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Getting Physical

I will give you some techniques today that many or many teachers avoid.

Today I will give some interesting and little techniques that could make a big difference in your Musical Career. So, let’s see what we have got for you.

No, I don’t mean getting into a fight or something more sinister than that (get your head out of the gutter) …

When you first start learning to play guitar, there some things you are going to find difficult right from the get-go.  Before you even consider any of the theory-based topics (such as scales, chords, etc.) there is the simple matter of the physicality of playing guitar.  Let’s take a few minutes to put the mental stuff aside for a minute and take a look at how to actually play this slab of wood with metal wires on it.

Should I Sit, or Should I Stand?

Any player that has any measurable amount of experience under their belt will tell you that there really is a big difference if you practice sitting down or standing up.  It’s not a matter of whether or not you can play a song in either position or the other, because you most certainly can.  What’s different is getting used to one position, then trying to move into the other.

For example, when you routinely practice sitting down, you may be using the same set of muscles as you would when standing, but your relative body position is different.  That can make some things that are really easy to play in one orientation a little more difficult in the other. 

Countless times I have sat down to work on a particularly tricky song and get it pretty much worked out after some time without much issue.  When I tried to play that same song standing up, however, I had to almost relearn it to an extent.  Obviously, the fret and string positions are the same, but your arm and hand positions relative to the neck are just different enough to cause a little trouble.  You should practice in the position you are most likely to perform in just so there are no surprises when that time comes.  It’s not always an issue, mind you, but it’s a situation you need to be mindful of.

Not only that but if you’ve always played sitting down it may take a little getting used to when standing up and using strap.  Some guitars are heavier than others and your neck and shoulder muscles may feel a little sore; practicing while standing for long enough and you won’t even notice it.

Don’t Be So Callus

Part of the challenge when starting out playing is the fact that it makes your fingers hurt!  Putting your finger tips on a thin metal string over and over can make your fingertips very tender.

Thankfully the human body is an incredibly resilient machine in its’ own right, and it can adapt to repeated, unnatural conditions.  Playing for long enough will get you to the point where you will develop calluses on each finger of your fretting hand.  That is where the skin on your fingertips will toughen up to where you won’t even feel or notice the strings as you play.

Calluses tend to soften up when they get wet, though; you might want to avoid playing after your hands have been exposed to water for any extended length of time.  Don Felder from the Eagles made note of trying to record a song on a 12 string (holding two strings down per finger instead of one) after spending a little quality time in a hot tub at the studio.  It tore him up to the point where his fingers actually bled!

Under Pressure

Aside from being an awesome song by Queen (I reserve the right to my opinion!), the right amount of pressure to place on a string is very important. Consistently having notes ring out properly and also be properly in tune is your long term goal.  The key here is to keep in mind that “enough pressure” doesn’t mean to smash the string down so hard in-between the frets that it comes in contact with the fretboard.

Too much pressure will make your fingers hurt unnecessarily, and it can also throw you out of tune.  Not in the sense that the strings themselves are out of tune when played open, but remember that extra tension = higher pitch.  Guitars with thinner strings are more susceptible to this.

The biggest problem with too little pressure is that the note will sound muted. Just like working with a clutch in a car with a manual transmission takes a bit to get the “feel” of it, the same is true with getting just the right amount of pressure to properly contact the fret.

Right Place At The Right Time

Your first couple of times playing will probably have you feeling like you’re trying to take all of your fingers and smash them together at one time, particularly when you are working on chord fingerings.  A critical mistake that beginners make is to not have your fingertips contact the string from the top of the fretboard as much as possible.

Fingering chords is most certainly an unnatural feeling, and it’s common to not have much control at the beginning.  You may have the right fingers on the right strings and on the right frets, but the sides of your fingers may be unintentionally touching other strings, causing them to not ring out as they should.  

Take the time during your practicing to make sure your fingers are contacting the strings as cleanly as possible, arcing them as much as possible.  This is one of those skills that is an absolute must to master before you can make any meaningful progress towards getting better.

Playing guitar is comprised of a set of mental and physical challenges that all must be overcome to be the best player that you can be.  The mental end of things comprise more of the “never-ending quest for knowledge” stuff and you won’t ever master every single thing that there is to know (that’s the beauty of it).  The physical end of things, though, is a must to get grips on right from the start; once you get the basic feel and techniques down you can tackle the mental aspects with confidence!

That’s it for this week, so – as always –

stay tuned…..

….And peace out!

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