Anda di halaman 1dari 8



thank you for downloading this article, which comes from a large resource of free
articles available at
As with many free web resources, we have something to sell! If you enjoy this article,
please consider purchasing our printed journal, Guitar Forum, which is devoted to
scholarly articles on the guitars pedagogy, history and repertoire by prominent guitarists
and scholars such as Julian Bream, Fabio Zanon, Dusan Bogdanovic, Ricardo Iznaola
and others. Tese articles are not available for free on the site, but we believe you will nd
hours of thought-provoking and inspiring reading in return for your subscription.
Why buy the journal?
Te quality of the contents aside, all proceeds go to the European Guitar Teachers
Association uk (, a uk-based organisation which funds a plethora of
projects, including a national youth ensemble, publications of music for teachers and
pupils, public events and the Guitar Forum website from which this article has been
downloaded. Everything that egta uk does is done by volunteers, so your payment really
will go directly into these projects.
Our website contains detailed information on the journal and its contents, and a large
archive of supplementary articles for free downloading
Contact us
And now, continue to the article
The Perfect Technique?
uomi iqUi vovii c icoi. cUiv
uomiiqUi vovii trained as a physiotherapist at Guys Hospital, London, and has specialised
in the treatment of musculo-skeletal problems. She has treated musicians with injuries for several
years and for some years was physiotherapist at the Prussia Cove Guitar Seminar, at present, she
is regularly invited to the Chamber Music Seminars at Prussia Cove, directed by cellist Steven
icoi. cUiv studied at the Royal College of Music, London and the Ban Centre for Arts,
Canada. She developed a playing-related injury in :: which led her to completely rethink the
traditional approach to teaching and playing the guitar. She is the author of Musicians Injuries:
a guide to their understanding and prevention, published by Parapress.'

Tuivi has been much emphasis in recent years for musicians to achieve a perfect
technique, in order to create a more perfect musical result.
Tis severe goal of perfection can, however, impose rigid demands on the body, partic-
ularly the hands, arms, neck and upper trunk. Playing a musical instrument comprises
fast, repetitive and highly controlled fnger movements, while adopting an asymmetric
and abnormal posture which must frequently be sustained for unnaturally long periods
of time. Tis is potentially a recipe for multiple stresses to be incurred upon an unsus-
pecting and ofen unprepared body, which in time may lead to physical symptoms such
as pain, numbness or tingling, muscle weakness, and loss of fnger coordination.
In addition, musicians are ofen sufering from mental and emotional stress in what
can be a highly competitive and demanding arena. Such stress will lower the bodys re-
silience to fatigue, and compound the efects of physical strain.
Tese factors have led to an alarming surge in the incidence of playing related injuries,
particularly amongst guitarists. Te purpose of this article is to encourage teachers to
take more of a responsibility for the problem: to ask themselves whether they are train-
ing pupils (from the earliest stage of learning) to be aware of their bodies, to use their
bodies in an emcient and natural way, and to be physically comfortable while playing.
Te defnition of the perfect technique may need to change, in the light of a diferent
In order to understand the problem better, all guitar teachers could beneft from a deeper
To order a copy of Musicians Injuries, send a cheque/money order for c8.,o (Ux and Europe) or
s:, (Us.) to: Parapress Ltd, Te Basement, Frant Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent 1: ,su. It can
also be ordered online from the Parapress website, http.//
1ui vivvic1 1icui qUi
insight into how the body is built (anatomy), and how the body works (physiology), as
well as a knowledge of ergonomics (the scientifc study of the physical emciency of people
in their workspace), and good postural use (through the Alexander and Feldenkrais
Techniques). Guitar technique can then be taught from a more informed position, taking
the needs of the body into account as well as the requirements of the music.
Some examples follow of specifc points which can be learned, and their implications
for technique and playing habits. Tese have arisen out of our combined observations
and work together over the past few years as a physiotherapist and a guitarist.
In good posture, there is a stable base, the body is in balance, and the skeletal structure
counteracts the pull of gravity.
A posture which is either twisted, leaning to one side or leaning forward will be less
balanced; postural muscles of the back and shoulders will need to work hard in order
to maintain a stable position. If these muscles are tightly contracted, not only will there
be unnecessary strain on the body, but the functioning of the arms and hands may be
adversely afected, due to the compression of the nerves which stem out from the spine
and pass out towards the shoulders en route to the arms and hands.
Use of the muscles
Muscles have limitations, and are vulnerable to fatigue and injury if those limitations are
not understood and respected.
Muscles in general tend to work more emciently if not worked maximally for long
periods of time. Terefore, musicians would do well, where possible, to take regular rest-
breaks from practising (e.g. every forty-fve minutes), and should aim to incorporate
moments of relaxation into their technique.
i If a muscle aches, that is a warning signal that it is fatigued and needs to rest; if rest is
not allowed at this point, the muscle may become damaged. If pain is being produced by
playing, it is advisable to stop and allow the pain to subside before resuming playing.
Dynamic muscular use (a rhythmic alternation of tensing and relaxing, as in walking)
can be continued for much longer than static muscular use (a continual muscular
contraction as in holding on to something) before fatigue will occur. In ones technique,
therefore, static muscular use should be avoided wherever possible. Tis includes all
unnecessary postural tension such as raised shoulders, twisted torso and stif neck, as
well as tension in the technique such as stif wrists and a static forearm position.
Rapid repetitive movements can tire the muscles quickly. Terefore musicians should
practise fast exercises and virtuoso pieces for short periods before resting.
, Te greater the proportion of a muscles strength that is used to carry out an action,
the quicker the muscle will become fatigued. In order to preserve energy, aim to use
the least muscular efort necessary to carry out each action. In guitar technique, this is
1ui vivvic1 1icui qUi
particularly relevant to lef-hand fnger pressure, and pressure of the lef-hand thumb
behind the guitars neck.
o Professional athletes generally warm up, prior to playing a game; musicians, however,
tend not to think of themselves as musical athletes,

even though their body is the

instrument by which they play. Many think of warming up as a series of scales and
arpeggios, rather than physical warm-ups of the arms, trunk and body as a whole. In
sports a warm-up routine consists of slow, gentle exercises which gradually increase
the blood fow to the required muscles and prepare them for more strenuous work.
; Te muscular system can be built up through sport and exercise, which will make the
body stronger, and therefore less susceptible to strain.
Relative sizes of the muscles
In general, the larger and stronger muscles are connected to the pelvis, back and chest,
and away from the centre of the body the muscles become progressively smaller and
Movements of the upper arm are powered by the large, strong muscles of the shoul-
ders, back and chest. Te elbow joint is moved by the medium-sized muscles in the
upper arms. Te fngers and wrist are powered by the small, narrow muscles in the
forearm, as well as by some very fne muscles in the hands themselves.
Small muscles have limited strength and endurance and on the whole are suitable
for fne-precision movements rather than strenuous workloads. In ones technique, it
is therefore important to fnd ways of activating the stronger upper-arm, shoulder and
back muscles, in order to assist the weaker muscles of the hand and forearm, leaving
them free to do the intricate precision movements which only they can do. A tech-
nique which is built entirely around highly developed and emcient fnger movements
can be impressive in the short term, but it places a huge stress on a part of the body
not designed for such a workload.
Tere are many ways in which this attention to the larger muscles can be incorpo-
rated into technique. Once the focus is taken away from the fngers it is surprising how
easy movements can become and how efortless playing an instrument can feel. Natu-
ral movements such as jump, swing, spring and circle all have a direction and intrinsic
strength which usually originates in an impulse from the larger muscles.
Position of the joints
Joints function most emciently when positioned in the middle of their range of pos-
sible movement. From this position, the muscles work more easily and are less vulner-
able to strain.
By putting any joint through its full range of movement, it is possible to work out
what the middle of its range is and therefore what its least stressful position would be
when playing an instrument.
Mid-range positions in all fnger joints lead to a gently rounded hand position with

1ui vivvic1 1icui qUi

no sharp angles or fatness. It is especially important that the knuckle joints (connect-
ing the fngers to the palm) are not fat; this is an extreme-of-range position and as
such is extremely weak. With fnger-intensive activities like playing the guitar, it is
also important that the wrist is in its mid-range position, i.e. straight and neutral, with
no unnecessary deviations in one direction or another.

Abduction of the fngers

Stretching the fngers apart, otherwise known as abduction of the fngers, is one of the
most stressful movements for the muscles of the hand. Tis is especially marked when
the joints of the fngers are curved (or fexed) at the same time, as they almost always
are when playing the guitar.
It is therefore important to minimise unnecessary stretching apart of the fngers, in
order to preserve the energy of the fnger muscles. Tis can be done in several ways:
In the home-base hand positions (which are used most of the time), there should
not be any abduction of the fngers at all. In the lef hand, this means that the one
fnger per fret technique, where the four fngers generally rest above each of four
adjacent frets, should be avoided by anyone whose natural hand-span (i.e. the span
of their hand when relaxed) is not wide enough to cover the four frets. Most women
guitarists and children will fall into this category, particularly when playing in the
lower positions.
i Wherever possible, refnger passages so that the hand is allowed to remain in its
natural span. For instance, when playing in the frst position, notes on the third fret
can be played with the fourth fnger.
Jump from one note to the next rather than stretch out, in situations where this would
not afect the musical result.
In passages where a lot of stretching is unavoidable, try to consciously release any
build-up of tension afer playing those pieces, and take more frequent breaks than
Forearm rotation
In order for the fngers to work most emciently, they need to be positioned as an ex-
tension and continuation of the forearm muscles that operate them. Tis means that
there will be a slight change in the position of the wrist and forearm for each fnger.
Te centre of gravity of the hand will constantly change to support the fnger which is
For most players, this condition will be fulflled if the lef-hand forearm is square-on
to the fngerboard when playing a note with the lef-hand third fnger. When using
the fourth fnger, rotate the forearm a little to the lef (i.e. away from the body); for the
second fnger, rotate the forearm a little to the right (i.e. towards the body); and for the
frst fnger the forearm can be in its most natural and comfortable position, facing in
towards the body (as it would when the arm is hanging relaxed by ones side).
1ui vivvic1 1icui qUi
Use of the thumb
Te thumb has a diferent structure to that of the fngers. Its base joint is inside the
webbing of the hand (near the wrist), and this joint is able to move in a circular motion
(like the shoulder), unlike the joints of the fngers which essentially move in two direc-
tions, forwards and backwards.
If the right-hand thumb is used as though it were a fnger, i.e. moved from the
knuckle and only in a forward and backward direction, it can soon become stif, unre-
liable and susceptible to strain. In order to function well, the thumb should move from
its base joint, and in a circular motion.
Developing body awareness
Aside from such technical considerations, the teacher can also help by motivating stu-
dents to be generally more aware of their physical body while playing. Most guitar-
ists have a highly developed aural awareness; they are immediately aware of any small
alteration in pitch and will constantly fne-tune each string as it changes. However,
they have generally not developed the same sensitivity to when their body is out of
tune. In fact, they ofen ignore it completely, except ironically for the part in closest
contact with the instrument: the nails, which are usually shaped, bufed and polished
to perfection!
If the student is encouraged to consider his body as carefully as his musical interpre-
tations, he will be better able to notice any early signs of pain or discomfort while play-
ing. Tese should be addressed immediately. Both teacher and student should work
together to modify the posture of some element of the technique which has become
unbalanced. If symptoms persist, practice time should be cut back and a medical
assessment should be sought from a doctor or a reputable practitioner experienced
with musicians injuries, such as a physiotherapist, chiropractor or osteopath, followed
by professional treatment if necessary. Ignoring early symptoms may lead to more
chronic and deep-rooted damage, which will invariably become more dimcult to treat,
and ultimately can seriously afect (or even destroy) a students playing potential.
Other considerations
Tere are various conditions aside from the playing technique which put more stress
than usual on the playing mechanism and leave it more vulnerable to injury. Students
should be educated about these, so they know when to be more careful than usual, pos-
sibly practising for shorter periods at a time and setting aside more time for relaxation
exercises and rest. Circumstances which ofen precipitate injury include:
change of instrument
change of technique
new, more dimcult repertoire
sudden increase in psychological or emotional stress
ill-health or general tiredness
1ui vivvic1 1icui qUi
sudden increase in daily hours of practice
strain from another activity such as gardening or decorating, which is not allowed to
fully recover before practising again
It should be noted that when several of these conditions occur at the same time, the
risk is greater still. At these times, if the student has been taught to play with a tech-
nique which is relaxed and comfortable for the body, he is more likely to avert injury.
If on the other hand, he plays with poor posture and poor habits of use, the combina-
tion of stresses may prove too much for the body and result in injury.
By working with the student in an atmosphere where any physical discomfort can be
openly expressed and tackled together, and where good posture and physical comfort
is made a priority, musicians need not strive to reach musical perfection despite their
bodies, nor live under the constant threat of injury. Instead, the physical element can
become an enjoyable and integral part of the music-making process. Te end-goal of
perfection does not have to be the most important thing; the means whereby can take
on a greater signifcance.
Te irony is that striving for perfection through the traditional pattern of intense
practising, highly controlled and rapid fnger exercises, and deep concentration for
long periods at a time will ofen not lead to perfection at all! It is more likely to pro-
duce tiredness, stress, tension in the body, and a strain on the playing mechanism
which ultimately may render it inconsistent and unreliable. An approach to technique
and practising which considers the body as a whole, which respects its needs and limi-
tations, and which regards physical comfort as a priority has the potential to reach
much closer to that elusive dream of perfection.

Moshe Feldenkrais, Awareness through Movement (Penguin, :8o).
i W.A.L. Tompson & H.P. Kopell, Peripheral Entrapment Neuropathies of the Upper
Extremity, ^ew England journal of Medicine, June :,.
Etienne Grandjean, Fitting the Task to the Man. a textbook of occupational
ergonomics (London: Taylor & Francis, th edn, :88).
N. Quarrier, Performing Arts Medicine: the musical athlete, josv1 :,/:, :,, pp
, Christopher Norris, Sports Injuries (Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd, :,).
o W. Kapit & L.M. Elson, Te Anatomy Coloring Book (New York: Harper Collins, :nd
edn, :,).
See also I.A. Kapandji, Te Physiology of the Joints, Te Upper Limb, vol. :
(Churchill Livingstone, :8:).
1ui vivvic1 1icui qUi
; Gyorgy Sandor, On Piano Playing. motion, sound and expression (London: Collier
Macmillan, :8:).
8 Otto Ortmann, Te Physiological Mechanics of Piano Technique (New York: Da Capo
Press, :8:).
See also I.A. Kapandji, Te Physiology of the Joints.
p Stephen Pheasant, Bodyspace. anthropometry, ergonomics and design (London: Taylor
& Francis, :88).
o Sandor, On Piano Playing.
Hunter J.H. Fry, Overuse Syndrome in Musicians: prevention and management, Te
Lancet, September :8o.
i Alan H. Lockwood, Medical Problems of Musicians, Te ^ew England journal of
Medicine, January :8.
First published in rc1z Guitar journal o (:,), pp ,,
Te version presented here has been slightly revised by the authors (April :oo:)
Dominique Royle & Nicola Culf, :o