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singemonkey
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« on: August 19, 2015, 11:46:50 am »

I saw a thread about this on a banjo forum where people are struggling to 'break through' to the high-speed picking that's so famous. Many noticed that muscular tension was holding them back.

I carry a lot of shoulder tension, and this goes double for when I'm performing something new, or under unfamiliar circumstances. I know at least one other player on this forum who said he tensed up so much when starting to perform that he could barely play at all.

While I (and he) have largely overcome that through familiarity, I still battle to achieve those levels of relaxation where I can just play as I play after an hour of practising. I hate playing in music stores, because I feel self-conscious, tense up, and play at less than half my ability.

So I thought it might be good to have a thread specifically about feeling physically relaxed enough to play at our best. Some tips I've come across to get going:

Breathe - I sometimes find that I'm holding my breath while playing. There's no doubt that forcing myself to breathe while I play releases tension and allows me to play better.

Play really softly - Playing really lightly can help with relaxing, unlocking muscles, and increasing speed and accuracy.

Relaxing the shoulders - easier said than done, but I carry most tension in my shoulders. If I can relax them, my arms and hands relax too.

Listen to 'the air': Listening to your playing as if you're in the audience takes your concentration away from what your hands are doing and allows you to feel the music, enjoy the music, and hence relax more.

Downing 3 pints before performing: Wink

I'd be interested to hear if any of you are struggling with this, or have overcome it.
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« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2015, 12:06:54 pm »

I'd be interested too. I think muscle tension is holding my speed back too. The lighter picking is an interesting thought. I've seen Paul Gilbert say in a video that he holds the pick lightly enough so that it can 'wobble' a bit when he picks, he says that helps when you try and play faster (which he knows a think or two about).
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« Reply #2 on: August 19, 2015, 01:10:29 pm »

I'm not sure if I've ever played a gig completely sober, but even after a few I'd sometimes find myself a bit too tense. The first five or however many gigs were definitely terrifying.

I'm sure when I start gigging again I'll have to go through all of that all over again. Its been years.

I've known a number of musicians who were prescribed beta blockers to take before shows to calm down.

What I used to sometimes do was warm up on my bassist's bass guitar so that playing my own guitar felt like a breeze on stage. Five minutes on the bass is worth like fifteen minutes of warming up on the guitar.

I'd also turn my amp up slightly before beginning the set and briefly play solo and exposed. To the audience I was just testing my sound and tuning, but really I was getting the nerves out of the way.

When I'd look back up and realize that the world hadn't ended and nobody was throwing tomatoes at me, I'd be good to go and relaxed for the set.

As for playing fast, well my old drummer used to play 20-30bpm faster than we'd written the songs at so the rest of us would have to bust our asses just to keep up.

I got used to holding my pick lighter and only moving it enough to hit the string so there would be less travel time on the way back and less energy spent picking.
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« Reply #3 on: August 19, 2015, 01:17:25 pm »

Breathe - I sometimes find that I'm holding my breath while playing. There's no doubt that forcing myself to breathe while I play releases tension and allows me to play better.

Play really softly - Playing really lightly can help with relaxing, unlocking muscles, and increasing speed and accuracy.
Yes and Yes!

The first isn't easy - breathing is autonomous - so consciously breathing is a bloody useful technique to have in your toolbox. Whatever you are doing - a few focussed breaths go a long way. And there are many methods - some meditative, others sport/performance orientated - I found the topic fascinating.

Playing softly...far trickier than I thought possible. Also been trying this out recently - catch myself constantly picking harder when I try and speed up. Irritating - but practice, practice, practice.

One I can add is...visualization. See yourself playing faster, imagine the piece/technique you are working on - and visualize yourself executing it. E.g. F1 drivers visualize the track, golfers their swings, comedians have naked audiences  Roll Eyes

And for tense shoulders...lightening up the guitars didn't help, neither has sitting when playing and massages got pricey - so now I'm plunging into the yoga world. Need to keep the body maintained and it ain't getting any easier as I age.
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PeteM
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« Reply #4 on: August 19, 2015, 01:38:22 pm »

I've always said that the day I'm not nervous before a show is the day to hang up my guitar. The best way to relax when get up on stage is to imagine that everyone in the audience is naked... you start to laugh and that relaxes you. Jokes aside, the best way to fight nerves is to make sure that you are well practiced and that you know the numbers inside and out.
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singemonkey
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« Reply #5 on: August 19, 2015, 01:43:50 pm »

I used beta-blockers to get over the initial inability to find the strings with the plectrum when I got back into live playing. But it's definitely true that you feel slightly remote from the experience when using them. I found my energy and engagement definitely improved when I was able to ditch them. So they're a useful stop-gap for dealing with stage-fright, but not a long-term solution to playing without tension.

Booze of course, is pretty lame for this. Because more than a little bit reduces your motor-coordination, even if it's not apparent to you... because of the booze.

Shoulder and neck tension is definitely not about the weight of the guitar, as V8 says. I watched the Buskaid String ensemble recently - a bunch of young people from poor backgrounds trained by top-notch pro musicians. They played superbly. Better than some pro orchestral ensembles I've heard. And a cello-player friend remarked on their relaxation - even the lead violin ripping through his solo on a Saint Saens piece - saying they'd been trained in a technique based on Alexander technique. I'm very keen to learn more about that.

Pete, I'm not just talking about stage nerves alone. I'm also talking about general physical tension when playing. But I agree, practise is, of course, and essential component of confidently tackling your performance.
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« Reply #6 on: August 19, 2015, 03:10:24 pm »

Ahh, perhaps I missed the intention of of your original post? Or maybe I'm reading too much into it.

I (personally) believe there is a causal link between mind and body. Thus if I feel anxious about something (whatever the cause), one of the effects will be a physical response - E.g. tightening up/tension.

A good friend is working towards a Phd in drama at UCT and we've had some super interesting discussions about the art of performance. And the tools that are taught to assist students in delivering consistent, kickass performances. Fascinating, as I was never exposed to a formal education in performance - sure I went for guitar/bass lessons, but we never discussed performing. Which I'm beginning to appreciate as a topic in itself.

I've found hanging out at a musical store and helping to regularly demo stuff has helped greatly in approaching performance in a relaxed state. Between that and keeping the mind relaxed and body in *some* kinda shape has resulted in less stress performing. (And in general, but that's another story  Smiley)
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« Reply #7 on: August 19, 2015, 11:14:42 pm »

Any symptoms like shoulder tension etc, are a result and not the cause so threating these is not solving the real issue or problem. One needs to be honest with oneself and find out what the real problem is. Scared of failure in any way is a common one, not being able to handle public is another common one. Like public speaking for some people it is just not on for them, training and confidence building sorts this out over time. One should find solutions or treatment for those problems and your performance will be much better. Having a couple of shots certainly does not help the voice cords. Practising will ensure that you know what to do when required and this will prevent making mistakes. One should try and have fun when performing. Don't let it get to you it all in the mind, like falling and standing up as kids we don't think about it and just do it again until we master it and it becomes second nature. And if you don't know how to play or perform it don't do it unless you can afford to make mistakes. 
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« Reply #8 on: August 20, 2015, 09:39:07 am »

I've always said that the day I'm not nervous before a show is the day to hang up my guitar............ make sure that you are well practiced and that you know the numbers inside and out.

Fascinating topic this and one that, as a super nervous performer, I have a particular interest in.

+1 for Pete's comment - know your stuff, and, if you're not nervous there's something wrong.
That's the same as the advice given for public speaking - if you know your topic you can talk about it!
I have also noticed that those who appear to be most relaxed while performing play at relatively low volumes i.e. they never "bash" their instruments to get volume/dynamics but seem to "caress" their instruments.
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singemonkey
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« Reply #9 on: August 20, 2015, 10:38:24 am »

Agreed.

babbalute, I kind of agree. But tension is not always a symptom of the playing situation. I don't suffer much from stage-fright anymore. I'm ok with standing up there and communicating with an audience. But I think a lot of us carry around a lot of tension from deeper, life issues.

A lot of people on the banjo forum mentioned that beliefs about their legitimacy, you could say, as musicians, created tension until they dealt with them. Sort of like what you're saying. If you can accept that you're an actual musician, and not some hopeless wannabe, it can take a lot of tension out potentially - both live and even in practise.
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« Reply #10 on: August 22, 2015, 08:31:17 am »

I've had RSI a few times which got me in touch with a physio to sort me out. She suggested a stretch routine. Before I practice/perform I have a 10-15 min stretch routine that focusses on the upper body and arms.

 It has really helped me to not tense up initially as my muscles have had a warm up stretch. Also, for me, it stops the build up of tension in the shoulders and upper back that is painful and distracting.

BTW I also hate playing in music stores, I play the biggest load of BS because of tension.

It's a work in progress and I have to work at it constantly. Besides for stretching, I try to be aware of my body's posture and have it in a relaxed state. Asking myself questions like - is my arm tensing up due the angle of my playing? What is a more natural position that has the muscles/tendons in a natural relaxed state? Is my spine straight? Is the guitar's weight distributed evenly on my upper body? Etc. Building an awareness helps in resolving some issues.

I read "The inner game of music" recently. Some of the book was quite useful in terms of adjusting my awareness/thinking about performance. Also, Kenny Werner's book "effortless mastery" is also a good read.

Playing is as much psychological as it is physical. Hal Galper has a video on YouTube - the illusion of the instrument. Basically - the instrument is not the piano, guitar etc. It's your mind. Train your mind.


Excellent topic.
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singemonkey
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« Reply #11 on: August 22, 2015, 01:10:51 pm »

Good response. Doing some kind of physical warm-up certainly seems like a good idea - beyond just warming up your playing.
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« Reply #12 on: January 30, 2017, 08:21:19 am »

Hi i suggest looking up a guy by the name of Kenny Werner on youtube he talks about effortless mastery and to be in a relaxed state when performing its a prettygood look up check it out and tell me how it goes.Stay blessed
 
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