Activity And Rest EquilibriumAlternating between activity and rest has many benefits. It makes practicing less tiring, helps prevent injury, gives the mind time to analyse information, and much more.
At some point, most of us will have experienced the benefits without realising it. Have you ever found the going tough while practicing guitar, then the phone rings and you stop to answer it. When you return a few minutes later, you find your playing has miraculously improved and the going is much easier. Then after half an hour or so of grinding away at your guitar again, it has returned to being a pain.
This is because the balance of activity and rest is not equal. Pausing to rest regularly keeps things fresh and loose, whereas grinding away for hours without rest makes for inefficient progress, and when taken to extremes, leads to injury; so speaks the voice of experience.
I myself got to the point where I could play demanding exercises on a guitar for 6 or 7 hours a day without exhaustion. But one day I woke and found the middle joints of my left hand were very sore and stiff. This injury lasted for more than 12 months, The first few of which I couldn't play at all, and so was facing the idea that I may never play again. The injury happened because the balance of activity and rest was extremely unequal.
So there are two examples of how the balance of activity and rest can be beneficial or extremely detrimental to our progress. But balancing action and rest isn't just about taking a break every 15 minutes or so. It's about maintaining equilibrium throughout the entire session.
In the initial stages, this can mean playing a note and then resting for an equal time. Or playing a phrase and then resting for the equivalent amount of time.
For example, when warming up, instead of just grinding through a chromatic scale in an effort to force yourself to limber up, try playing the first four notes; 1 and 2 and , then resting for a count of 1 and 2 and. This can be done by counting aloud or internally, or breathing the beats, or just keeping the groove in the usual way (feeling the rests). You should find this a more effective way to warm up.
Learning New ThingsOne of the most effective ways I've found to learn a new piece, is to take it 2 notes at a time. Slowly and carefully play the first two notes, including any harmonies, then stop and think about the next two. Approach the entire piece in this careful and considered way. By giving yourself plenty of time to consider your next move, not only are you eliminating mistakes, but it's an almost effortless way to memorise the piece.
Resting the muscles regularly becomes a part of the learning process. It's important to be aware that when we program our muscles to play a certain sequence, we also, if we're not careful, program in stiffness, aches and pains in the form of unnecessary tension. Most aches and pains are due to poor programming rather than exertion. And a lot of the tension is due to the fact that things are happening faster than we'd like. We're not quite sure what's coming next and this causes tension; fear of the unknown. If you'd like a good demonstration of this, close your eyes next time you're walking down the street, and keep walking. Your stress levels will go through the roof, and mental stress = physical tension. Also, if you listen to music, you'll find, that at it's most fundamental level, most phrases work in this note-pairing way. So it's a great way to program in good phrasing right from the start.
Whole Body AwarenessApart from sparing the muscles, the rest period has other benefits too. It is a very good way to assess your performance of the music, and it gives you a chance to accept other signals from the entire body. While we're concentrating on what the right, and more often, the left hand is doing, we tend to completely ignore everything else. If we're constantly playing we're always thinking about the next bit and so never truly get to analyse what we just played.
Here's a specific example of how the rest period helped me when I first decided to have a go at classical guitar. One of the first things one has to deal with when switching from ordinary guitar to classical, is the new sitting, and hand position. These are essential things to get used to because the type of music to be performed is very difficult if not impossible withoutgood positioning. At first these positions feel really uncomfortable and unnatural. But the fact is that it is the best way to keep the guitar absolutely still whilst playing in a free and relaxed way.
So what happened was I'd adopt the correct position with my foot on the stool and the guitar on my left thigh. I'd sit towards the front of the seat and try to keep my back straight and my head centred to avoid twisting the spine or holding my neck in a way that would cause pain. The trouble was that it was all such an effort. And I'd find, instead of it being comfortable, it caused more aches and pains than slouching with the guitar on my right leg, and my thumb on top of the neck.
This is where the rest time proved its usefulness. While playing, my mind would be totally focussed on the job in hand. It was when I stopped playing that messages from the rest of my body were finally allowed to reach my conscious mind. This meant that the aches never reached an overwhelming level, causing me to abandon the session, and maybe even my hopes of playing more advanced music. So I would adjust my position to remove the aches and pains. And because I was stopping regularly, I was able to listen to my body and shift position.
The end result was that I naturally found the most comfortable position in which to sit and hold the guitar. This position was the textbook one, but because I allowed my body to find it, it worked much better than just trying to replicate what someone else had told me.
There's not much more to BE SAID on the subject. Basically go away and try it. Play a note or two and relax completely. Move through a few of your pieces and technical exercises in this way and see the results.
Watch out for that little devil called Impatience! He will definitely try to talk you out of it. But it's time you stuck some tape over his gob anyway because that little ____ is just trying to get you to rush toward a desperate town called Frustration and Failure.