A stretch in time …

image: BAPAM website

It would be unthinkable for any sportsman, amateur or professional, to throw themselves into their chosen sport without a some kind of a warm up. Let’s face it, even your average jogger will do a couple of leg stretches before panting round the block. But us guitarists?

I often liken playing the guitar to doing ‘micro sports’ (don’t laugh) sort of a full workout but with much, much smaller movements. But we all know it is not just a question of playing the correct notes, there is the matter of your physicality being able to facilitate your musical ideas and artistic goals, which requires an even greater degree of control and accuracy.

Fear is a great motivator and when you have a performance looming on the horizon and time is short, the temptation is not to ’waste time’ on a few gentle movements but get stuck straight in, usually to that really awkward passage half way down page two.  Perhaps guitarists are the worst in many ways.  I used to think it was a good idea to pick up my instrument in the morning and try and perform my latest repertoire so I could some how replicate the feeling of stiffness and tension I got when I performed in public.  What I was doing though was seriously bad for my muscles.  Luckily I didn’t try this for more than a few weeks, but many guitarists just pick up their instrument without doing some basic stretching.

There are lots of ways to incorporate ‘good practice’ into your daily routine.  After some stretching (without your guitar) your warm-up should continue with slow, relaxed, controlled movements which are ingraining those technical fundamentals which can get lost in the fever and all consuming passion of music making.

This is where good technical teaching and understanding of your physical well-being helps so much; perhaps even knowing where you limits are, or even when something isn’t working, knowing when to take a new tack.

Chris and I never forgot Sergio Assad saying when he was teaching us and a certain musical passage was managing to elude one of us – “try a different fingering!”  Sounds obvious now, but at the time we didn’t ask so many questions.  The newly re-fingered passage worked like a dream! That was it – we were trawling through our repertoire re-fingering passages, coming up with whole new solutions in those phrases which always niggled us, and re-distributing parts to the one who could play it better, or just to facilitate a melodic line more, allowing it to sing.

We are really getting to the heart of the matter that good musicality and good technique go hand in hand, or perhaps it’s just best to say that technique is there only to make great music!

If you do think you have an injury or niggling pains then don’t ignore it.  Take action, and try to find the best advice.

One of your first ports of call if either something is affecting your playing, or you would simply like to learn more about your physical and mental well-being as a musician, is BAPAM, the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine.  BAPAM offers free and confidential health assessments from specially trained doctors and health practitioners, from clinics throughout the UK.  They also have some wonderful free PDF guides to stretching before a practice session called ‘Don’t cramp your style’ and other free information and tips about keeping fit on tour, eating (and drinking) healthily, coping with stage fright, hearing loss, and many other problems which blight performers.

They will even send you these as pocket size info sheets which can be stored in your guitar case so you need never be without it.  So please get in touch with them, or if you are a teacher request some info to offer to your students and give them a head start however young they are.

By the way – did I mention warming-down?

Mark

4 Comments

  1. Great article Mark. I’ll make sure I bring this to the attention of my friends. More please!!

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  2. Hi – I’ve just stumbled across your website and read this article. I found it very interesting and it will be useful to me in my daily practice sessions. It’s good to see a website providing something useful as well as promoting the artists themselves.

    Well done. Tom (Cleveland, Ohio)

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  3. Nice one. It’s funny how what should be fairly obvious needs to be written down before us amateurs will take heed of it. I’ll start warming up without my guitar everyday now before playing. PS: I hope to catch your gig in New York next month. All the best, Drew White in New Jersey

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  4. Dear Mark & Christopher, thanks for this article. I think it will be helpful to me. As an athlete as well as a guitarist this should have occured to me before but it hasn’t. My coach wouldn’t be interested in a finger injury so the BAPAM website has been bookmarked in case I ever need it. I’m gratfeul to you. Best wishes, Andrea Gibbs, Guildford.

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