Ethan Kind on Freeing the Little Finger
Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!
“Feel the back of the hand as being very soft, so that the little finger can reach any string with a released palm.”
Sitting down to play guitar, most of us dive into “doing.” We jump right in with scales, an exercise, or a piece of music. Doing, after all, is what we are here to do.
But in addition to the “what” of practice, we also have the “how.” And this is arguably a more important question. Especially long term.
One element of “how” is technique. Guitar technique is how we move our hands. It also includes all the skills that allow us to render the music in our heads. These skills include dynamics (volume), accents, rubato (slowing down/speeding up), and other tools of expression.
This first “how” of technique should be a major part of our study. And this is true for the beginner as well as the advanced player. Our technique determines how well we play our pieces.
Then we come to the question of how to play our technique.
This second-level question is more concerned with how we use our entire body and mind. This is how we show up to the guitar.
For example, how aware are we of our musculature as we play? Are we tensing certain muscles without need?
Sometimes in the body, great change can occur from simply wishing. We can wish our eyes to be soft. And if we allow it, it may well happen.
We can say in our heads, “My neck is free and released.” And if we give it the space, something happens.
When we pause and become still for a moment, then give a direction (or wish), we start to use our bodies more effectively. We drop excess tension and are able to play with more freedom.
Much of bodily tension is born of habit. So when we move our attention away from this “wishing,” the muscle may tense again. That is normal. We can then wish them free again.
Over time, we become more aware of the moment when we tense unnecessarily. We get better at managing a released (yet supported) body while playing notes.
This exercise of awareness can bring a whole new level of challenge and enjoyment to daily practice. At any moment, we can gently suggest softness.
The results? Playing takes less effort. We stop working against ourselves and instead move with natural grace and ease. Fluid speed, agile stretches, confident precision.
As we peel back the layers of resistance, our bodies can do what they know how to do: perform.
*For more on these ideas, explore the Alexander Technique
Hi, I’m Allen Mathews.
I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
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