Top 7 Guitar Mistakes (TENSION & PAIN)

Is your body going through pain just to be able to play guitar? Does it hurt to sit or stand? Are you experiencing muscle fatigue and stress pain due to overdoing it? Do you have issues with tension and /or poor performance? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you NEED to read and watch this discussion...

Do you ever experience strange back, shoulder or neck pain after sitting or standing with your guitar for extended periods of time? Or do you ever find that there's tension in the wrists, hand or arm after playing chords, or scales for awhile? These are all signs of tension build-up. And, tension is the leading cause of poor musical performance. If left alone, it can also start making your life in general a living hell.

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Tension build-up is quite common among beginner and intermediate guitarists, however many advanced guitarists also suffer from tension problems as well. Awareness is the first step to tackle the issues, and once you're aware of tension and how it's developing in your body, the more capable you'll be at controlling it.

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TENSION WARNING:
One word of warning, you'll unfortunately be battling tension for the rest of your guitar playing days, so you'll have to start learning the tools that are out there to control tension as soon as possible.This will very likely be one of the most important guitar articles that you'll ever read. Just, take in these ideas and use them to soak up the benefits!

Let’s look at some common causes of body tension build-up.

Tension mainly comes from a combination of improper technique, bad posture, and the inability to completely relax while playing an instrument. In this blog post and in the video, we’ll look at the most common causes of body tension and poor posture, which also happen to be the easiest ones for players to correct.




1. Guitar Posture - Sitting:
More often than not, how you currently sit with the guitar is likely your biggest factor in tension issues. Many of us already have bad posture while sitting down, and this is further amplified when playing guitar.

So let’s talk about how we should sit in a manner that won’t hurt our bodies. The main thing is to sit with your chest slightly sticking outwards. You don’t want to overdo it though, because pushing your chest too far out will cause you to arch your lower back too far.

Think about what a position of “dignity” looks like. Try it out; think about the position of your body when you’re sitting in a position of dignity. Most of you would have already assumed the proper posture when the word “dignity” flashes through your mind. If that doesn’t help, imagine there is a ball right in your solar plexus.

Now try to raise this imaginary ball up towards your skull. You should find that your spine begins to lengthen, which in turn releases tension that may be in your back. The main thing you want to avoid doing is to arch your lower back outwards, which is what most of us do when we want to straighten our backs. Instead of straightening our backs, we need to, "lengthen" it.

2. Bring the Guitar Closer Toward You:
One of the main reasons why we hunch our backs, (compressing our stomach and rib-cage), while playing guitar is the instrument may feel like it’s too far away from us. The key to correcting this is to bring the instrument towards you, and not your body towards the instrument.

Use a Guitar Players Foot-Stool:
By using a Guitarists "Foot Stool" (to step on so your leg is slightly raised up), it will in turn raise your instrument more toward yourself. This will also help straighten your back. A guitar players foot-stool can easily accomplish this, and they offer height adjust-ability. You can use almost anything to step on, (a stack of books, or even a piece of wood, etc.), but a guitarists foot stool is very inexpensive and was custom made for this very task.




3. Understand How to Hold a Guitar:
When you hold your guitar, your fretting hand should not be involved in holding your guitar. If you sit down and assume your regular playing position without touching the guitar with your fretting hand, the guitar should stay in place on your lap. Your strumming arm should be what's supporting the guitar against your body.

4. Relax The Shoulders for Better Playing:
A lot of stress and tension is held within our neck, lower back, and across our shoulders, and this can be an issue for us both when playing guitar, and also after we put it down. The shoulders often increase in tension as we perform more difficult ideas. Playing with tension across your neck and your shoulders creates stress, so check in on your shoulders and your neck to make sure they're nice and relaxed.

The more awareness you have about this topic the less likely you will be to have aches and pains from stress in this area. This, along with the lower back, are the most common sites of pain and tension while playing guitar. So, pay regard to how your body is dealing with tension and if you need to, take more breaks and always remind yourself to stay relaxed.




5. Finger Pain - Hand, Wrist and Arm:
Another playing mistake that often happens to guitarists, especially for those starting out, is finger pain.

FINGER TIPS:
Your fingertips will unfortunately hurt for the first while because they're doing a lot of rubbing against either steel or nylon guitar strings. The friction from sliding around on the strings causes the skin on our fingertips to heat-up and develop calloused tips, as well as, peel away, which results in soreness and pain.

The good part is, (yes there's a bright side), that this will go away, especially as you play more and more and develop calloused finger tips. Your fingertips skin will become harder so that you’ll be able to play for hours without feeling any pain at all.

FINGER JOINT PAIN:
Sometimes, even after playing for months, our fingertips or finger joints still hurt from applying a lot of pressure on the strings. So, always be aware of how hard you're pressing down, and be careful to not be pressing too much. If you do have pain in your finger joints, re-evaluate your playing technique.

The best tone comes from the least amount of force needed to get a nice /clean sound. And, as long as you're placing your fretting fingers nearest to the fret-wires closest towards the sound-hole, you'll get the best tone. This is true for both chords and single-notes. So, always place your fingers nearest to the upcoming fret-wire. You'll get the best sound, with the least amount of effort.

6. Guitar Issues (cheap instruments):
Never pass over the idea that the problem with your sound may be your guitar and not you! For example string action and guitar string gauge are two serious issues that a lot of beginners overlook.

ACTION (STRING HEIGHT):
The action is the distance between the fret-board and the strings. And, all too often, the strings are too high off the fret-board, which forces a player to use a lot of strength to press down on them. Even the difference in a millimeter or two can be felt in your fingers. To fix this, you’ll probably have to bring your guitar to a shop to get a professional setup.

It is possible to do it yourself if you're handy with tools, but I would still recommend bringing it to a professional guitar repair-person for your setup. Some stores will let you stay to watch your guitar being worked on, so if you can stay and watch - do it. You’ll learn a thing or two.




7. Guitar Posture - Standing:
Standing postures should be very close to sitting posture. The same principles apply here regarding lengthen your back by straightening your shoulders. Stand in a straight position when playing guitar and avoid slouching as much as possible. Along with having your back and shoulders in their correct positions, you should also look at how to keep your instrument at a comfortable distance while standing.

The idea is simple; we want to set our guitar strap so that the guitar is roughly the same distance away from us as when we’re sitting. Try adjusting the strap while in the sitting posture. Adjust your strap so that your guitar sits nice and snug with you. After you’ve done this, your guitar should be more or less at the correct height when you stand up. Some slight adjustments will need to be made because most people prefer to have the guitar slightly lower so it doesn’t feel like the guitar is choking you.

The main thing is that your wrist isn’t bending too much when you’re playing (which happens when the guitar is held too low). Spend some time raising and lowering the guitar to find out what feels the most comfortable for you.

CONCLUSION:
You can use these ideas as a guide to help you understand the causes of your own personal mistakes, (like tension buildup and body pain). By pinpointing the causes, you can maintain good body posture and improve your finger placement. Remember that slight discomfort is inevitable for guitarists at all levels, especially for beginners, (whose fingers are still getting used to playing on the strings until their calluses have developed).

Keep in mind, that the best way to minimize any pain or tension throughout your body is to take constant breaks and stretch and move your entire body as much as possible. Let pain be a warning, but also don’t obsess over it. As long as you take breaks when you feel pain and tension, then you'll be fine. Most of these problems tend go away with rest, movement, stretching, and exercise.

However, if your pain persists, it’s also a good idea to talk to your doctor, or even better maybe speak to a physiotherapist. And, along with taking breaks, there are other methods to release tension. These include, but are not limited to; supplements, yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, and just plain old physical exercise.

Spend some time researching and trying out each of these methods. Find out which ones work best for you. The main thing is to relax and just play some music on your guitar in the best state of mind as you can.

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