Time for a rest from your classical guitar practice?

Ooh yes, indeed! Time for a rest! At the end of the year – our summer holidays here in Australia, your mid-winter holidays up there in the northern hemisphere – it’s a good time to have a well-earned rest. Time, perhaps for a rest from all the hard work, all that hard practice you’ve been putting into your guitar playing over the preceding 12 months.

Why take a rest? You always say consistent practice is the way to improve!

Yes, it most definitely is. But so is pacing yourself and knowing that it’s important to rest every now and then. I’m not talking about taking a month long sabbatical away from your instrument (gosh, I’m not sure I could go that long without playing!) but a week or two will be good for you. In fact, I tend to aim for two or three points in the year where I have at least a week long break from playing.

So, why?

(1)  Seeing the woods for the trees

Well, when you’re so close to something all the time as intensely as we guitar nutcases tend to be with our guitars, you can loose the woods for the trees.  Our hyper-focus on certain aspects of our playing, pieces, exercises and so on can mean we sometimes loose a bit of perspective. We can obsess over those aspects, sometimes even to the point of impacting it negatively.

Taking time out can help regain that perspective. You might be surprised coming back after a break that a wee knot or issue in a piece that you’ve been having seems a lot less challenging or actually a complete non-issue.

(2)  Resting is where our brain and body get to work

Taking a rest is a bit like having slaved away in a hot kitchen for hours cooking up a big stew or curry and then leaving it……… The recipe tastes pretty good immediately when you’ve finished making it, but leave it to simmer, stew and to rest and it then tastes phenomenal.

Something a little bit like that (well, kind of) happens when we take a rest from our practice. I’m not sure of the precise neurological processes that happen, but it seems as if the brain has the time to subconsciously shift through, sort out and sieve through everything we’ve been teaching it and practicing. It then takes the best bits and pushes that forwards for some tasty musical goodness. Well, you know, not every time, but that depends how you’ve been practicing!

(3)  Getting past that plateau

Sometimes we may feel like we’re stuck in a bit of a rut with our playing, like we’re plateauing or not making the improvements we’ve previously made or would like to make. Well, taking some time out can help – just like an athlete taking a rest from training – in rest, recovery and rebuilding, both physically and mentally.

If you’ve hit a bit of a mental plateau, kind of a bit tired and a little uninspired with your playing, don’t forget the old saying that absence makes the heart grow fonder. After a wee break, just like a holiday from work, you’ll come back refreshed, ready to work and take things to new heights.


My top three post-practice stretches for guitarists

I thought I’d share with you today the three stretches that I now do after each and every practice session. Well, after most sessions anyway. Those sessions where I don’t do these stretches after I tend to notice a higher degree of tension in the time post-practice. Needless to say (but I’m going to say it anyway), those times when I do do the following stretches I feel marvellous! All stretched out, tension released, refreshed and re-energised. They’re good for getting the oxygenated blood flowing to the parts again after sitting down, focusing and concentrating, during your practice.

I’m sharing these exercises as they work for me – whether you choose to do these for yourself is entirely up to you, but please take account of your own physical condition and health before commencing them. If unsure don’t do them and/ or consult your doctor. Always consult a health professional if you have any lingering aches and pains or any unduly sharp pains during or after playing guitar.

Stretch #1 – The Back Roll

OK, so this first one isn’t really a stretch after all. It is a tension-reliever though and involves a the use of a hard foam roller to effectively crack your own back. It feels great!

I could try and explain the technique here (and thought better of filming myself lumbering around on the floor!), but check out this video instead – this chap demonstrates the technique very neatly, although I would recommend rolling a little more slowly perhaps than he is doing.

Stretch #2 – The Lumbar Twist

This one was inspired by my forays in to the world of yoga. Don’t worry it’s not some crazy, one-legged, balancing act. It’s actually a very gentle posture, that promotes release of tension in the spine through a gentle, supported twisting – lying down on your back on the floor your head and neck move one way, whilst the legs move the other with the position held for 10 – 30 seconds to really let the tension melt away.

Again, rather than me trying to explain further and/ or clamber around ungracefully for your viewing displeasure, check out this YouTube clip. The posture I’m on about starts around 1 minute 10 seconds in.

Stretch #3 – The Shoulder and Chest Stretch

This is a good one to round off a wee stretching session, as it brings you back up to standing and focuses on chest and shoulders. Standing with feet about hip width apart, put your hands behind your back, palms facing each other and interlock your fingers. Raise your interlocked hands up (not too far) and stretch – you should feel a nice gentle stretch across the front of the chest and shoulders. You can choose to put you head slightly forward as well to increase the stretch and stretch the back of the neck. You can also then gently tilt the head back to gently stretch the muscles in the front of the neck. This stretch, because of the interlocked hands, can also help with stretching out the wrists. If you want to stretch the wrists a little more turn your interlocked hands so your palms are facing outward. You’ll also get a nice wee stretch in the forearms with this too.

Another option is to stretch the chest and shoulders like so…