It started a few years ago, it was after I had been playing the electric guitar for several years. Usually we learn to play the guitar at a fairly slow pace, because in the beginning we have to learn basics and fundamentals and develop the related muscles. Most of the time beginning guitar players don’t get very physical while playing the guitar because our skill level is not developed well enough to play at a fast rate. I did scales and variations of scales and exercises for over a year to begin with.
As I progressed and my muscle memory improved, which allowed me to play more difficult and faster music I developed some physical symptoms that caused a loss of comfort. The first symptom I developed was sore wrists and elbows from putting to much pressure on my fret hand by pushing the strings down and from holding down chords with to much pressure, which takes a lot of hand strength. It is not uncommon to use more pressure than necessary when you are learning. It is a process of practicing enough to develop the proper muscles in regard to strengthening and supporting the muscles in the area of concern.
Have you ever watched Stevie Ray Vaughan playing his guitar? He is a sweating M.F. He is so physical with his guitar that he sweats profusely all the time. My long term readers know that I like to play Stevie Ray Vaughan material. As my skill level and muscle memory developed and I started playing more physically and faster I started to develop a sore left arm and shoulder or maybe better put, it seemed more like my shoulder was tired. I may be a lot of things, but I have never been called a “sissy”, although I complain constantly!
This was before I learned to practice what I preach, meaning that I was getting into the ‘zone’ and playing way to long for one practice session. Add that to my increasing speed and playing a very complicated style of music that is fast and physical and emotional, and my shoulder was getting tired or sore. It never became chronic or I would have gone to a doctor.
Before I go any further, I want to point out that the vibration a guitar naturally makes when it is being played can transfer into sore wrists, elbows and shoulders. Vibration affects my picking and strumming hand more, but it is a real problem and can make your fingers buzzzz.
The best medicine that I have found for guitarists health issues such as sore shoulders, wrists, fingers and elbows is to take a break every 45 minutes to an hour of play time for about 10 to 30 minutes. This may sound funny to you, but your fingers are highly trained athletes and need to be treated as such. Obviously as any athlete does first, you need to warm those little bad boys up. I go over my essential scales and some chords and some scale related exercises for about 10 to 15 minutes first.
The warm-up procedure described gets all parts used to playing the guitar, warmed up and operating at peak levels. With less health issues to overcome, the art of guitar playing becomes a lot more fun and you can learn faster. One other ingredient Guitar Players Center would add is to get involved with some muscle strengthening exercises. Personally, I go to gym several times a week and do some lite exercises to keep my whole body in shape. I am not trying to be a muscle guy or a macho-man, I just want to be healthy, although a lot of the effort goes into shoulder and arm strengthening and hand and wrist exercises.
Let me know what you do to aleviate these problems? Of course the best thing would be to prevent them. Enjoy.