Relaxing while playing

Evening (For the EU folk anyway!). I’ve just finished a practice session and really noticed as I was doing more percussive hit songs how tense I was everywhere and, more to the point, how much it was affecting my playing. I don’t think I’ve really noticed it that much before. Borne out of concentration, not frustration or anything like that.

I was able to call myself out with it in my head and almost force myself to calm down and flow with the backing tracks but it was just odd to be that aware of it for the first time.

Moral of the rambling story? You can try too hard! Anyone catch themselves in the same grip of tension?


Frequently Mark, especially if I am struggling with a song or technique or if its something a little more intense focus wise. I’ll normally put the guitar down, do some breathing exercises to clear my mind and body. Or may walk off into a different room, just take a few minutes out. Some times I’ll just grab a beer. :wink:


Been there on more than one occasion Mark. As Toby has said sometimes you need to walk away. Experience has taught me now that if I am getting frustrated I just put whatever I was practicing to one side and come back to it another time.
Happens to us all I think, I watched a documentary on Keith Richards a couple of years ago and he even said that sometimes he feels like “ smashing the damn thing off the wall”. :joy:


I would say, “Shut up brain!” To be honest, I don’t have room for that level of self-awareness when I’m playing. Some part(s) of the operation are on complete auto-pilot and employing as much muscle memory as possible. The music flows however it flows and is what it is. Some music is tense.


It wasn’t out of frustration or bow practice was that I has that tension, it was purely just that focus on technique that seemed to generate it. Hence why I could kind of manage it whilst in the song. That’s what made it quite weird!

I guess whenever I learn something new it happens more often but the more relaxed you become with anything new it eventually goes away. My solution would be to slow down, that seems to do the trick most of the times :wink: tension might happen because you want to either play along to original and you are rushing because muscle memory is not there yet, or you might be pushing yourself to move up the speed before your memory is ready.


That’s a fair comment Adi, I am in the final push on a couple to get to tempo which no doubt contributed!

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I run into this too. Yep often while upping tempo too early. Can’t force it unfortunately.

Relaxing, slowing down and then getting it smooth and automatic is key. Then speed comes easily!

I make SO many mistakes when I’m tense too. And when just relaxed, it’s much easier to play!


Your right about the percussive hit. The percussive hit lessons really helped me with strumming. I struggled with Strumming it didn’t look feel or sound right.
In order for me to get the percussive hit I had to completely change my strumming. And something clicked. I do not struggle with strumming like I did. And I owe it all to the percussive hit.


Mark I agree but often wonder if there is some subconscious frustration going on.

Like JK said its often when getting up to tempo or keeping a repetitive section going and I think I’m focusing hard on not stuffing up. A song I am working on is arguably based around one chord, with a lot of flat picking going on. Can play it but has taken ages to be able to sing it at the same time but its 5+ minutes long, up tempo and the verses running into double digits. I am trying to decide on which guitar to use and what pick to use at the moment, so lots of cycles. But I am starting to feel really tight 2/3s in and it all starts getting a bit sloppy. So I’ll do what I said above or maybe just play something completely different for a few minutes then come back. Given the duration and repetitive nature I know this is too much focus but with this one it has been hard to relax. So its WIP !


Interesting view with subconscious frustration Toby and perhaps frustration is slightly the wrong word for the context we’re speaking of here. I ally frustration to being annoyed at something which is not what I was feeling. I certainly do agree though that if something’s just not working then diverting to something else and coming back is always a good approach! All the best with your song :slight_smile:

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Thanks Jason. You mention you had to completely change your strumming, out of curiosity what was that that you changed?
I’m finding one difference personally which is having my non-pick gripping fingers opened out rather than lightly balled like a fist which is what I usually do. Other than that though I’m not finding any other particular adjustments to strumming itself.

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I used to do that a LOT when I started playing, it actually only fixed itself in the last six months or so as I’ve learnt more from this site. For example, when playing aggressive Metal, with lots of power chords, I would be pushing down hard and hitting the strings hard because I thought that’s how it was supposed to be done. It’s aggressive so you play aggressive, right? Not so. Now I’ve learnt that you only need to touch the strings I’ve become a lot more relaxed and also faster because I’m not all tensed up - I’m looking at solo’s no longer as an impossible task. It’s something that still happens from time to time, but I’m trying to teach myself to just relax and let my fingers do the work.


Mark, one thing that I find helps is to play some songs beforehand that you know really well (that are on your campfire list), that get you into a relax mode, feeling the groove with some feel good strumming.



Really changed everything. the way I was strumming I could not do the percussive hit. And watching my videos I was way too rigid and the wrist was not bending enough
I Changed all of this:

Where my arm rests on guitar
Where guitar sits on my leg
How I hold pic
Angle of pic.
Angle of my wrist
Where on the strings I was strumming.

What I did was just forgot about all of the above and just worked on getting in that percussive hit. So it sounded right and felt comfortable doing. Once I got that down I I focused on remembering mechanics.
To this day I always start my practice with the percussive hit to make sure my mechanics are right. If I pick up my guitar and can’t do the percussive hit I am not strumming properly.

I am still working out My non-pic holding fingers. But In order to get the percussive strum the fingers have to be open. It is also easier for me to pick out individual strings with fingers open.
If I am just strumming I tend to play with the finger is more closed.
went back to the very beginner lessons on how to hold a pick and strumming.
I got this from Richard_close2u.
Aim for something like this.





Crikey that’s a full overhaul Jason, thanks for sharing the experience and process, I think there’s definitely some things I can take from that.

Hello Mark, I just wondered, whether it is possible to be highly concentrated and relaxed at the same time. When I’m working on something new, I’m absolutely focused on what I’m doing, and - at least in my opinion - this focus leads to a more or less pronounced body tension. The relaxed mood only comes in, when my muscles know exactly what to do and, therefore, I can reduce my level of concentration :blush:.

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Notter, this used to happen to me quite a lot…it still happens of course and my strategy to overcome it is to go as much slow as needed to avoid the tension. I also learnt to avoid overdoing and not allowing myself to stay on the same item of practice for more than 5+5 minutes. It helps a lot to have really clear in my mind what the goal is for those 5 minutes working on single skills (eg I mute the strings if I want to work on Rhythm, I only do downstrums on the beat if the purpose is to memorise the chords etc) You probably know all this, but reminding is always good, also to myself! :blush:


Timely and wise words @SILVIA . Out of this thread I’ve revised how I’m approaching my practice at the moment, going back to more of a Justin approach of shorter focussed blocks of work. Totals around an hour, tonight was my first try if it and it felt great! I’m going to run through it in my LL over the weekend as it may be helpful to anyone in a consolidation phase.

Thanks for the reminders! :heart_hands::+1:

I’m glad to hear this! I think that along the way we"re able to make sense of more things, we’ve learnt to observe and know better our own selves and we do become better learners…being self-taught is not often easy, but it has its pros and the most important one, for me, is that we put at work and develop our problem-solving skills and that’s when learning will be really effective! :blush: