    John_was_here
    I know somebody should make an article explaining what you should with the discomfort cause I can definetly notice it when I try switching between other chords and B (the chord) quickly but I have no idea how to get rid of it
    sing4am
    I felt nothing. And I think if it takes you five hours to learn smoke on the water... then, well yeah. Like, how were you doing it? (natharjb) with power chords? Cause last time I checked, G - 0 3 5 0 3 6 5 0 3 5 3 0 Is easy.
    Mr. Kill
    well it didnt work for me ,, but even if it did it doesnt tell how to solve the problem
    W4T3V3R
    i dont deel anything at all, not tension, no pain, is this to do standing or sitting?
    Virage
    Sorry didn't do anything for me. I guess i'm just one chilled out dude.
    cyrus_101
    wow, alot of negativity lol nah guys, i havnt done this yet, but iv been working on my own ways to identify my discomforts (cos i know i have them, thats whats holding me back)... but what this article comes down to (whether it was written by the author or not) is that you need to discover the "lightness" in playing guitar... if you have even a slight tention in your picking hand or vise versa, it IS going to influence your playing... and if you want to become beta, well... then you have to analyse your playing, discover your discomfort and fic it... every1 is different and we have a million styles out there, so ultimately you have to work on it yourself.... fixing it and getting past that is a great reward... Good column... i cant disagree with anything in there Rock On!!!
    dweb23
    cool article! informative and i even got a few chuckles out of reading it!
    Batiati
    wow, glad I read this. People always tell me I look like im going to fall over when im playing. I just need to relax!
    tom1thomas1
    this is the first time ive read an article and found out that im doing everything right!!! except the bar chords, i didnt realise i was tense before but it wasnt hard to stop
    rebugger75
    great, and absolutely essential article! i guess it's best to start with the easiest, chillest tune you can play. as an uber beginner, an experienced friend taught me two melodies, just to keep me motivated, and to get me to 'feel': seven nation army & lebanese blonde. it took a while but when i started to play it without stiffening up, it made a world of difference!
    neutralist
    It could be the placebo effect, but as soon as I read this and started playing, I noticed, how tensed up my shoulders get when I start playing, and just how quickly they start to tense up when I try to relax them! Very interesting, thanks for pointing all that out.
    Das Tier In Mir
    Hendrix=God13 wrote: I got nothing, maybe you are just a looney who only thinks he knows what he is talking about eh? Or maybe some people just dont have "Discomforts"? I dont know, but it did nothing for me, i tried this for like 10 minutes and got nothing out of it.
    Here's a way to find yoru discomforts. Play Through the Fire and the Flames without looking at the guitar, that'll give you some discomfort lo.
    Goop2
    Sometimes I can play really bad, and sometimes I play real good. One time I played so good I blew myself away. I couldn't understand what it was until now. I was limp as a rag doll, with no stress holding me back at all. Now if I can figure out how to battle the stress, I can make myself better by practicing with added stress.
    hamsterman64
    cyrus_101 wrote: wow, alot of negativity lol nah guys, i havnt done this yet, but iv been working on my own ways to identify my discomforts (cos i know i have them, thats whats holding me back)... but what this article comes down to (whether it was written by the author or not) is that you need to discover the "lightness" in playing guitar... if you have even a slight tention in your picking hand or vise versa, it IS going to influence your playing... and if you want to become beta, well... then you have to analyse your playing, discover your discomfort and fic it... every1 is different and we have a million styles out there, so ultimately you have to work on it yourself.... fixing it and getting past that is a great reward... Good column... i cant disagree with anything in there Rock On!!!
    I agree. I for one know that I have discomforts, and until recently haven't really tried to work them out, but it's painfully obvious that's they're holding me back from really advancing the way I want to. I've set my goals high, and I intend to get there. I'm sure most of you feel the same way, but we're never gonna get anywhere by being negative and close-minded!
    1339
    one of the best lessons on ug! I started looking for a lesson like this when i decided to take the "RELAX!" thing seriously, and noticed my fingers tightening on my pick, and my elbow tensing up while playing, which are 2 things which usually stop me from getting better. im already seeing improvement within 10 minutes of realising this, so i looked for a lesson like this and it helped even more! man youre a goddamn genius! ill look out for my discomforts 24/7 =].
    theberzerker!!!
    to all the people saying they don't know what to do about the discomfort i THINK that this is supposed to pinpoint where you are tense so you can relax that part of your body
    tyronelab
    i found a pain in the top part of left arm when moved to the 1st fret but am i meant to move arm until i don't feel that tension at fret 1 or what?? also this meant to be standing up or sitting?? its an article that doesn't explain that well
    Jaykib
    nathajrb wrote: iv only bin playin 4 a few days an iv got a really bad pain in my right arm. i think i practice 2 much. i spent 5 hours tryin 2 get deep purple's smoke on the water. i got it but im in agony. this page relly helped though id recommend it 2 any 1.
    5 hours trying to learn that...?
    tomatsea
    this is one of the first things classical guitarists learn , allthough it'll take them a couple of years....
    skimboarderr
    i have had that problem for three years and never new that it really was a problem I just thought it happened. I am definatly gonna try this
    element22ag
    I didn't feel anything, and to me it sounded like an advertisement for that website more than an article =\.
    Hendrix=God13
    I got nothing, maybe you are just a looney who only thinks he knows what he is talking about eh? Or maybe some people just dont have "Discomforts"? I dont know, but it did nothing for me, i tried this for like 10 minutes and got nothing out of it.
    loonyguitarist
    this will probably help many people but it didnt work 4 me, i tried that thing u said to do and nothing happened... ah well
    Kealan
    i felt real discomfort in the left side of my collar bone, and felt it sort of going into my neck when i went down the frets really slowly, pretty weird