The process of undoing

Posted by on May 4, 2013

Perhaps there are certain habits that one picks up in life that will lead to one’s undoing. Well, that’s as maybe but what I wish to talk about here is having to UNDO certain ways of doing things on the guitar that have gone unnoticed…things of a muscular, physical nature. Perhaps they have gone on for a lifetime. And then one day…

Well, that’s where I feel I am at in the guitar ‘journey’. I cannot deny the fact that my right arm suffers from tension…especially where picking is concerned; and it is detrimental. I feel that my writing about it here is some kind of cathartic exorcism of an old demon so to speak. Everything is great for a short while and then slowly but surely the tension rises – the shoulder, the forearm etc…and boy does it wreck my playing. Clearly we are talking about dysfunctional tension – tensions that are distinguishable from tension that are needed to hold one’s arm up and move one’s wrist whilst holding a plectrum. Of course some tensions are needed.

Let me tell you about the journey: once upon a time, I was enthused about the musical ideas and over time, I gained enough ‘technique’ to realise some of them. But not them all. I never really thought about the grounded stuff: stuff like the hardware and the body. I did not give it enough consideration. And that’s why it never really got addressed. My view is that the greatest technicians must be grounded enough to have given all this stuff some thought. Mind you, perhaps the greatest technicians cannot rub two ideas together to light a fire. Know what I mean?

But back to tensions: it’s a matter of determining which tensions are needed…but even there, they must not be excessive. Tension leads to fatigure. There must be tension and repose in all things physical otherwise, again, fatigue can set in. You know, if someone were designing a right arm mechanism to play the guitar, they probably would not build a human arm but there you go; you got to use what you’ve got!!!

And now I have to really sit down and work this stuff out. It would have been nice to have had the ‘right’ way all along but that has not been my journey. I’ve had to figure it out for myself! Hey, isn’t that why we get teachers – to save ourselves some time? Perhaps! But the process of undoing something that has become natural is tricky – it can be demoralising because at first it feels like one is taking a step backwards. So the choice is yours: carry on with the old ways and get a moderate result. Or jack it in and get even less of a result…in the short term! Only you can answer that question!

But just for the record…in my guitar playing ‘career’, there have been times when certain things have had to be undone..and it becomes a conscious effort once it is realised.

Like I said before, it would be nice if these things didn’t happen in the first place. Sometimes the feelings of doubt and uncertainty surrounding issues of technique can be a bug bear. Is it to suggest there is a ‘right way’ or just one way? And yet, guitarists employ a myriad of techniques in their playing…and still getting results. At the end of the day, it’s about the effect and the results – techniques are not an end in themselves; they are a means to the end. And finally let me say that whilst there may be many different technical approaches, we should always strive for the ‘best’ techniques and they are the ones which are most efficient and effective.