A Method student recently asked for comments on a common practice and gig issue: tension felt in his neck and shoulders after playing for awhile.
Here are some of my thoughts on this.
Stress can cause me to be more physically uncomfortable. I find that if I am in my chair completely relaxed both physically – and especially mentally – then I am pain-free. Getting the mind to relax is why I urge everyone to memorize everything they play to the point of having muscle memory. The less I think about the physical moves needed to play my ideas, the more freedom I have to try those ideas. When I’m stress-free, I find that my ideas flow more freely and are more musical and responsive to the song.
Tension occurs when practicing with intense focus on something new. Anytime the mind is being forced to memorize or analyze while playing, we become unaware of the physical stress our bodies go through during that process. Practice at being relaxed like you would a new lick or chord grip. Always learn everything slowly and strive for perfection. This will minimize the stress and tension that occurs when you are struggling to try to play to a certain metronome tempo over long periods of time. I often practice for 30 minutes and take a break.
As far as “posture at the instrument”, it depends on the individual. It’s best to sit behind the steel to the right of center. When looking down at the fret board my nose is about dead on with the 15th fret. Relax your arms and lay them comfortably on the neck of the guitar like you would on a table. The goal is to find what is comfortable for you.
And as far as the height of the guitar and seat, I use the standard height for steel seats, but that’s really a personal call based on your inseam. Leg extensions for both stools, legs, and rods are sometimes used by taller players. Most manufacturers can provide extensions, as do third-party vendors.