For the life of me, I can’t remember where I heard it. Possibly from Jason Vieaux in one of his lessons in regards to warm ups. It was mentioned that classical guitarists are athletes from the arms down and as such require a good warm up before working out. With all the books and reports out on physiology, ergonomics and biomechanics, there is more emphasis being placed on guitarists physical and mental well being.
Watching a master players performance leads me to believe that we are more athletic than just that of the arms, and in learning about tensions and relaxed playing I find that we need a more extensive warm up. Tension can settle in to your body like an old friend. It can rest there for so long that it will seem natural to you, more unnatural should it not be there. These tensions will work like chains on your body when you play guitar, especially when you start to get to some seriously tough bits, or start to get nervous. That little twinge in your foot, a touch of muscle in your jaw, or that firmness in your calves will link to other major muscle groups here and there and prevent free relaxed dynamic musical movement for the rest of the body.
I have found that through my tension awareness exercises, I’ve noticed tensions in other areas of my life, especially where I’m doing bulk time tasks. Such as sitting at computers at work, waiting in a reception room etc. Work is the worst place for tension as you have the pressure of the job on you, and tasks that need to be efficiently completed. I’ve noticed that those little tension areas that I’m fighting with in guitar are very present in my work situations. So learning to relax for guitar means adopting a whole lifestyle of relaxation. Now who couldn’t use a good dose of relaxation in their life?
Things I’m learning to watch for are long durations of sitting. I have to make sure that when I’m sitting that I am able to stretch and move to keep things from tightening up too much. When I get up, I have to stretch and work my arms and legs about some. Windmill arm exercises, leg stretches, and I have found stairs are the greatest! Luckily, I work night shifts with no one really around to watch my erratic movements, but I still try to pick my time and place for the odd spurt of jumping jacks or sprinters stretches.
Other things I have found out are tensions induced by incorrect ergonomics. It seems that employers are throwing computers everywhere and expect their employees to be able to work freely on them when needed. I have found though that these conveniently place computers are anything but convenient, being situated on odd angles on corner runs of desks with crowded foot areas to be able to sit properly when you do work. I have found doing a task for even 10 to 15 minutes on such a work station creates a tremendous amount of stress in my legs and midsections, which in turn creates stress when doing those given tasks along with the mental aggravation that goes with it. Knowing this now, I can make efforts to remove those stresses when I can. Re-align computers that are under foot, straighten out the angles when I can while working on odd work stations and by simply breathing and making specific relaxing efforts prior and during a workout in those awkward situations.
Clutter and crowded work areas at home and at work are another tension builder. It may take work, but having a nice clean organized work place with lots of free work space on my desk really helps with my relaxation efforts.
Exercise, stretching and relaxation are so critically important to productive musical performance. Especially since all the time you spend sitting at desks, watching TV, waiting in reception rooms and waiting for kids and family, tension will build and get the better of you. Don’t forget that sitting in a classical position with foot raised on a foot stool isolates major muscle groups in one position for some time. So take a break, stretch and learn to build a relaxed lifestyle to support that musical athlete we are cultivating!