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Ben Higgins
Instructor
29 years old
Male
England
Born Feb-26-1985
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Guitar (surprise!), Karate, cars (American and European), reading, weightlifting (sometimes), horses.
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Joined: 11-March 10
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Last Seen: Yesterday, 03:18 PM
Local Time: Dec 23 2014, 02:36 AM
12.724 posts (7 per day)
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Ben Higgins

GMC Instructor


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21 Dec 2014
I had a really interesting chat with a guy on Youtube about rehabilitation from physical injuries, namely RSI. This is something which plagues many musicians, not least us guitar players. This is something I've unfortunately got experience of and I know Todd can tell you all about the crap he went through to be able to play again. I'm sure a lot of you have also encountered it either through guitar playing or non guitar related activity.

The upshot of the convo was that we were talking about physical exercises to balance out and strengthen the different muscle groups. So this would involve, among other things, exercises that use a pulling motion to balance out the repetitive, arms forward, back rounded position that we can adopt when playing guitar or using the computer for long periods of time.

The lifters and gym goers among us can no doubt add more to this topic regarding the effectiveness of certain exercises (Bleez, PosterBoy..) and it would be enlightening to know if any of you have noticed any differences / improvements to your overall posture / guitar playing as a result of having a more balanced muscular structure ?

Another aspect of the conversation I had was that there is no real 'sports science' type of knowledge relating to maintaining a healthy, balanced physicality to counteract the potential overuse of particular muscles for guitar playing. Most of this stuff we have to discover by ourselves, often after we've already injured something. Some of it may seem like common sense (exercising = healthy, duh !) but really it's not necessarily THAT obvious is it ? I mean, nobody approaches a musical instrument with the mindset of an Olympic lifter. We don't need to destroy the instrument, we want to play it ! So any musician could be forgiven for thinking that it's not a particularly physical task that they're engaging in, right ?

Anyone who's been playing guitar long enough or hung around these forums knows that one of the most basic things everyone advocates is relaxation. To avoid tensing unnecessarily. But this in itself won't avoid an overuse injury. I'm sure we all know what it's like to play for too long after you've already tired your arms and hands out. Those practise days where you're making progress and you just don't want to put it down. But these are prime times for encouraging an overuse injury. If it's something like a strained tendon in the fingers then that can be very nasty and the immediate remedy is to cease that activity for the foreseeable future and then began a slow process of rehab... nobody wants that. There's a story out there from Troy Stetina about screwing up a tendon in his finger when attempting some particularly stretchy movements without being properly warmed up and it's not a nice read. (Not being inspired to practise guitar sucks but not being able to play the guitar went you want to because you can't is infinitely worse.)

But tendon injuries are usually (and please anybody correct me if I'm wrong - the more we know, the better) to do with overuse when cold and / or a movement that is just beyond the body's current capabilities. It's not necessarily related to muscle overuse and under development. So what I'm talking about is not so much those sudden tendon injuries but the muscular overuse type of injuries. RSI is technically an injury to the tendons as well because they become inflamed (oversimplification) but it's not the sudden 'snap' type of injury that I was talking of earlier.

My post here is not really an informative post, more like a 'What do you guys think ?' post. An opportunity for us to share experiences and info relating to exercises that have helped you avoid getting injured (or maybe they haven't ?). As I said before, there's no institution that does this research for us, it's actually down to us, the players. We're the pioneers here so..... ummm.... let's... err.... pioneer wink.gif
18 Dec 2014
Strings - what influence are your strings having on your guitar playing at the moment ? I've been using 9's regularly for about a year or so. Before that, I'd had some 10's for a few months and 9's before that. So I would say that throughout my guitar playing life I've either been using 9's or 10's with a few occasional detours into 8's territory.

If I had to choose, though, I would stick with 9's because they give me everything that I need from my tonal and physical requirements.

They have to be light enough to allow wide bends and vibrato without requiring Herculean amounts of strength and light enough to encourage the juiciest, brightest tone. Now, this is where myself and a lot of guitarists part ways in our opinions. It's always been the received wisdom that thicker strings equal better tone but first of all we all have to be in agreement as to what 'better tone' means.

This is not something that will ever happen so we have to provide some context to that statement. Most people who use the 'thicker = better tone' argument are usually referring to the fact that the tone is perhaps 'woodier' & 'thicker'. Depending on your playing style this may or may not be a desirable result. If you're an SRV type guy then yeah, you want that fat, woody tone to bring out all those aggressive blues tones from that Strat or whatever you use. But if you're like me and you want the performance equivalent of a supercar, then you want your strings to respond well to slippery legato and rich sounding pinch harmonics and the like. Now, I've always found that lighter gauge strings give the latter effect much better than thicker strings. If anything, thicker strings, although beefier, tend to give a duller response, more suited to blues. But that's just me. Maybe I'm an alien. (But I don't go surfing..)

What about string brands ? Have you ever found a particularly identifiable trait in a brand ? I've been using Ernie Balls mostly but it's not necessarily due to a belief that they give a better tone or last longer (they may do these things but I don't know). It's mainly to do with availability and the fact that I've been using them this long with no complaints so why change ?

I've been using Rotosound on the 7 string and they perform pretty much as you would expect a string to perform ! What else can I say ? So, in terms of brand characteristics / performance I have no observations to say that one is better than the other. But you guys may have some thoughts about this so do please share !

Last thought of all... I would definitely say that different gauge strings (and obviously, different guitars) tend to encourage a different playing style. If I picked up a guitar with 12's on or something equally hefty then I would definitely adapt to it and modify what I do. It might even influence me to come up with something outside of my 'normal' playing style. I would imagine that some of you have different guitars strung with different gauges / tunings for this very reason ? A Jackson Soloist with 9's would probably elicit a different mood in you than a battered Strat with 11's. Different tools for different jobs. Is this the case with your home setup ? Have you got different beasts to inspire different ideas ? If so, what are they ?

The humble guitar string. We can often take it for granted but how much does it influence what we do ?
13 Dec 2014
Life is full of things like pain, discomfort, anxiety, doubt and fear. The kind of things that we would prefer not to experience and often do our best to avoid. But in order to move forward, to grow, to achieve new heights of performance or success in any endeavour, we have to accept these unpleasant sensations because they are part of the experience.

Whenever we do something, or think about doing something, that is new and/or unknown to us we're on shaky ground. All of a sudden, that stability we take for granted isn't there any more. We're taking a step into no man's land where there is no guarantee of anything. As a species we generally fear the unknown and change. But in order to make discoveries and progress we have had to overcome these inbuilt inhibitions.

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A part of our brain called the amygdala can perceive unknown situations as a threat, hence delivering all these unpleasant feelings into our systems. Whilst this is useful for alerting you to the fact that there's a tiger on the loose and if you want to live you'd better run or hide FAST, it's not quite as appropriate a response for when you're thinking about changing jobs or speaking in public. Nevertheless, our brain can still perceive certain situations, which are trivial in comparison to life or death situations as a possible threat to our person. Modern life has added more facets to the threat possibilities such as threat to our image, our ego, our social standing, our wealth... all of these contribute in some way to our survival in this world so they all can trigger that same threat response.

So when you've got butterflies in your stomach at the thought of doing something that isn't that scary in reality, it's not because you're a coward. It's not necessarily that you're afraid. It's just the bodies response to a situation that is currently outside of your comfort zone ie: the unknown. And as we know, the unknown is a possible threat until proven otherwise. Logic itself cannot always pierce this barrier. We may know that logically there's nothing to fear in giving a speech or going to audition for something but the emotionally unpleasant feelings go beyond logic. This cerebral response is a connection we have to our earliest ancestors and non human species.

We know why we get these discouraging feelings but we somehow have to accept them, push past them and do the activity in order to reduce the trepidation that we feel about it. Next time we may be less concerned but still a bit nervous. Eventually we may feel as calm as a pond. Our comfort zone possibly expands to include this new activity if it's something we do consistently and regularly. But whenever we go into the unknown we will again experience that cocktail of fear and trepidation.

This is a necessary part of the process in getting what we want. If you want something more than what is currently at your disposal then you are required to somehow get it by either training, studying, practising, searching, basically working hard in some way in order to get it. But it will not be easy because your brain is trying to keep you in the safe zone by flooding you with a cocktail of fear. This is when people dip their toe in and then give up after the first bit of hardship. But it's got to be hard. The reward has to be hard won. That's how we've evolved over the years to become what we are today.

As our own Todd 'T-Master' Simpson loves to remind you young shred disciples; EARN IT.

Comfort is nice but remind yourself that no progress was ever made in the comfort zone.

So when was the last time you really had to go out of your comfort zone ? What was it for and what did you get out of it ?

8 Dec 2014
Many of us guitarists routinely use the 3 note per string patterns as a way of putting lick and runs together. For us, it's natural to navigate the neck in this way. Tons of picking and legato exercises are based upon these 3nps shapes so it is ingrained in many players from their early days of practise.

There can be a downside to this, though. Reliance on these shapes mean that we spend so much time playing in triplets that we are stumped when we're presented with the idea of playing straight 16th notes. Some people's immediate response is to go full Zakk Wylde with the 2 note per string pentatonics. Why ? Because it's easy to place those licks over a tempo that requires rapid 16th notes. They're easy to keep track of. Not necessarily easy to play at speed but the idea of them is easy.

So, how is it that we have loads of licks for when the tempo allows us to go crazy with multiples of 3 but we have very few ideas when triplets are not an option ? Mainly because we haven't used those 3nps patterns in a way to express licks that are in straight 16th notes. So, whatever type of player you are, whether you're a tapper, picker or... legato-er (?), you can take these 3nps patterns and start making some new licks with them. That was the premise behind my latest lesson

In this lesson I have used some patterns which are very unfamiliar. Instead of just ascending or descending, some of these licks do both. They also combine picking and legato because...well, because I wrote them. If you wrote some similar licks you may play them differently. You can combine whatever techniques you want in order to achieve a burst of 16th notes. But whatever you create, the chances are that it won't be instantly playable because it's not familiar to you yet. The same thing applied to me with the licks in this lesson. I had to learn them and practise them before I felt comfortable with them. But now that I do, I have some different options for tearing it up when the tempo says "No triplets here, Higgins !"

This will come in handy for anyone who plays music that calls for fast 16th notes at anything from 170-200bpm and over. Some people might pick everything like Petrucci, Impellitteri, Gilbert or Yngwie (although we know he doesn't pick everything) but most of those lines are very linear and go one way or the other. One of the most unique players who approaches fast 16th notes in his own way is Chris Poland. Go listen to the first 2 Megadeth albums and see how he blazes away over those thrash beats. It's totally different to his contemporaries, most of who were using the typical fast pentatonic approach to wail away over all those tracks that were on the high end of 190bpm+

Check out Chris's solo from 5:02



Why am I being a bit specific about genre and bpms ? Because for a lot of players out there, you'll be encountering those kind of soloing opportunities and if you have an idea vacuum during these moments it's going to suck for you. Being able to shred triplets over some neoclassical track is totally different to laying down the shred over a track like Rattlehead or Black Friday. You have to mentally be in a different place and so that means you want to have the chops ready. And that means expanding your repertoire so that you have plenty of evil 16th note ideas at your disposal !
7 Dec 2014
One of the things that sucks the most has to be injuries that force us to take a break from the guitar, am I right ?

People sometimes find it hard to motivate themselves to practise but do you know what ? I think it's harder to stop yourself practising ! And this is something that becomes apparent when you're forced to lay off from the instrument for whatever reason. It could just be that you've been playing hard for a few days and everything feels a bit tired and achy. Overuse is usually a factor in why we have to take a break from playing. But sometimes it's something more serious like a strained tendon. Playing with cold hands that are not 'lubed up' and ready for action is asking for something to go wrong. If your bits and pieces are not warmed up then muscles don't contract and retract as efficiently as they should and it puts extra strain on tendons and ligaments.

That leads me on to something that usually gets touted as a 'warm up' - static stretching. I don't want to urinate on anyone's parade here because static stretching before exercise is like an old tradition but I think 2 key words here are old and tradition. How many old traditions have been replaced because they're outdated and discovered to be either of no use or detrimental ? Too many to think about so with that in mind, maybe its' time we embraced that it's not the best thing for us to do before we intend to exercise or play guitar.

Static stretching is where you stretch a muscle group and hold it for a period of time, without moving. We're all familiar with that, yeah ? The thing is, by stretching the muscle you're decreasing the neural performance or something and causing relaxation. Now, relaxation is something we want as guitar players but not at the expense of reduced physical performance. It's like taking an elastic band and stretching it until all the elasticity and tension has gone, then expecting the band to perform the same function. Explosive power is not the same. Reaction speed isn't the same. But please, my layman's understanding of this is no substitute for your own research so I urge you to go and check this stuff out yourself from a number of sources. Cross reference, read both sides of the argument, read people's personal experiences and decide for yourself. But do look at it.

The bottom line is that most institutions have moved on from the old days of static stretching before exercise as they've kept up to date with progress in that field. Of course, many martial arts schools or sports clubs may still do it but they're probably not run by people who keep up to date with progress. Static stretching still has its place but it's now recommended as a post exercise activity only.

So what should take the place of static stretching ? Dynamic stretching is the thing now. You're moving your body through a range of motions designed to wake up the muscle groups and get them working at a much reduced intensity to allow them to warm up and get the blood flow happening. Here's an explanation from wiki but again it's worth doing your own research about this:

Dynamic stretching works by the practitioner gently propelling their muscles towards their maximum range of motion. It is very important to note that the practitioner should not use jerky, forced movements to increase the range of motion beyond what is comfortable as it can easily cause injury. In general, the practitioner wants to move (stretch) the muscle in a similar way that they are going to move them in a workout. For example a martial arts practitioner who wants to stretch a hamstring for a kick may swing a straight leg forward to gradually increase the height they can obtain. Doing light kicks, with little explosive acceleration, while gradually increasing height, could also be considered a dynamic stretch. - Wikipedia

Obviously, most or all of the info will be dealing with sports related activities rather than the needs of a musician so we need to take the concepts and apply it to our own activities. Do I always practise what I preach ? Hell no ! But I try to do something like this:

If my hands are cold, stiff and slow to respond then my priority is heating them up and getting the blood flowing. This is hard to do in my opinion as any heat generated by rubbing the hands together or holding a cup of hot drink dissipates pretty quickly, so it takes a while to get the hand feeling warmer and looser. If my hands are warm enough then I'll pick up the guitar and just ease myself into it with some relaxed chord shapes, random noodling. But it's all done with very little pressure from the fingers. I go easy on anything that requires more muscular concentration like vibrato or bending. I just let the fingers find their way without pushing them or going for stretchy licks too quickly. In this way, this is as close to dynamic stretching as we can get. It's 'sports specific' if you will; it's using the fingers through a range of motion that is similar to, or identical to the intended activity. By using our bits and pieces at an unhurried, lower intensity we allow the hands to loosen and warm up naturally.

That's how I mainly do it, anyway. There's no real resource that I know of where we can get a load of ideas on guitar specific dynamic warm ups.. oh no, wait a minute. Yes there is - it's here. As players ourselves we're the ones who will be making these discoveries and testing them out for ourselves so it's our responsibility to gather and share this information so that good physical practises related to guitar playing can continue to evolve just as sports science does.

We are the ones who have to do it so let's share our experiences and thoughts about this. Aside from the process that I mentioned earlier, what other dynamic stretches or movements could help a guitar player prepare for a practise session ? It's not just fingers and hands involved in guitar playing either. What about your wrists, forearms, elbows, triceps, shoulders, neck muscles ? Whilst they all may not be involved in the execution of a technique, tightness or reduced mobility in those areas could affect the performance of the hands. The hands are basically the very tip of a larger tool. So what about warm ups to help those areas too ?
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Todd Simpson
Welcome! :) Great to have ya!
9 Jun 2010 - 2:11
Ben Higgins
Thank you man !! :-)
5 Jun 2010 - 15:24
thefireball
Welcome to GMC!!!!!!! I hope you enjoy your stay and I look forward to cool lessons! :)
5 Jun 2010 - 0:14

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