Sympathetic Tension Destroys Finger Control On Guitar

Sympathetic Tension Destroys Finger Control On Guitar

by Jamie Andreas // October 13 // 4 Comments

Sympathetic Tension Makes You Unable To Control Your Fingers

Let's talk about finger control on guitar. 

We have learned about "The Cycle Of The Note" and how tension goes into the body with every note you play. Now it is time to learn about the tension that goes into your fingers every time you play a note, and how it destroys finger control on guitar.  

This tension can be avoided by beginning players, and it can be eliminated for players who have it already, and many do. If you are unable to play fast, especially scales, you have finger tension that is ruining your finger control on guitar.

One Of The Most Important Factors For Avoiding Bad Habits

Sympathetic Tension is one of the most important concepts for any guitarist, and especially beginners, to understand. If you don't know how to avoid it, it will begin to ruin your fingers and make finger control impossible,  right from the beginning of playing. 

Because it is so important, it is fully explained in "The Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar". All the instruction in this book teaches you how to avoid the many forms that sympathetic tension takes as you practice. 

Let's look at the explanation of sympathetic tension contained in "The Principles"...

get real finger control on guitar with "The Principles"

"The Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar"

From The Principles - "Soon after I began playing, I noticed that whenever my left hand did something difficult, like a bar chord, it was harder to control my right hand and I would make more mistakes. After studying this for awhile, I realized that it was a basic principle that I could state this way.

"Whenever the left hand does something requiring a lot of strength, the right hand (and arm) muscles will also contract in sympathy with the left arm and hand. It’s as if they want to help out.

I then observed that almost any movement, whether of large muscles or small, would induce tension in surrounding muscles. The movement of any finger would tend to tense other fingers."

The basic point is that every time you use a finger, the finger next to it will tense up. The tensed finger will squeeze against the finger next to it, or stick up in the air. That means you won't be able to control that finger and use it to play the note it is supposed to play. Even worse, muscle memory will make sure this tension is there every time you play. 

To achieve real finger control on guitar, you must be aware of and overcome sympathetic tension every time you practice. 

Sympathetic Tension

1. Every time you use a finger the finger next to it tenses up. 

2. This tension will make the finger squeeze against the finger next to it, or stick up in the air. 

3. The tensed finger will be hard to control. It will miss notes it is supposed to play, especially when going fast. 

4. Muscle memory will make sure this tension is there every time you play. 

5. Sympathetic Tension can be avoided, right from the beginning,  by using the practice methods in "The Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar".  

  Sympathetic Tension is the reason bad habits begin for most guitar players, right at the beginning of their playing careers. 

Watch this video to see a dramatic illustration of Sympathetic Tension, as it causes a young student to struggle to play...

If You Are Beginning Guitar: The best thing you can do is to learn about Sympathetic Tension, and how to practice in a way that allows you to control it. If you do, you will avoid all the bad habits that make good guitar playing difficult or impossible. 

If You Already Play: The best thing you can do is to begin to be aware of Sympathetic Tension in your playing. Observe it and learn to feel and release this tension. If you do, you will see a surprising new feeling of control in all your playing

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Jamie Andreas has one goal: to make sure that everyone who wants to learn guitar is successful. After her first 25 years of teaching, she wrote the world acclaimed method for guitar "The Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar". She put everything into this method that was essential for success on guitar. Called "The Holy Grail" of guitar books, the Principles has enabled thousands of students who tried and failed to play guitar for years or even decades, to become real guitar players. In 2012 Jamie was profiled in "Guitar Zero" (Penguin Press 2012), a study of how adults learn to play guitar. Jamie was interviewed along with some of the worlds leading guitarist/teachers, including jazz legend Pat Martino and Tom Morello ("Rage Against The Machine").

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