“All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.” ― Louis Armstrong
“I never practice my guitar… from time to time I just open the case and throw in a piece of raw meat.”― Wes Montgomery
“Oh, we’ve got a bigger dressing room than the puppets. That’s refreshing.” — David St. Hubbins
When you are playing songs on guitar (or any instrument), you know you are in the moment when you put your whole self into it. Everything is really clicking.
Moments like that are really awesome.
But, there are also times when putting our whole self into it can be detrimental to our playing.
Let me explain:
Many times we suffer from what I like to call Poor Guitar “Body English”.
And it can really hinder our playing and prevent any reasonable progress in our playing. It can be one of the main reasons our songs don’t always sound good, or a lead line just isn’t right, or that those chords don’t sound clear.
I do see it more with beginner players (which is normal) but I also see it with many who took on bad habits learning on their own or via the internet.
So what is Bad Guitar “Body English”?
While much importance is put on how we place our fingers on the strings to form chords or melody lines, it can often be missed regarding how the rest of our body is positioned while we play. And that matters. Poor posture, moving our arms, shoulders, and elbows in unnecessary ways don’t help those fingers do what they need to do.
Think of it this way: if you ever see a theater production you know that the focus is on the actors. But, without the behind the scenes production crews (lights, sound, makeup, etc.), the show falls flat on its face – regardless of how good the actors are.
Playing an instrument is the same way. Think of your fingers as the “actors” and the rest of your body as the supporting cast.
The two main culprits are how we position our left wrist and thumb. However, I am going to save that for a near-future Tuesday Tip. There is a lot to discuss there. For this tip, I want to help you look at how your Guitar Body English is and, to see if it is good or could use some improvement.
Rock Star Drift
This is the one where as you play, your left arm starts drifting, thus pulling the guitar neck further and further from your body. I see this a lot.
Now, if you want to do your best hair band rock move, by all means, go ahead and make that move!
But that is all for effect. You can’t really play well looking like that.
When you drift your arm further and further away, it becomes harder and harder to play that those tough chords or melodies. You don’t give your fingers (or your thumb and wrist for that matter) any chance to play correctly.
What you really want to do is make sure you keep that arm back in a relaxed, comfortable position. The key word is to “relax”.
Here is another common problem I see.
This oftentimes happens when we are trying real hard to play a song or work on something real difficult.
There is this natural tendency to want to “put our shoulder into it”. Thus, the shoulder tends to drop.
Relax! Yes, relax your shoulder! You don’t really need it much to play your guitar. It will make your playing life so much better!
Sometimes, while trying to get that barre chord to sound right (or any chord, really), the left elbow sometimes wants to compensate and twist and turn.
If you catch yourself doing it, stop! Relax your elbow!
It shouldn’t swing out or in.
In fact, one simple test for not swinging inward is to imagine sticking a pillow between the elbow and torso. It should easily fit there. If not, change it.
Bad Elbow In:
Bad Elbow Out:
Correct Elbow Position:
Yes, just like your mom might have said: “sit up straight and stop slouching!”
While you don’t have to sit up straight like a board, if you end up slouching on the couch too much while playing or practicing, you will either simply play bad, or pick up some really bad habits that will ultimately hinder your progress.
So, sit up!
Or, simply stand up, that works too. Your fingers (and your mom) will appreciate it!
You Look Marvelous!
No Guitar Body English:
If you aren’t sure, look in a mirror while playing. Sometimes it can be hard to really see how you look with the guitar.
Often you will see some of that Poor Guitar Body English show up and you can adjust to correct it.
If this is something that has been a challenge for you, I hope this tip will help you in your playing!
Rock on until the next time!
Do your fingers need a workout? Here is a free mini course I made for you to help out with that. It’s obvious (just a click away), easy (just follow along the course with short videos), and satisfying (you WILL play better). Check it out here:
Or just click this link: Guitar Finger Gymnastics
PS: Oh and hey, can you do me a favor? I’m starting a mission to grow my You Tube Subscribers to more than 149 (Ha!). No, seriously, if you can quickly hop over there and “Subscribe”, it would be so very awesome! When you subscribe, you get real time updates when videos are posted. You might find something useful and/or fun!
I promise that the videos (most of them at least) will be entertaining and/or informative!
Here is the path to arrive there:
Guitar Finger Gymnastics
- A simple exercise to warm up the fingers. A must for every guitar player!
- Exercises to improve finger coordination and dexterity. Train the fingers to do what you want them to do on the guitar!
- You will learn steps to take to stretch the fingers. Helps to form the chords and make them sound better!