Letting nature do your playing for you

September 18th, 2010

The secret to good playing is to let nature do it for you.

Nature always works effortlessly.

Take rain, for instance. It falls effortlessly from the sky, hits the ground, the sun shines, warms it up, and it evaporates back into the skies where it cools down and falls again.

Over and over, the same cycle. It never requires any energy, it’s all automated. Once set in motion, it keeps on going until something breaks the cycle.

That’s what good playing feels like. You don’t have to do much. You just touch the strings and the fingers play themselves, automatically.

Over the years, I’ve tried to understand the sensation and how it works, and I’ve discovered that the trick is to create a self-propelled engine in your right-hand fingers.

To do that, you must have an absolutely relaxed body, your fingers loose and light, your hand hanging loosely from your wrist.

There must be no effort in your plucking, you must pluck with minimal force.

Your movements must be spare and refined, with no unnecessary motion. This means focusing your movements right at your fingertips (not at the knuckles or anywhere else).

Once you have these conditions, play in big lines.

Don’t think of individual notes, think of the phrase instead.

If it’s a tremolo or scale, think of a stream of notes all occurring almost simultaneously, in one action.

When you play groups of notes in one single motion, each note in the group will seem to propel the next one forward, as if driven by an internal engine in the fingers.

Make sure that at the moment of plucking, you release all effort. The feeling must be a complete letting go. This is crucial. (Don’t try to push the finger through after you have plucked. This will only keep the tension in the finger and produce excessive motion after the stroke.)

Let your finger relax completely, and then use the power released to propel you to the next action.

Think of a rubber band. When you pull a rubber band, energy is created and when you release it, that energy is released. If you put a projectile on the rubber band, the release will actually send the projectile flying.

The same principle applies in playing the guitar. When you pull the string, energy is created. When you let go the string, this energy is released. Now, use this energy to propel your next finger forward to the next note. Repeat this action over and over, each plucking action setting the next one forward.

This will produce a chain of actions, each action occurring automatically and effortlessly.

This is the basic principle behind perpetual-motion type techniques such as scales, tremolos and arpeggios. You do not play each note individually, you create a chain of actions and let the notes play themselves.

Good playing is always light and effortless. You should never have to force your speed or power.

The trick is to tap into the nature’s effortless power and speed.


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