I recently started going with my girlfriends 13 year old son (gulp…almost stepson?) to Aikido training.
He is an introverted artistic kid and needs to connect the body to the head more – but without competition.
He reminds me of me at age 13, actually 🙂
For about a month, it’s been our weekly thing to go to Aikido, to “connect our heads back to our bodies”, which has been really beneficial and healthy for us both.
Aikido is NOT the perfect choice for guitarsts…there are lots of wrist, elbow and shoulder moves (and twists in the practice with others) but everyone at the school is very respectful and careful not to hurt anyone else.
The teacher is a young master, and I am enjoying being a student again. He is quiet and goes through motions to teach, more than actually speaking. Some of his sentences are just a few words.
“His foot..your ribs…bad” 🙂
At our last lesson, he gave me a great guitar tip and reminder!
He explained that a even a small woman with Aikido skill could beat a big strong guy.
Aikido moves are all based on mechanics, center of balance, craft and not strength. Someone skilled at Aikido can beat someone using strength and force.
I had an AHA moment…playing guitar should be the same.
We should use guitar and finger mechanics based on proper principles – not strength.
Earlier that day I had fallen into a guitar frustration…I was grappling with getting a faster tempo on boom chick thumb picking – and my practicing for a few days had resembled an alligator wrestle.
After the friendly reminder that “no strength is needed” and that “correct technique has the most power” the light bulbs went off musically and technically.
The next guitar practice was a serene investigation into “What works? What does not work…and why?”
In about an hour, notes started popping out just right. Wow!
That’s the difference between Power and Force.
Power is in repose and quietly waiting to serve the highest cause. Through proper knowledge tools and techniques, one has Power.
There’s no ego involved with power.
Force can get results for a little while, but can’t make it through the long haul. It’s ego driven.
Eventually force (ego, strength and effort) loses and Power wins (knowledge, physics and being centered.)
(For a fascinating scientific and spiritual read, I recommend David Hawking’s “Power vs Force“)
What’s YOUR experience? Please comment below!
Mort Melman says
I’ve been playing guitar for 50 years and hold a Yondan (4th degree BB)in Ki-Aikido. The words you are looking for are Universal Principals. They pertain to everything. Different than technique which is specific to only what you are doing.
Looking forward to hearing more of your insights.
Mort thank you – YES Universal Principles. I have fallen off my Aikido, but I always reflect on how the teacher would not use “strength” but keep his center and use bodyweight & leverage to achieve the desired result. Groove on! AR
Claude Page says
I’ve been playing classical guitar for over 50 years, I am curently 67 years old. I was self-taught for a couple of years then made a Ba in music. I foud out that playing with your hands always crisped is bad. Your right hand cannot acheive speed if all of your fingers are crisped. A teacher tought me how to relax the finger after I used it and now I do it naturally but it took me a while to get into it. I hold my hand as if I was holding a pear and only my the first joint the one near my hand is moving( the knukles) . Doing so when i let my hand free, it takes back it’s place and is ready for another note. Moving your other joints will make your hand jump wich is a very bad way to play. Tour hand shouldn’t move at all only your first joint. If you practice this method you will gain speed and accuracy and your right hand will never get tired or stressed.
I have also been taught to bend only the final (distal) joint and have seen the negative effects of using other joint demonstrated. In my case it came from a bio-mechanist. It is a critical skill for fingerstyle guitarists.
I recently had a discussion with a well-known guitarist who is at the top of his game. He was complaining that although he was very fast, he still could not quite match the speed of Lindsay Buckingham on a particular piece. Granted, that’s a pretty high bar he wants to jump, but there is no reason it can’t be done. I reminded him that speed cannot be increased by force . On the contrary, when you reach what appears to be your conscious limit, you need to relax and let your sub-conscious take over. The latency in conscious thought is way to long for high[speed playing, and muscle tension only reduces speed. When you are truly in the zone and playing by instinct and muscle memory alone, without conscious effort, playing speed will match whatever the situation demands. Translation: trust your hands and just let go.
I think also too what works at times is to practice something and then let it sit and percolate ( for lack of a better term right that I can think of) in your head for a day or two, sometimes more and come back to it.
The feel of it then seems to become more natural. For instance I had a heck of a time practicing for hours the same thing over and over and then I walked away from it and tried it two days later and behold, it was flowing a bit more naturally. Have you experienced that also?
The correlation to what you are saying is that practicing becomes forced learning, like cramming for exams. You can’t force anything and expect it to be “real”.
Keith…yes yes yes! The mind continues “solving the problem” long after you walk away from it. I know that to solve anything tricky it takes a day of thinking (or more), then walking away and allowing the AHA to arise by itself! – AR
Ben McLaughlin says
Absolutely right in my experience. This happened for me with the ending to ‘I Wish’. I concentrated on the positions/shapes/ and practiced for what felt like weeks with limited progress (feel wise, anyway). I left it and went through it in my head for a couple of days and just visualized the part (but concentrated only on the bass line in fact) . When I went back to the guitar I managed to pull it together in one practice session. Good advice Adam
Excellent, thank you for the comment Ben!
Great thoughts Adam! How often we humans think we can force things to accomplish a task. Same thing happens when doing home repairs or doing physical work. Our brain attempts to make our muscles and joints do things to complete a task but we end up hurting ourselves physically and eventually mentally. I’m an avid golfer and have found that most of the time golfers try to use physical force to propel that small light ball a long distance. We even try to do it to propel it a short distance. It’s just not necessary. All it takes is the correct technique and use of muscles and joints properly to apply the club to the ball. Guitar playing is no different. The harder we press our fretting fingers the more pain we cause and the worse our playing gets. Sore finger tips and hand cramps! Incorrect posture and we get an aching back or shoulder or elbow pain.
Keep providing your observations!
David – yes! It’s all about Universal principles! – AR
I’m a huge fan not only of your Music but also of your Approach to the whole Story.
Thanks a lot for all the enriching Input – it helps a lot!
Manuel! Thanks for commenting and sorry for the late reply! – AR
Thorsten Pontow says
“No strength is needed” and “correct technique has the most power”
Man, from years of experience i can tell you, it’s the same thing in golf! The less you force it the longer you hit the ball… It sounds like a contradiction but it isn’t.
Chuck Adkins says
Since you have had some insight into the matter, you might be interested in “The Principles of Effortless Power” (and other books) by Peter Ralston, my teacher of many, many years now.
I will check it out, thanks Chuck!
Dana Gantt says
I had to grin when when I received this email from you. I agree that a focus on proper technique is important but, is in addition to the the 4 basic principles of Aikido. As you have probably surmised, these thing apply to most aspects of life as well as finger style guitar and Aikido.
Keep One Point
Keep Weight Underside
BTW. I have been told to relax so many times in my practice, I’m beginning to think it’s my first name! This one in particular applies to my guitar playing.
2nd Kyu Akidoka
Finger style Guitarist and Adam Rafferty Fan
Dana thank you! – AR
Dave Black says
Yes! Aikido – the most modern and most elegant “way.” Beautiful to watch. But yes, watch the joint locks and comealongs. Study the relative weakness of thumbs to protect your hands.
Dave I have chilled on the Aikido for that reason! – AR
Steve Paxton says
I agree whole heartily! Keith is so correct. I realized soon after beginning to play guitar 43 years ago, that if I would try and learn something and get frustrated, I’d just walk away for a day or two, then it would come like magic. Remember in the early days when you’d place one finger at a time on the strings just to form a simple D chord and it was such a struggle? Then at the next practice session or two later….presto, they all landed in the correct spots all at once? This always intrigued me on how that happened. Power is so much greater than force!!!
There ya go Steve! Thanks for commenting! AR
Klaus Schmoll says
force means to fight against somebody or something (against whom or what?). As you experienced the more effetive way is to use the good things, which are already there (resurcess, skills…) and to let them flow. That´s – how I think- a good way to deal with things: going out of the fight.
I´m lockking foreward for your next gig.
The mind body thing. Unfortunately it’s rare that I get out of my own way but it’s those rare occasions that I do and my addiction to the craft that keep me inspired. Getting rid of ego involvement is an issue and your words have helped. Thanks.
The analogy of golf and guitar playing really hit home for me Adam. I have never seen or experienced Aikido but I did make my living as a golf caddy for several years. I have seen huge brutes who could not move the ball and I have seen petite women, when I caddied in LPGA events just smoke the ball. Distance and accuracy was theirs because of the perfect swing. I have experienced once ,the ball just flying off my driver like a rocket, one of the few times in my life I felt completely centered on the golf course. I started spending less time on the golf course after I bought that Stratocaster. What a fork in the road that was.
It’s always good to hear you. T
David Green says
Hi Adam, glad to see you’ve brushed up against (with!!) Aikido! Some years ago I attended a demonstration by a visiting Japanese Master in San Diego. During his class, someone from the audience of about 100 asked a question… he screamed in English, in his heavy Japanese accent, “Don’t ask TEACH….. LEARN!!!” As a new upright bass player learning Jazz, I certainly follow his advice!!! Thanks for your post and your music – keep playin’
Thanks for this. I never studied Aikido, but thanks for this. Yes it applies directly.
We all know the sound of a beginner. He/she knows all the notes and how to make them, but is constantly pausing to find the next note. That’s because he is trying to perform by conscious thought. The conscious brain is just plain not fast enough. He needs to first train the piece into muscle memory, and then let his subconscious play the piece. I like to think of a gymnast, diver, or figure skater executing a complicated movement. If he tries to consciously think about what is happening as he performs the move, he’ll crash every time. Practice has to be about training your fingers until you can perform it without conscious thought. Your only conscious thought can be: “Start … NOW”. Then meet yourself after it’s done.
David and Claude
I was taught by classical teachers to let the last joint flex. But what about pianists, or our left hand – that last joint stays round.
The only conclusion I have is “do both.” Currently with no nails, if I use a thumpick I allow the i & m distal joint to collapse a bit and push “in” works….but that’s not always what works. Totally depends on what I am playing.
With no thumpick, I play more like an electruic bassist. Not ideal for guitar, but I get my musical idea across.
I lighten the touch and when it feels effortless, I add weight.
But…who knows…I am hitting roadblocks too…I may try nails again 🙂
My concious mind still can’t figure it out!
Hello Adam! Thank You For this article. 🙂
Hello Adam! Thank You For this article. 🙂