Let me preface this article in saying I enjoy a good shot of whiskey before a show. Now, let my second comment be that I also enjoy a nice stretch or breathing exercise before a show (but I would recommend doing the stretching and breathing before consuming alcohol). Which is more effective? Well, it depends on the results trying to be achieved.
Rock guitarists who play simple rhythm parts and solos may not need much brainpower and “clarity of mind” to perform well. However, improvisational, classical, and other more refined styles of music (not better!….as I love me some good old rock ‘n roll) require more concentration, and thus, mental clarity. The best way to achieve mental clarity is to remove mental obstacles. The best way to remove mental obstacles is to practice some form of breathing, meditation, and stretching. Don’t believe me? Watch this video, follow it’s directions, then go play guitar, come back and comment below on how it went.
Stretching can also relax and free up the mind, indirectly through the body, since the mind is directly tied to the body. By performing simple stretching and/or yoga techniques before a music performance and/or practice session, a guitarist can highly increase efficiency and execution of the performance.
Now, say you don’t like the word Yoga because it doesn’t agree with your hip, alternative lifestyle and image…that’s fine. We don’t have to go there. But, have you ever stretched before exercising? Have you ever exercised?…..kidding. Yes, at one point in your life you did. So, let’s start there. When you stretch before you exercise, you not only help to prevent injury, but you also increase the effectiveness of your individual muscles and entire body as a whole. Now, before your next personal practice/jam session, take a moment to stretch as you would before exercising. But, instead of stretching your legs, maybe focus on stretching your core, your arms, and perform any stretch that increases blood flow to your head. During the stretching, focus on controlling your breathing, making it steady and meditative. As you do this, you’ll accomplish several things:
- increasing oxygen to the bloodstream and thus the brain, improving brain function and thus your guitar playing.
- removing emotional blockages from the muscles in your body and also your immediate consciousness, and thus freeing up your “spirit” to enable you to connect to the music you are playing more deeply…I don’t care if you think that sounds too “new age”…it’s true, accept it and use this knowledge to your advantage.
- relaxing your muscles, slowing down your heart rate, and decreasing tension, enabling you to mechanically form the physical function of playing guitar more easily.
Try this next time you practice. Be creative. Find your own stretches that stretch the tense muscles in your own unique body. The goal is to simply loosen up, but in a way that will work more effectively than a shot of whiskey. You should notice that you play better than you normally do because you are more focused mentally and more capable physically.
If you’re so inclined, pick up a book on simple yoga exercises, and do a few of the more popular yoga poses prior to practicing. You don’t have to be come a yoga master, go to a yoga class, or do anything you don’t want to do. Just incorporate some stretching and breathing into your practice routine as a “warm up.” You’ll find it can be meditative as you stretch & focus on your breathing, centering your mind with your body and preparing you to perform on your instrument as best as possible.