Tension in the hands and arms typically occurs when guitarists try to play at speed. Hell, even a “sold-my-soul-at-the-crossroads” Adonis such as myself can feel the tension at times. In order to play something effortlessly and at speed, does it not make sense that tension should be minimised? It should feel like you are floating on air, not gripping a stress ball. Release the tension or the tension will impede your progress as a guitarist. I don’t know about you, but I want my core techniques to be SOLID – so I have spent a lot of time in particular honing my legato and alternate picking technique (after 15 years I am now undergoing further developments – you should not be scared to alter your technique like this).
Try these two things when you practice.
1. Visually look at your hands and arms. Take your hands away from the guitar (holding the same shape they were previously in) and if they look like vultures’ claws, something’s wrong. Technical improvement requires you to visually look at what your hands are doing (many more top tips to come that are related to this).
2. Even more important is FEEL. The ideal is to be able to close your eyes and play anywhere on the fretboard with ease. If you close your eyes (seriously!) and focus on how it FEELS to play… one sense is removed (sight) and you will find it easier to focus on where the tension lies in your playing. There are many, many little variations you can make to your technical playing and I personally have obsessed over many of them! Only you can decide which is best for you, though there are widely accepted norms (see other top tips).
3. Playing at speed will really highlight weaknesses in your playing. Playing at speed can also require different technique, for example in terms of alternate picking. So – try playing at different speeds but remember that accuracy is more important than being able to play fast and only hit 7 notes of out ten (which really isn’t playing well at all).
4. Endurance. For every technique (legato, picking etc) you should take on exercise and do it for FIVE WHOLE MINUTES. This is a long time to do one technique. Likely you will get bored and say “this is a waste of time” – maybe because things start falling apart after the 30 second mark. Well, that’s not good enough. It means your technique isn’t quite there.