Many is the talented guitar player who has come seriously unstuck by ignoring the warning pains I describe below. And believe me, pain is a warning. Sometimes it goes away. More often than not, it doesn’t. Instead it gets worse. So if any of these conditions apply to you, do something about it – now!
Your left wrist begins to hurt. Sometimes you can scarcely bend it.
Stop! There is too much tension in your arm, hand, fingers and even shoulder. Get help.
Your left shoulder is in pain, but curiously not while you are playing. So this encourages you to keep on.
Stop! There is too much tension in your arm, or hand, or fingers, or shoulder, or back, or all of them at the same time. Get help.
You are feeling discomfort in your lower back, and sometimes pain. But it’s OK when you play cross-legged.
Stop! There is too much tension somewhere in your back. Get help. Playing the Classical Guitar cross-legged like our Flamenco cousins is not really an option.
Your right hand fingers seem to have minds of their own. Sometimes one of them curls up without you asking it to.
Stop! There is too much tension somewhere in your right hand, or wrist, or arm, or elbow. Get help.
Your hips and legs feel all stiff.
You are sitting tensely. You may be tensing the muscles in your legs. Your back may be sloping.
Your left foot and ankle are tight and prevent you from walking freely.
You are curling up your toes and tensing your ankle on the footstool while playing and practising.
Someone close tells you that you are grinding your teeth and pulling ugly faces as you play. You don’t want to believe it but have to when all your relatives start nodding reluctantly in agreement with the accuser.
You are tensing your face muscles, and your mouth, and your forehead while playing. You probably have been doing so for ages without realising it. You may even be suffering from self-induced headaches. Do some slow, quiet practise while looking into a mirror. Looking at your own reflection can have a calming influence on you.
One of your fingers is hurting, while all the others are fine. Stop!
There is too much tension in your hand, not just in that one finger. Get help.
You feel discomfort in your right shoulder, even pain.
Stop! There is too much tension in your arm, or hand, or fingers, or shoulder or back, or all of them at the same time. You may not be resting your arm in a relaxed manner on the guitar. Get help.
While you are playing or practising you feel fine, but when you get up you feel stiff all over: both arms, your hands and your back.
You are so determined and driven in your purpose that you become oblivious to your body complaining to you in the only way it knows how: through pain.
Pain may be caused by reasons unrelated to your guitar playing. First you have to make sure that you are not suffering from a medical condition. If it becomes apparent to you that your pain and discomfort is caused by the guitar then you would be well advised to take professional advice from therapists, practitioners of the Alexander Technique, or teachers who know how to address the issues involved with good advice. Don’t be fobbed off with banalities like “you just gotta relax.” That is not enough. You deserve better than that in the shape of the practical steps you need take.
This has been my rough guide to why practising can be bad for you and how to avoid total meltdown.
14th February 2015, London