Getting Back into Playing After a Break – My Recent Approach

 

Soundhole B&W

Well, I’m writing this post a little later in the year than I had perhaps first anticipated, first planning it back in July, and mentioning in my “She’s Back!” post that I’d like to talk about my approach to getting back into playing after a break.

However, the couple of additional months (OK, more than a couple – a couple of couple) has meant that I’ve also been able to reflect on my approach more and provide more information here about the sustainability of the approach and benefits to my practice and playing.

So as I mentioned back in July, I had a complete break away from the guitar for about 6 weeks (which I found to be really beneficial overall for a number of reasons) from mid may to late June or thereabouts. And come end June it was time to get back into playing again, which I was really excited to do after having a mental and physical refresh and reset.

First and foremost I think the most important thing to do is to just do it! Don’t prevaricate, or agonise over this, that or the other in terms of what you’re playing. Just pick up the guitar and play something, get back into the feel of it. If it has been a break of few weeks you will likely feel totally ham-fisted, like your right hand is a massive clump of barely moving tissues and your left hand like a bunch of sausages with fingernails on the end (oh yes, definitely make sure your nails are in good shape before cracking into any playing after a break. Or anytime really!). This feeling will pass after a few practice sessions as the fine-tuning and tone in your hand and finger muscles returns.

I should say at this point that I caveat this “just do it” initial approach quite heavily. Pick two or three easy pieces that you know are very accessible for you to get back into the swing of things with. For example, I launched back in with a couple of good ol’ “classics” – the good ol’ Spanish Romance by Anon. You know the one, quite hopelessly cheesy, all arpeggios and relatively simple left hand movements. It is actually these relatively simple right and left hand movements and lack of any complexity in the rhythm that make it quite an ideal “getting back into it” and/ or warm up piece. To start mixing things back up with some slightly more complex left and right hand movements and rhythmic variation I picked up Classical Gas by Mason Williams (yes, I know. Cheese central). I also picked a couple of South American pieces for the same.

And picking up the guitar again with these pieces I didn’t sit there for an hour at a time to play (and it was playing and not practicing I hasten to add). Initially it was just 15 or 20 minutes of really relaxed, gentle playing. I repeated that on a more or less daily basis (as work and other things permitted) for a good 3 or 4 weeks until I felt that I was really comfortably on top of things again. Now I’ve been playing for over two decades so my muscle memory is pretty strong, as you may imagine, for those of you who’ve been playing for less time (or even those of you who’ve been playing for similar lengths of time or longer) you may find you need to go the slow and steady route for a week or two longer. Be sure to listen to and be guided by your body. Just don’t try to push it too much too soon.

Then after those 3 or 4 weeks, I then took a look at what repertoire I wanted to start working on, both new repertoire, revisiting repertoire that hadn’t been played in a couple of years or so, or building on and polishing up “nearly there” repertoire.

Taking this approach meant I was in a really good space, physically with my body and my technique and mentally in terms of “yeah, let’s do this!”, to start hitting up some more challenging items (Bach Lute Suite BWV 997 and Domeniconi’s Koyunbaba are a couple of pieces, or rather collections of pieces, in the works now for example).

And hitting up the repertoire, I’m making sure I’m interspersing the more challenging new material with revisiting some of the older material (and getting some really great results with a new perspective, new fingerings, different sound qualities, smoother lines and so on) and still some of the easier stuff for a bit of fun and warming up with.

Now I’m fully back into the swing of things again, and properly practicing in a very focussed way rather than playing, I’ll be spending no more than an hour with the guitar. On average probably around 45 – 60 mins per session, most days (when work travel permits!).

So, my top 5 tips in a nutshell, in terms of how I approach getting back into playing after a break are:

  1. Just do it. Get back into the feel of it. Play something, but…..
  2. …..Select two or three very accessible pieces. Throw some scales in there for good measure too.
  3. Take it nice and easy. 10 – 20 minutes per day, on a more or les daily basis if you’re able, building up slowly. A little and often is key.
  4. And take it nice and slowly for 3 to 4 weeks. There’s no hurry here. We’re looking for longevity and sustainability of playing and getting solid technique rocking and rolling again.
  5. Get your repertoire lined up – some exciting new stuff, revisit some old stuff with some fresh eyes and hands, work up some “nearly there” stuff. Don’t be tempted to overdo it. Have fun with it.

Coming up in my next couple of posts (for real this time) –  my last album review for 2016 by fab USA guitarist Matthew Fish, and an exciting (well, I think it’s exciting. Hopefully you think it’s a little exciting too) announcement of a wee project of mine for early 2017 (or even late 2016 if I get my backside into gear!). Watch this space!

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Giving pain in the neck the cold shoulder – Guitarist’s Shoulder: Top Tips for Getting Rid of Pain in the Neck and Shoulder

I’ve written a number of posts over the last two or three years about pain in the neck and shoulders related to playing guitar. One of the post popular posts I’ve written was this one:

I wrote that post nearly a couple of years ago now and thought, halfway through 2014 now, it would be a good time for an update. Long time followers of the blog will be aware of my journey with myotherapy and then onto Alexander Technique (check out the links beneath this article for some of those posts).

What were my “Guitarist’s Shoulder” symptoms?

I was experiencing pain and soreness in my right (and only my right) shoulder, both back and front, and the right side of my neck had been really building up, noting that I’m a right-handed guitarist. I’d get some temporary relief from this through massage or myotherapy (massage with targeted myofascial release), but it would build and build to become almost debilitating. I wasn’t too aware of the initial warning signs of things building either. Or I was, but chose to ignore or thought I could play through

The particular symptoms of “Guitarist’s Shoulder” that I had were:

  • Lots of nasty clicking, particularly across the front of the shoulder joint, where apparently there were some very tight bands of muscle catching and popping across the collarbone. This was pretty uncomfortable, but not painful. It certainly didn’t help me, let’s put it that way, and it certainly grossed a few people out.

 

  • A continuous dull aching sensation in both the front and back of the shoulder joint, leading me to want to punch myself in the shoulder or press into it with my fist or my fingers to relieve the ache.

 

  • The dull aching sensation sometimes travelled up into the back of my head, jaw and eye, feeling like I had quite a bad sinus headache. Through talking with physical healthcare professionals and learning more about my anatomy I came to realise this sensation was not in fact related to things going on in my head (no sniggering now), but was actually overworked muscles in the neck and shoulders. The pain sensation in the head, eye, jaw and even upper nose sometimes, was actually a referred pain from the neck and shoulders. The same with the dull aching sensation that sometimes also travelled down into my upper arm.

 

  • Sharp pain in the middle of my right shoulder-blade, especially when turning my head to the right and a noticeable and palpable tightness in right side of my neck.

 

What a pain in the neck
What a pain in the neck

Have I given pain in the neck the cold shoulder?

Yes! An unequivocal yes!

I can say, hand on heart, that I no longer have any of these symptoms above. Well, some of them start to creep in from time-to-time, but I now know the warning signs and how to nip them in the bud before they blow up into that pain in the neck that is “Guitarist’s Shoulder”!

It took me a while to understand my body (and brain) and the way it works when playing guitar, when it’s not playing guitar and when at rest, to take control of neck and shoulder pain.

 

My top tips for ridding yourself of pain in the neck and shoulder

  • Listen not only to the sound you’re making when playing, but also to your body – if there are aches or pains that occur during or reasonably soon after playing this is your body’s signal that something is not quite right in terms of your posture and/ or your technique. Seek the advice of a good teacher and a good physical therapist!

 

  • Do not continue playing through pain – there should NEVER be pain when playing. Ever.

 

  • Seriously consider some Alexander Technique lessons – if it’s good enough for Julian Bream and Yehudi Menhuin I figured it was good enough for me and it certainly helped me in understanding how my body moves, how I could move it in a more efficient way, where tension (unbeknownst to me) was in my body and how to release it.

 

  • Keep yourself physically fit and healthy – I’m not saying you should be pumping iron down at the gym every second day, but weak muscles and poor posture will lead to overloaded muscles in other parts of your body (i.e. muscles doing significant movements all of the time that really shouldn’t be). This leads to aches and pains in the neck and shoulder. I’ve overcome this by doing activities such as swimming, some light weight training, yoga (for some delicious stretches) and kickboxing (which is jolly good fun! And minding the nails of course!)

 

  • Keep yourself mentally fit and healthy – the mind and the body are not two separate and distinct things, but two parts of a whole system. Allowing yourself time to relax, rest and recuperate between practice sessions, and not allowing yourself to get too hept up when working on something challenging is key. If you’re relaxed mentally you stand a much greater chance of being relaxed physically and pain and ache free.

 

  • Look after yourself with some remedial massage or myotherapy from time to time, to help stretch out the muscles, get rid of trigger points and muscle adhesions or knots.

 

  • Don’t sit practicing in the one position for long periods of time – move in your chair, sit forwards when playing, lean back when not or get up and walk around.