Simple Tips That Make Your Guitar Playing Feel Very Easy

In this lesson you'll learn simple tips that help you control unwanted muscle tension in your body when you play guitar.

Ultimate Guitar
Simple Tips That Make Your Guitar Playing Feel Very Easy

Your favorite guitar players all make their playing look very easy. You can learn to do the same …when you practice guitar in a way that makes this possible.

Managing excess tension in your body is key to making your guitar technique feel effortless.

This video shows simple tips that help you control unwanted muscle tension in your body when you play guitar:

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Stop believing these common myths about the role of tension in your guitar technique:

Guitar Playing Tension Myth #1: Your goal should be to play guitar without any tension

Reality: It’s impossible to be completely relaxed while you play guitar (in the absolute sense of the word). Your muscles contract to strike the strings with the pick and to press the strings down with the fretting hand. Your goal must be to minimize unwanted tension. (This level of tension does nothing to help you create the sounds you want to hear).

Being clear on your goal helps you focus on the right things when you practice guitar and make faster progress.

Guitar Playing Tension Myth #2: The best guitar players play with the least amount of tension/effort possible

Reality: The best guitar players often use a lot of tension when they play guitar. The level of tension in their bodies varies depending on what they are playing. Some guitar techniques require a lot more tension in the fretting hand than others. Example: doing a bent note vibrato or a double stop bend require a lot more effort in your fretting hand than playing a simple scale.

Your picking hand needs a lot of power to play aggressive metal rhythm guitar (as an example), but only moderate amount of power to play scales and arpeggios.

The challenge is to use as much tension as necessary to produce the sound you want… but not any more than that.

You must establish the level of tension necessary for each phrase or piece of music you practice. Then train your hands to move correctly without tensing up more than necessary. Use the tips in the video above to make your guitar technique more efficient and your playing feel easier.

Guitar Playing Tension Myth #3: You can only relax excess tension when practicing guitar very slowly

Reality: You can (and must) train yourself to relax at any speed (very fast or very slow). You need specific guitar practice strategies that train your hands to be relaxed at top speed.

Practicing guitar using speed bursts helps you play guitar without tension at fast speed.

Here is how to use speed bursts in your guitar practice: Play 4-6 notes at a very fast tempo (your burst) and then stop. Relax any tension you notice in your body. Repeat the burst again. Do it over and over until you feel no more tension after each burst. Add 2-4 more notes to your fragment and repeat the process. This trains your hands to play guitar fast without excess tension.

Apply these strategies to make your guitar technique feel easy and effortless.

13 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Finally something I can relate to about tension. I was always told the same thing, reduce the tension on your hand, but when I see players like Jason Richardson and the way they strike the strings it's obvious that they have a lot of it going on. Thanks a lot for this.
    I just often get more into the music when I'm squeezing the life out of the neck, which tends to make me more focused and inspired, so I play better (usually). It's not in every case that I do but I do it often in high intensity leads and all that jazz
    I still can't get the hang of the amount of tension to apply to trem picking >. I don't know if it's 'cause i'm a lefty playing right handed guitar or what but I just can't do it! I have no problem with Metallica down picking so just don't understand why it won't click!
    The key to tremolo picking is angling the pick 45 degrees (towards the headstock), so the pick slices through the string with the least amount of movement.  As far as tension, focus on relaxing the shoulder and upper arm. The level of power from the pick should be no different than when picking regular notes. Btw, I'm also left-handed playing right-handed. Don't worry about this issue (it doesn't impact your playing nearly as much as most people think). 
    Hey Mike Thanks for the tips. Always love learning something new. Could you explain the 45 degrees thing a little more? Maybe it's simple and I'm just tired cause it's 3:40 am and I've been up doing posters for shows and my brain, what little I do have, is fried. You rock! ~Roxx~
    Hey Roxx, watch this video starting at 2:50 (I demonstrate/explain it in detail):
    I know quite abit about tremming and fast picking as i'm mostly a metal guitar player, and I do this but I just can't figure out how guys in black metal say like in this song
    Trem pick constantly Day after day without any wrist injuries happening to them? Is it even POssible to play such things with any sort of relaxedness in the picking hand? I can get through songs like this but the fact that they do it for almost every song is mind boggling to me, my wrist starts to hurt...
    Ultra fast tremolo picking is actually done from the forearm, not so much from the wrist. Note that I said "ultra fast" tremolo. At slower/medium speeds the wrist is more engaged in the tremolo, but the faster you do it, the more the forearm becomes involved. There are relative degrees of tension and relaxation. You cannot be totally relaxed and play fast tremolo (or anything else) on guitar. That said: you need to relax tension in muscles that doesn't contribute to your playing (such as the shoulder and upper arm for example). This goes a long way to help you play longer without becoming fatigued/risking injury. The other aspect of this is endurance. You need to train endurance in your playing the same way you train speed or anything else. For example: set a tempo on a metronome and see how long you can keep the tremolo going accurately and with your hand relaxed. Gradually try to either extend the time you can play at that tempo or increase the tempo and try to sustain tremolo for the same amount of time. Training yourself to relax excess tension and building your endurance will help you play fast metal tremolo for longer period of time without injuries
    I find it interesting how guitarists approach tension. I was taught violin before learning guitar and my violin teacher always told me that tension has a place alongside being relaxed. They give you different feelings musically and emotionally (which music is all about right?). The trick she said, was finding a healthy amount of physical tension.