My Top Tips For Avoiding Injury As A Guitarist

It’s always important to make sure that as guitarists we’re looking after our bodies in the right way whatever age we may be. Why? Well, thats kind of a no-brainer – to make sure we’re not storing up problems for ourselves, to nip any issues in the bud as they arise (or prevent them entirely) and to ensure that we have plenty of happy, healthy and pain-free years of playing ahead of us.

So here are some of my top tips (directly from my own experience) in no particular order for ensuring I stay injury-free and can really physically enjoy my playing. Head back this way next week for another set of tips on this subject.

1. Look after yourself

It may sound a little indulgent (or I used to think it did until I realised its importance), but getting a regular massage is a particular tool in my injury prevention armoury that I don’t think I could do without. It releases tight, tense muscles and is extremely relaxing the right hands (not all massages or persons delivering them are made equal!).

I just came back from a massage this afternoon, focussing on head, neck, shoulders, arms and hands. I feel all relaxed and loosened and ready to crack into a decent practice session. And I can tell you a massage on hands that have been working hard on the classical guitar is so deliciously divine!

2. Invest in a foam roller

After most of my practice sessions, I’ll whip out my foam roller, pop it on the floor, lie on it and roll my upper back up and down a few times, nice and slowly. I do this until I have most of the good “cracks” out. This just loosens up any tight spots that may have crept in during practice.

3. Stretch

I don’t stretch prior to practicing (but I do ease into it – no Chaconne straight off the bat!), but I do tend to have a little stretch afterwards. Given that I’ve just been sitting with my arms and chest moving in a forward direction I like to clasp my hands together behind my back to open up the front of my shoulders and chest. I also like to stretch out my sternocleidomatstoid muscle (the big muscle band that runs from the base of your skull behind your ear to your collarbone. To do this I rotate my head to one side and then tip it forward slightly as if were going to sniff my armpit. I hold this for around 10 seconds and then make the stretch a little more by just putting my hand on the crown of my head and applying a little pressure. I then repeat on the other side.

Neck Stretch

4. Keep reasonably fit

I’m not talking about marathon fit or anything silly like that! I am talking about taking some form of exercise and moving yourself around most days a week. Using the muscles and keeping them fit, strong and ready for action is one of the best ways (in my opinion) to keep injury-free. I take the dog walking most days, and two or three days a week I’ll do a class like boxing or dancing or something similarly fun, or head into the gym.

5. Notice when something doesn’t feel right and stop

It’s been a very long time I’ve had anything niggling or painful come at me whilst playing, but I can tell you hands down the best way to prevent that initial twinge from developing into something more serious (and taking sometime to sort out) is to stop what you’re doing that’s causing the pain. Annoying yes, that you have to stop but your body will thank you for it in the long run. Then go and seek the advice of a good teacher about your technique. And I also highly recommend to anyone that will listen the benefits of Alexander Technique – it really did save me!


More Barré Top Tips

Howdy folks. I thought that for today’s post I’d follow on my recent post on playing barrés (or barré chords) with another on some additional tips for getting your fingers around this technique.

Just to recap, I suggested that you need to think about using the bigger muscles of your arm, its weight and gravity to create the pressure required to sound the notes.

And instead of pressing hard between finger and thumb, actually remove your thumb from the guitar neck and think about moving your hand in toward the neck of the guitar. Yes, don’t be clamping that thumb down like you’re pressing a thumb tack into the wood!

Lightly with the thumb

You don’t have to keep the thumb away from the guitar neck completely and all the time. In fact that may add undue tension itself if you do that to actively. Think about just relaxing the thumb, and just resting it, just placing it on the back of the guitar neck to provide balance and an easy, relaxed touch point (whilst putting into practice previous advice around using the weight of the arm and larger muscles groups).

The thumb is still not actively involved, per se, in producing the barré, but provides a resting point for your thumb. Thinking about the thumb in this relaxed manner can also help with thinking about the rest of the hand and fingers in a relaxed manner too.

Don’t attack it straight on

This one kind of depends a little on the make up of your fingers, but most folks have a harder, bonier outer edge to their first left hand finger and a plumper, fleshier underside. Rotate your first finger slightly towards the outside of the fingers, on the harder, bonier part of the finger – this should make the barré a little easier to produce because (a) it’s a nice, relatively hard surface and (b) you’re not contending with (or contending less with) the grooves of the inside of your knuckles. That is to say, the strings will have less of a tendency to slip into those grooves and produce that oh-so-annoying thunking or buzzing of a string not quite down fully.

Be selective with the application of pressure

Ask yourself the questions – do I need to keep this whole barré down all the time? Do I just need a half or partial barré? Can I change from full to partial or vice versa? Where are the pauses or more relaxed points in the music where you could relax the barré temporarily before reapplying?

Another important question to consider is do I need to apply equal pressure across the whole six strings? Have a look at which strings you’re playing and when. See if you can, in fact, selectively apply pressure to those strings in the barré only as you need them and relaxing the finger or fingers elsewhere.

Soundhole B&W


Head here if you want to read that previous post again by the way: