In my blog series, I try to discuss how elements outside of playing guitar have influenced the way I play -- or teach -- guitar.
Today, I would like to talk about relaxation, and how exploring yoga has influenced the way I operate strings and a pick.
Yoga is a form of exercise. The street definition of exercise is "no pain no gain!" i.e: working and breaking down a muscle group so that it will heal into a stronger state. Health, vanity, stability, longevity are all commonly accepted reasons one would excercise.
Once again, I would like to take it a step further, and relate to you the reader a particular "awakening" that I experienced in my own life, and a specific correlation I had between yoga and playing guitar.
I have always had some kind of affinity for physical stuff. I liked to do push-ups, crunches, cardio. I go through my phases and try all these different things. I always had some goal -- you know -- "work on that gut," "get those biceps," "pay for that beer and pizza night(!)" etc.
Along comes an experiment in my life, and I took a yoga class, and got a yoga DVD to practice at home with.
If you are unfamiliar with yoga, the idea is holding and moving between uncommon and or challenging positions slowly with a lot of muscle control. It's very common to hear someone mention that this kind of exercise can make you sore in places you didn't know you had.
I struggled for the first couple of weeks. It was difficult and challenging, of course. Then one day a few weeks in -- I got it. Yoga wasn't about "strain!," "pain!," "stretch!"
It was about "muscle awareness." And even deeper so, it was about teaching yourself how to physically learn. I unknowingly started applying the concepts I was developing on a yoga mat to my instrument.
I started warming up differently and practicing differently. I realized I wasn't playing guitar with just my fingers any longer; I was involving every muscle group from my shoulders all the way down to the pick and strings in an organized manner to pull each note out of the string, the same way you would execute poses in a yoga session.
I was playing more accurately, faster and more precise than I ever thought I could, and strangely, I found that I no longer HAD to keep my thumb on the back of the guitar neck for support ... I was transforming to way I operate the guitar as a result of persuing yoga.
In yoga, they call it a practice, because the idea is not to achieve some goal but to continuously expand the path of mind muscle awareness through relaxed repetition.
Let's do the most basic fretting hand warm-up -- you know it -- that chromatic one where you put all your fingers on one string fret by fret, then move to the next string. 1st finger 1st fret, hold for four beats, 2nd finger 2nd fret, hold for four beats, 3rd finger 3rd fret, hold for four beats, 4th finger 4th fret, hold for four beats.
Now you should have all four fingers on the same string; then keep your fingers on the string as you move each finger to the next string one by one and repeat. As you do this, press, not hard, but evenly with all fingers.
OK, so we've all done this warm-up and have most likely blown it off to go play something more interesting, perhaps? But have we skipped over the reason? The idea is to increase your muscle awareness and become aware of where -- on this most basic level -- you are unconsciously inhibiting yourself by creating tension.
The first thing that will stop you from playing is tension, and tension is the result of conflict or confusion. Simply becoming AWARE of tension means you are relieving it -- as once again -- tension is the result of confusion.
Do this excercise when you first pick up your guitar for five minutes for the next two weeks straight and ask yourself this most simple, and yoga-contrived question: "Am I asking a joint to execute something a muscle should be doing?"
Any question about hand position you may have you will answer for yourself through this most basic exercise.
Until next time!
David Scott Rockower is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer and guitar teacher based out of the capital region of New York state. His newest original project, "The Duke Western," where he self-produces and performs all the instruments and engineers his own songs, has had success in its short life so far, having songs licensed to MTV, E! Networks, Tiptown Publishing, regional airplay and more. Projects Rockower has produced have been featured on PBS, Kia Motors, Paia Pictures and have recieved hours of airplay or web-play. He teaches around 30 guitar students per week, and performs more than 140 shows per year in different groups all over the Northeast. Check out thedukewestern.com for contact and more info!