Following on from my recent top tips for avoiding injury as a classical guitarist, which were based around things to do before and after practicing, I thought I’d some more technique-based tips into the mix.
Now, those who’ve been reading the blog for a while will know that a number of years ago I was struggling with a injury myself – pins and needle sensations in the left wrist and lower hand, tight and sore thumb muscle, sore, tense and quite painful neck and shoulder muscles, sore upper back and tension headaches. Not something I want to repeat!
And there was a decent amount of work in remediating my technique, my posture and so on to alleviate the causes of the issues. But alleviate the issues I did, as well as remediating my technique and going great guns for the last 5 or so years without so much as a twinge.
Having gone through what I did, it’s something that I think about a lot in my approach to practice and what I’m doing pretty much every single time I’m with the guitar. And I also reflect on what I’m doing and what I continue to learn about my body whilst playing.
So here are my top technique tips, in no particular order, for avoiding injury whilst playing classical guitar!
1. Take your time
This one has many, many benefits – as well as allowing you to get to know and understand the music, ensuring that you’re learning the music and right and left hand finger placements correctly, slow and deliberate practice (especially in the early days of learning a new piece) will really help to avoid build up of tension in both left and right hands and minimise risk of strain and overuse injury.
So slow and steady does it for sustainable playing!
2. Don’t try to do everything at once
Case in point are seemingly tough, four, five, or six notes chords, with your fingers spread all over the finger board. And then leaping to another similar one with fingers in different places. Firstly, take your hand off the fingerboard! Stop – resist the urge to strain too hard and get it, like, right now. Look at how you can break it down. Look at which fingers go where and when they can be moved. And build it up over successive practice sessions. It’s not a race. Take the time to learn it slowly. It’ll “stick” better too, and without undue tension and strain and pain. Oh, and this goes well with the previous one 😉
3. Ensure that your left hand* and arm are in a nice straight line
You need to make sure that 99% of the time whilst playing your left hand and forearm are more or less in a straight line. This needs to be the case regardless of which fret position you’re playing in. To keep everything nice and straight, with that wrist and all the bones, cartilage, nerves, blood vessels, muscles and goodness know what else runs through that little space, you will need to move your arm from the shoulder. Imagine you’re a one-winged chicken, flapping your left wing – go on stick your left hand in your arm pit (arm and hand in a straight line thought) and pretend like you’re a chicken now. Now flap! OK, that’s enough of that…. Hah hah! Ok, so just move your hand out of your armpit and pretend you’re moving your hand up and down the neck of the guitar in that chicken flapping kind of manner. Your lower arm and hand should be in a nice straight line, not doing anything really, and all the movement coming from the shoulder
4. The one killer tip….
With all the above tips in mind, there is one thing that you can do to really improve your chances of either recovering and re-establishing your technique or minimising your chances of developing an over use injury. What is that? That is seek the advice of a good teacher.
Seriously, having a set of eyes (or even more than one set of eyes) that are not your own, that quite possibly even been there before to some extent, that know what to look for and how to correct or change your positioning and technique and work with you over time is the best thing you could do for your physical health as far as playing guitar goes. I know I bang on about this on the blog a bit (for those of you who are long time readers!), but its really important! It really worked for me and I dread to think where I would be had I need sought out some good, solid advice. The worst case scenario is that I wouldn’t be playing today, or would have succumbed to the idea of needing surgery. I shiver at the thought of both!!
So please folks, if you’re not currently with a teacher and are experiencing consistent, persistent pains associated with playing, firstly stop right there! And then seek out a good teacher in your area. Or if you’re already with a teacher then seek some advice from another experienced teacher, one that you can find who is clued up in particular about injury and/ or technique remediation. It’ll be the best thing you ever did I promise you.
* By left hand I mean your fretting hand. For left-handed guitarists, this will be your right hand.