Playing guitar is hard. These tips can help.
1. Don't Fall Back to Support Your Instrument--Free Up Into It
Guitars are heavy, especially acoustic guitars. It is tempting to bend backwards to help support their weight. As a result your back with start to contract which can cause shoulder tension and finger control issues, as well as breath support problems if you sing while you play (plus it doesn't feel good). Instead, think of your body moving forward in up in opposition to the weight of the guitar--it will feel almost like you are doing a shared weight exercise with it. It will be helpful to have your support well set up--if you are sitting, see if you can have the balls of your feet on the floor relatively close to your chair (I recommend a simple musician's stool). If standing, make sure you have some weight in both the heel and ball of both feet (including the big toe side), and consider playing in a subtle 'lunge' position.
2. Don't Fret With Your Neck
As a self-taught guitarist, this has been something that has been really difficult for me: only look at the fret-board when you need to. When we are learning, it is easy to spend all of our time with our head craned towards the fret board to make sure we are doing what we think we are with our hands. Once we get going, this creates a habit of pushing your head off your spine to see what your hands are doing. This tightens your torso, tenses your shoulders, crunches your larynx, and generally makes guitar playing less fun. It can feel ponderous at first, but slowly start to nurse yourself off this habit and try to look up and out as you play. Of course, that doesn't mean you never look down--just try not to get stuck there. One thing I find helpful for this is looking down as much as possible with just my eyes rather than bending my neck--it helps me quick reference without getting to out of sorts. Plus, it is great for keeping sound contant if you have to sing into a mic while you play.
3. Breath Like You Are Singing
Singers are aware of how important breath support is, but string players often don't know that it is just as important for them. The reason why is simple: when your muscles are oxygenated, they relax. When your system doesn't have enough air, it tightens up. Rather than focusing on gulping air in, try this: as you play, exhale gently through each phrase. And the end of each phrase, open your mouth and allow breath to flow in. You should feel your ribs move in your back, and be careful of tightening your abs or letting your head pull back as you inhale. The strange side effect is that you will fine your rhythm becomes more steady, your phrases more musical, your fingers more precise, and your muscles more relaxed--everything will start to feel much more effortless. Plus, you might find this strategy helps you with your stage fright!
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