the Importance of Rest and Relaxation

Why it's just as important to not do as to do. In other words, why we should keep activity and rest in proportion.

Ultimate Guitar

Activity And Rest Equilibrium

Alternating 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 Things

One 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 Awareness

Apart 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.

The Guitar Is A Living Creature

Before I sign off, I'd like to share this little revelation with you. As a direct result of the rest time, I discovered that whenever I increased my right hand attack for the sake of dynamic diversity, my left hand would grip the fretboard more tightly in sympathy. This was during a time when I was trying to cultivate the pussy footing approach to the fretboard. This being the idea that there's no need to press any harder than is absolutely necessary, and so you tread on eggshells so to speak. So I was trying to think of a way to not have my left hand strangle the life out of the neck of my guitar. At first I thought of thinking of it as a very delicate object, which would break easily ifI applied too much pressure. Then I hit upon the winning idea; not to think of my guitar as an object at all, but as a living thing; a thing I loved and didn't wish to hurt, like a pet dog, or better yet a girlfriend. So that's why people like BB King give their guitars girl's names. Light bulb time! At this point the term pussy footing took on a whole new aspect which wasn't there before.

34 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Really good advice. I guilty of playing for long hours without rest, by the end of it i'm a bit pissy. I'm gonna try this I named my guitar Tomi. (i'm a girl) It does help to creat a connection with it.
    I just wanted to comment that the reason you got injured is because you were practicing wrong, NOT too much. Slow it down and you will never get injured. Michael Angelo never had an injury cause he always started slow.
    If you are a master player who has been playing many many years you may have had it where you played hours on end and it felt magical ..say 5 to 6 or more hours a day, though consider with age you may have to lighten up on practicing to get more out of it. your fingers might not feel the same, they may not move as fast, though this is normal, the body is saying.I NEED REST, as any pro in sports needs rest so does the musician need the same, as a weight lifter needs rest, so does the musicians hands very often need rest to go to the next level of playing or even to keep your ablility. The body needs rest but we somehow as musicians do not want to adhere to this. we were built to sleep. your talent will not go away. Learn to take a few days off and stick with it and the results will be mind blowing.
    I realized I clutch my guitar neck tightly as well, but that's because I play on 52-11 strings in standard on a razorback with a big ass neck, getcha pull! Lol important article though, resting is key to any musical greatness
    sometime it is very hurt when i play Guitar for 4 hours-no rest no stop .i know that i have not make a balance between activity and rest.So your article may help me!!THX!!
    nah, i play guitar 8-10 hours everyday and my playing has never been so clean or creative. i cannot go more than a nights sleep without playing, i don't believe in resting.
    Great artcle! A lot of good advice which I am definitely going to try out Thx
    This is excellent advise and it's not the first time I've heard it. I take lessons every week. My little devil keeps telling me to hurry up and keep going because my next lesson is coming up. I always feel under the gun to learn the lesson within the week and typically play for hours non-stop every day. That's my problem. I rarely learn the piece by the end of the week. From now on I'm going to take frequent breaks and forget about the deadline. Hope this helps. It can't hurt to try.
    I never noticed i was clutching the neck of my guitar really hard untill i read this, great article!
    RockInPeaceDime wrote: Sleep = Most important . I always like to try learning something difficult before I go to sleep. The next day it usually seems to be easier.
    Learn something FROM Sleep Aside from that,keep it fresh,keeps the mood up and gives the performance a brand new,better,higher level.
    prince of rock
    man this explains alot thats pretty much how i mastered sweep picking i just stoped playing for a few days
    At this point the term pussy footing took on a whole new aspect which wasnt there before.
    Haha Very good article!
    This will indeed work. On the "uncommon practice" article posted a little while ago I mentioned this. If you combine the singing with this stop of playing, your brain will be still calculating what is happening in the music, effectively creating a better practice. Good article.
    Sleep = Most important. I always like to try learning something difficult before I go to sleep. The next day it usually seems to be easier.
    Rest is very important. This is a very good and well written article addressing one of the (in my opinion) most overlooked aspects of getting better at guitar.
    good advice, ive been doing something similar for years now. if i was struggling with a particularly tough piece, i'd go step outside and take a breather (especially useful in the studio). also, when i find my playing is getting stale or dry, ill take a day or two off to make myself miss it . lastly, ive called my strat baby since the day i bought it, and im more in love with that instrument than i could ever be with a girl
    That's a really good advise, i normaly try to play relaxed, yet sometimes i feel sleepy xD
    the joint in my little finger at the knuckle really hurts when i play, is that an effect from unequal playing and relaxtion or something worse?
    Great advice, and that last bit really hit home, as I hadn't even realised I'd been doing the same thing (holding fretboard way too hard in certain instances) until you said it then. Thanks for the insights.
    Pesonally, if I've been practicing a lot for months trying to make a breakthrough without any time off, I nearly always end up feeling frustrated and feeling like I'm not making any progress. Every time this happens, if I take a break of a day or two (whether intentionally or not,) I come back to the guitar...and wala! I see improvement: my playing feels smoother, more accurate; more confident. Lately I have been practicing like mad for 2 months trying to see some progress in the exercises my teacher has given me. I was getting frustrated and impatient at my seemingly slow progress. I don't think the mind perceives improvement when your slogging away day after day, week after week, etc. And, like any exercise, you're muscles/mind need a break from time to time to fully recover and process. However, right now I'm in the middle of moving, so because I was so busy, I took 2 days off practicing without really intending to. I woke up this morning, picked up the guitar...and boom: big big improvement. I'm now trying to incorporate short breaks into my daily practice routine, and also take day or two breaks every week or every other week. It works wonders for your motivation when you see a noticeable progress in your playing.