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Economy of Motion

Rick Graham December 14, 2016

Hello and welcome to my economy of motion tutorial! The main focus of this tutorial is aimed at players of all levels and styles. We will be covering a great deal of musical ground here so it is essential that you try to absorb the information contained in each successive column, and try not to skip any of the exercises or articles if you can help it. I would like to spend the first Introductory lesson going ‘back to basics’ which will not only help your playing immensely but also give you a new perspective in your approach to the art of guitar playing.

Back to Basics

If you live in the UK and cast your mind back to 1993, you may remember the campaign fronted by Tory leader John Major labelled ‘Back to Basics’ with which the prime minister wanted(apparently) to address core governmental issues which had been allowed to erode over previous years. I want to point out at this juncture that my ‘Back to Basics’ will actually work. Just wanted to get that off my chest.

Alrighty then!

Very much as it is essential to do revision during academic study, it is essential that we, as musicians, ‘revise’ our progress and make an informed decision as to what plan of attack we take next to ensure the best possible progress in the shortest time frame. During this assessment, which I’m sure all of you out there do at some point (for the word ‘sure’ read ‘hope’!), it is imperative that we identify any possible bad habits that we may have subconciously picked up along the way so that they can be eradicated.

I first began to play the classical guitar during the mid 90’s and didn’t actually have a teacher for 2 years. When I began to study with Professor Brightmore, a superb teacher and player, it became apparent that I had picked up a variety of bad habits which were actually hindering my progress. We spent some time going ‘back to basics’ which enabled us to isolate particular problem areas and deal with them accordingly. Although at the time it was not easy dealing with it, I am so glad that we did. Hopefully, you will be too.

A Few Words on Problem Solving

I always follow a very simple rule when problem solving which can be used in any situation and not just to improve your guitar skills. This rule is extremely important and should be memorized and recalled at every possible opportunity. The rule is broken down into 3 distinct points which must be understood:

1. Realize that there is a problem

2. Realize what the problem is

3. Find a solution to the problem

Once you have addressed all three points you will no longer have that particular problem. This rule is very much based on common sense, however, it is surprising how common sense can break down when there is no element of structure.

Remember, if you have any questions you can find me in the forums along with all of the other instructors.

Fret-Hand Efficiency

During the past 10 years as a guitar teacher, I have experienced a wide ranging degree of capability amongst students. Some were naturally gifted players while others had to work much harder to achieve their goals. Despite this, I would say that 100% of my students did not exercise maximum left hand efficiency whilst playing and consequently he/she would exert far too much energy on fairly simply chord shapes and scales and as a result make mistakes and/or run out of steam far too early. I feel that this basic function should be understood and implemented fairly early on so that common problems such as dead or inaccurate notes or tension in the left hand can be eradicated.

Measure Your Fret-Hand Efficiency

I first came across this neat way of gauging left hand efficiency while I was immersed in studying the classical guitar. In fact, there are some extremely useful principles which I initially discovered during my classical studies which, when applied to the study of electric guitar, adapt exceptionally well. I will be including some of these throughout my series of columns.

Start by fingering the g note on the 3rd fret of the 6th string and play the note as you would normally. Take a mental note of how much pressure you are applying to the string to produce the note. Now release your finger from the fretboard all while making a mental note of how much pressure you applied to make the note sound cleanly. Now place your finger back on the same note but do not apply any pressure to the string yet (the finger should be touching the string but not applying any pressure). Now SLOWLY and steadily begin to apply pressure to the string in small increments. Keep doing this until you reach the EXACT point that you are able to produce a good clean note. I’d wager a bet that you are probably applying half the amount of pressure that you initially applied to get the note. Well, it doesn’t take Einstein to work out that there is some serious wasted energy here! The general premise of this exercise is to be as efficient as we possibly can be so that we only use the EXACT amount of exertion needed at any given time. If this method is applied correctly, with practice, you will begin to develop a completely new command over your instrument.

The first step forward is to apply this energy saving principal to our daily practice regime.

Maximizing Fret-Hand Efficiency

Remember that each fret has it’s own ‘sweet’ spot where we can apply the minimum amount of energy to produce a resonant, clear note which is completely free from buzzes and other unwanted sounds. You will, more often than not, find this spot directly behind the fretwire that seperates the frets. Poor left hand positioning is a very common problem amongst guitarists yet it is a problem which is very easily rectified. Once you find the sweet spots you will be amazed how little energy you need to exert to get great sounding results.

Remember less = more. I cannot emphasize that enough.

This article was originally published on Infinite Guitar in 2007 for the Economy of Motion tutorial.

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