Getting Back Into Playing After A Break

Happy New Year everyone! I trust you all had enjoyable, relaxing and fun-filled holidays? And I trust you’re all refreshed now, ready to hit 2014 with a bang – in life, in work, and in your guitar playing?! I know I am feeling well-rested after a couple of weeks of just tinkering around the edges with the guitar and cutting loose with some favourite tunes.John Price Guitar

So now I’m all ready to launch into getting back into the full-on guitar practice schedule and putting in some steady work again in the practice room. Hopefully you’re feeling something similar now too after the holidays. Bring it!

What’s the best way to get back into practice?

Well, I’m not sure there’s any such thing as a “best” way to do something like get back into practice, but here’s a few of my top tips for blowing out the cobwebs and setting yourself up for the guitar-playing journey ahead in 2014.

(1)  Take a moment to figure out why you’re practicing

What is it you’re working towards? You’re about to launch into serious practice mode (students take note!), so having a particular goal or goals in mind makes all of that practice much easier in a certain respect. If you’re making progress towards something for a reason rather than just doing it for the sake of doing it, you stand a greater chance of mastering a particular technical element, for example.

Could be an exam or exams you’d like to take this year. A concert. Playing for your mum or your kids. Finally mastering and feeling comfortable with your favourite piece or a piece of repertoire that doesn’t often see the light of day.

(2)  Easy does it

If you’ve not played in a couple of weeks I can almost guarantee that the first time you come to play your fingers will feel like you’ve had a couple of pints with a whiskey chaser (I tried this once, darn near impossible for me to play. Goodness now how dear Mr Bream managed it! Anyway, I digress…)

So, yes, your fingers will feel a little clumsy and clunky around the fretboard and on the strings. This means you’ve lost a little muscle condition in the fingers and hands, but like any other muscle in the human body a little training, in the correct manner, will soon improve strength, mobility and muscle tone.

Take it easy in the first few days, but not quite as much a Bob the dog perhaps...
Take it easy in the first few days, but not quite as much as Bob the dog perhaps…

Ideal training here, particularly in the first couple of days back to regular practice, is nice and easy, slow, deliberate movements.  This is the number one way to get your hands and fingers back in shape healthily. Trying to play fast stuff or stuff with lots of fiddly, intricate movements too soon may well strain and injure your hands and digits, particularly if you’re a beginner to intermediate guitarist.

So just take the time to ease back into it gently; take a look a some details in what you’re playing. This gives the brain time to say “oh hello!” again too and is less of a rude awakening! You may even find you notice things that you hadn’t noticed prior to your break.

 

(3)  Rebuild, reinstate (or instate!) good habits

This is a great time to build good practice habits. Once you’ve eased yourself into full, regular practice, it’s a good time to assess exactly how you’re practicing.

Yes, we need to play our music, feel it, express, move, cut loose and so on, but we also need to recognise that when we sit down to practice that that is what we’re doing.

So in the next week or so I recommend you think about how you’re scheduling both your practice and play time. Can you use your practice time more efficiently? Is there anything you need to change up? Is there anything you need to change in your practice environment to remove the temptation to avoid practice and the work you need to do to achieve your goal/s? How can you schedule in both practice and play time?

Have fun getting back into the swing of things with your guitar practice and playing in 2014! And if you need any help getting into the swing of things I’m always here to help.

Classical Guitar Foot Stool or Rest?

This is a choice that you may be faced with in first coming to the guitar, or coming back to it after a while. It may also be something to think about if you’ve been playing for a while.

For years and years and years, throughout my formative playing years through my eighth grade and beyond I always played guitar with my left leg propped up on the trusty, adjustable foot stool. There was no reason to do otherwise – my teachers played in this way, all my “guitar heroes” played in this way (Bream, Williams and so on).

To be honest, for a long time I’d not seen anyone play using any other form of support to raise the guitar up to a height that both allowed playability and was comfortable. That was until I started to see more and more folks – my peers, teachers, players – using these adjustable rest-type contraptions attached to the side of the guitar which rests on the leg propping the guitar up on the left leg.

Interesting, I thought. There must be a reason why I’m seeing more and more players choosing this type of tool to raise and support the guitar over the foot stool, so I tried out a few different styles of rests for myself. And there are a whole host of different styles of rests to choose from (a couple of which I really didn’t get on with), but some which, for me personally, were fantastic. I now use the rest over a foot stool 100% of the time.

Why is this?

Well, my feet are both flat on the floor meaning that there’s no undue strain or twisting on the lower back. This allows for much more comfortable playing for longer periods of time (although of course you should always take regular breaks), and ensures that you’re not going to be storing up trouble for later on.

I also understand that the prolonged use of a foot stool can shorten the hip flexor on the side being raised by the foot stool (as can too much sitting generally). So you could potentially end up with a shortened hip flexor on one side of your body causing an imbalance as well as a weakness. Great…. not!

Having both feet flat on the floor also provides a very stable platform for playing – you feel very grounded and centred, a sensation which I find lacking with the foot stool. And with the type of rest that I have I can change the height at which I have the guitar and the angle – this allows me to receive better feedback from the guitar, both aurally and also in terms of the vibrations felt from the instrument in my body. Being able to fine-tune the height and angle of the guitar also means I can achieve a much more ergonomic (i.e. better, more comfortable and healthy) playing position than can be afforded to me by a foot stool alone.

So in answer to the question, foot stool or rest, I’d say it’s really up to you, but think about what it is you want. If you want something that’s going to allow you to play comfortably for longer periods, and for a longer time overall, with fewer physical issues then I’d say give some serious consideration to a guitar rest.