I was prompted to update this post recently by a Twitter follower wanting to know how I was getting on with my issue of a sore neck and shoulder.
To jog the memory, or for those of you who are new here, I wrote a wee piece back in about September last year on a spot of bother I was having with my neck and shoulders, in particular my trapezius muscle on the right hand side.
Well, I’m pleased to report that things have significantly improved since then. It’s not quite perfect yet, but a whole heap less bother than it was a few months ago; I think this is down to a combination of three to four main factors:
(1) Playing Position and Guitar Support
One of the key things I’ve been looking at in the last few months is how I actually sit with the guitar in the first place.
I had been using the tried and trusted foot stool, which I had been using from the year dot, when I first began playing. I’d been told and shown by a number of people that these were perhaps not the best for posture and playing postition, and to give a guitar support a crack, but I always used to think they were rather faddy kind of things and that the foot stool was doing nicely thank you very much.
However, after watching a few pretty decent players play with a couple of different style guitar supports I couldn’t help but notice how relaxed and at ease they looked with their playing positions – both feet flat on the floor (so probably minimial, if any, tension in the hip flexors and lower back), relaxed upper body and arms.
So I thought I’d give it a whirl.
My first foray with the guitar support was an ErgoPlay – a black metal and plastic support from Germany. I’d seen a number of players used this, and I’d had the benefit of being given one for free to use, so I thought I mights as well give it a crack.
ErgoPlay Support (http://www.ergoplay.de/index_engl.html)
However, I really couldn’t get on with the ErgoPlay. In spite of being adjustable, I just couldn’t find the right heights and angles to feel comfortable, with the guitar in a stable position. Using the
ErgoPlay was probably actually adding extra tension into the situation for me.
This is not to say that the ErgoPlay is a bad support (I know plenty of people that use it and recommend it); it just didn’t suit me.
I had also seen increasing numbers of people using a rather attractive wooden support – a Lance Litchfield support. Lance is a guitar maker, but also crafts these beautiful supports. He’s super friendly and helpful too in correspondence with him, and he likes to ensure you have the right sizing of support for your requirements.
Anyway, I managed to trial a Litchfield support (thanks Ben) before buying one and it was a bloody revelation! It held the guitar well, and made it feel very stable and secure in playing. This really does relax me in my playing – I don’t have to worry about trying to “pin” the guitar to my body – which in turn makes for greater ease in playing. Also, given the way the support can be angled I got an entirely different perspective on how my guitar sounds. Instead of the sound being all pretty much projected forward, I’d angled it the guitar body so it was tilted slightly towards the ceiling. This revealed a whole heap of subtlties in tone that I hadn’t managed to hear before using the foot stool.
So, yes, I lept in with both feet for the Lance Ltichfield support. I played my first gig with it back in November and was the most comfortable I’d felt in performance mode. Excellent!
I seriously recommend the Litchfield support (and looks pretty swisho too). Check him out at www.litchfieldguitars.com
I have also been reevaluating my technique and the playing action of my right hand – changing up the angle of attack (which has the key benefit of producing a much better tone; much fuller, less thin and tinny sound).
I’ve also relaxed a lot more into my playing. So, what if I fudge or buzz a note slightly – being more concerned with the shape and direction of phrases and pieces as a whole, rather than every single element during a performance works to (a) take your mind off of tricky little sections, (b) lets you enjoy the music as whole a lot more and (c) enables you to go with the flow and just relax into it.
Relaxed = less tension = easier physical movement = ease of playing = beautiful sound.
(3) Changing up my exercise routine
I’m a bit of a keen road cyclist, and for a long time my entire exercise regime consisted of riding, riding and more riding. Now this is good is you’re wanting to be a professional cyclist (which let me tell you I am a long, long way from being!), but not so good for poor neck and shoulder muscles, particularly if you also play guitar and spend a fair amount of time at a computer.
I’d been to see a good friend of mine who happens to be a physio (thanks Morgs!) and she recommended I get started on some push ups and rowing in the gym. So I took her advice and over the past couple of months I’ve added this into the exercise regime, along with some light weights in the gym.
I’ve also been doing a wee bit of running and an increasing amount of relatively fast-paced walking (have a hyper-active puppy helps with this bit). The walking I think is particularly beneficial as you don’t really have to engage the arms, neck or shoulders too much at all, so it allows them to relax somewhat and tension to melt away.
I’ve also started swimming again this week, but seeing as this is pretty new into the mix I can’t really report too much on that at this stage.
The photo above is me demonstrating my excellent skills in diversifying my range of physical exercises. This particular example demonstrates silly walking in the cold.
When things got really bad, and whilst I was figuring the above stuff out, a good Thai massage (True Thai on Chapel Street, Prahran are fantastic http://www.truethai.com.au/chapel-st) really alleviated the knots and tension (and makes me feel kind of spaced out, in a good way). I still like to go and get a neck and shoulder massage from time to time as general maintenance. And it feels good and they give you a lovely cup of lemongrass tea when you’re done….Mmmm…
Anyway. So that’s where things are at with me and my posture at the moment. This is still a work in progress, and I’m sure I’ll discover and change some more things up in the next few months. I’ll keep you updated!