Classical Guitar Performance – Cutting Loose and Going For It

Cutting loose and going for it. Cutting loose is about letting go and letting the unconscious mind and your muscle memory and all that hard work and practice you’ve been putting in do its thing. It’s about trusting yourself.

What does that even mean when playing guitar? For me at least it means:

  • Resigning conscious control of what it is I’m playing.
  • Being really in the now and present with what I’m playing in exactly that one moment; living for the moment!
  • Not being concerned with the music I have just played and is now past.
  • Not becoming upset with any glitches or imperfections I may have played or thinking how I’d like to play that better and so on.
  • Not judging myself or thinking about what others may think.
  • Not allowing myself to get over-excited when I really nail something spectacularly.
  • Maintaining a calm, confident and centred (not ecstatic, not negative) demeanour when playing; just being.

Here are some ideas to help loosen you up and get you to trust yourself….

Why are you playing guitar? To make yourself and others happy or moved? Or to make yourself feel tense and horrible? Hopefully not the latter or you and I need to have words! Note that I say “make yourself…..” – only you can make yourself feel a certain emotion….Think about that one. And remember why you’re playing in the first place.

Close your eyes when you’re next practicing and really listen it to the sound you’re making. How does it sound? How does it feel to really focus in on your sound in this way? How could focusing in on your sound help you in a performance situation? It gives your conscious mind something to focus on and be occupied with so your unconscious mind and your body can get on with the job in hand (boom boom). It will also mean your sound quality remains top notch.

Practice getting in the zone, and quieting the active, bubbling, bouncing conscious mind and its whirling thoughts. Some daily meditation, or similar mind-body awareness practice can really help with this. I like to do daily Alexander Technique practice with my semi-supine position as it gets mind and body awareness working together – I become aware of both mental and physical tensions and practice noticing and letting go. It’s soooo relaxing…

This one’s for those who are ready to take it to the next level……. Say “bugger it! What is the worst that can happen?!” As special as you are and all that, no one is going to remember your performance in an hours time let alone that you played a B-flat instead of a B (if they even realised!), or that you skipped a section, or that you lost your place because you got excited. I promise you.

Think on it – do you remember any particular moments from the concerts and gigs you’ve been to as an audience member? Maybe a couple, but overall you remember them as fantastic experiences I bet?  People always remember the big picture rather than the little details, so give them a technicolour experience rather than something in muted tones!

And then pull it back a little

And when you’ve got that down pat it’s time to review, revise and perhaps look back a little in the other direction.

Sometimes cutting loose and really going for something may not always be entirely appropriate – Barrios and the idea of high-energy “cutting loose” seems to go well together. With a Bach prelude perhaps the interpretation of “cutting loose” needs to be tempered slightly.

In the act of getting excited and really going for something we may in fact over-egg the pudding and diminish it’s impact. This is then where we need to exercise a little, not restraint – I don’t think our playing should ever feel restrained, do you? – but refinement.

This is where we now work to define the point or range between totally, 100% “safe”, timid and indeed restrained playing and 100% playing by the seat of your pants, super exciting, edgy, risk-taking playing….. I call this the Rogers’ Cutting Loose Scale. Hah hah!

Where do your current repertoire pieces sit on this scale? Is it time to put a rocket up the proverbial backside of some of your playing? Is it time to bring some back down to earth a little?

Ooh before I forget…..

Watch out for a wee announcement tomorrow about an exciting new development for the blog. 🙂



Alexander Technique – My First Lesson

Before I get stuck into today’s post, don’t forget to take part in my survey and your chance to shape the future of this blog, if you’ve not done so already:

Right. on with the show!

For those of you who have followed the blog for a while you’ll remember that I’ve been working over recent months to reduce tension and any painful feelings associated with playing (both during and after) the guitar, particularly around head, neck and shoulders.

For those of you who are newer to the blog, or if you’d like a reminder of the journey thus far, here are some of my posts on dealing with the issues:

In the last year or so, I’ve made some really great – and noticeable – progress in eliminating the pain and tension issues. In turn I’m very happy to be paying this forward to both your good self, dear

Alexander Technique
Alexander Technique (Photo credit: gordonplant)

reader, and hands on with my students.

So one of the most recent treatments had dealing with neck, shoulder, head and jaw pain and tension was with some myotherapy. This is an excellent treatment, and makes you feel like you’re floating on air immediately afterwards. However, the effects can be relatively short-lived and that’s because it’s really just treating a symptom and not getting to the cause of an issue. Don’t get me wrong, I think myotherapy is great and good idea to get some work done from time to time, but it’s not really a time or cost-effective answer as a solution to an underlying problem long-term.

This is where Alexander Technique enters. It was first recommended to me by my own teacher, the fantastic Ben Dix, who himself reaped enormous benefits from the technique.

So what is Alexander Technique?

It’s not passive therapy such as myotherapy or massage where you lie on a table and someone prods and pokes and moves you about. It’s a technique that teaches you to help yourself; you do the “work”, or the non-work to probably be more accurate, with guidance from the Alexander Technique (AT for short) teacher.

And it’s a technique that combines both mind and body – it’s all part of the same system after all. It teaches you to understand and be increasingly aware of where you may hold tension in the body. Of course, flowing on from that, releasing that tension so you can use your body more efficiently and effectively.

The key focus in the technique is on creating freedom in the neck and head, with the view that everything else along the rest of the spine (and all the other bits of our body, which of course stem from the spine) will flow on.

My first lesson – thoughts and impressions

Yes, they call it a lesson and not a session or anything else as it really is about teaching you to be more aware.

First up the AT teacher chatted through where I was experiencing tension (or currently aware of tension) and pains, when they occurred, my playing, other activities and work and so on, building a picture of how I use my body on a daily basis.

She then whacked me up on to a table, and I spent much of the rest of the lesson laid on my back in a semi-supine position!

Hah hah! Sounds easy right?

Wrong! Well. Kind of a bit of both.

It was very relaxing in a way. Lying there, focusing on creating looseness, space, relaxation in my head, neck, jaw, shoulders….. Ahhh….just letting go.

On the other hand, the teacher then began to move my limbs – first the legs, then arms, asking me to stop her from moving them.

Easy. Done.

Then for me to give the full weight of the limbs to her, and to let her move them.

Incredibly challenging! More so than you would think!

This was an exercise in understanding where you may hold onto essentially useless and counter-productive tension in the body built up through years and years and years of habits.


So how has it influenced my playing?

Well, it has only been one week since my first lesson, but I’d say the biggest impact has been in an increased awareness in what my body is doing when playing – such as raising up my knees and/or curling my toes in my shoes when playing something fast or that I perceive as a challenge,  and  interestingly tension in my jaw more so than neck or shoulders per se. Could this be a key cause of neck and shoulder pains? We’ll see…..

I’ve also experienced that when recognising these things and letting go, it does make the movements flow more easily. And then my brain trips back over into old habit mode after a few seconds and switches on the tension again. And then I pick it up again…. It’s going to take a few weeks, probably months, of working on this to build the new habits in, but I can definitely see that this is a very powerful technique that will have definite benefits for my playing.

I’ll keep you posted!