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Releasing Tense Guitar Arms

Stop hurting yourself playing your guitar. Play faster and easier by releasing tension in your freeing arm and avoid future injuries.
Releasing Tense Guitar Arms, Avoiding Guitar Injuries

Table of Contents

Are you injuring yourself by playing guitar?

Do you ever notice discomfort or pain in your forearms while or after you’ve been playing guitar? 

At best it slows down your fretting reflexes, but if you’re not careful this can turn into tendonitis or other major problems. 

In this article, I’ll show you why you have excess tension in your fretting forearm and show you a technique to release the tension in your forearm to help you reduce it so it doesn’t become a bigger problem…

Yes, This is a Songwriting Blog, But…

Sometimes your songwriting limitation isn’t songwriting!

Years ago I was struggling to record decent demos of my songs. They sounded terrible because of my singing… not my songwriting, not my producing skills, not my gear. I started taking vocal lessons and solved the problem.

I’ve personally ignored problems (and watched others do it too), so if I can help you I’m up for it!

So I’m writing about guitar technique and safety to help you spread your musical message and keep writing songs that make a difference….

Below the video is a written transcript, a summary of weak guitar techniques to avoid and bonus ideas and links to other songwriting resources to improve your songwriting!

Begin Video Transcript

Do you ever notice discomfort in your forearms when or after you’ve been playing? At best it slows down your fretting reflexes, but if you’re not careful this can turn into tendonitis or other major problems. In this video, I’ll show you why you have excess tension in your fretting forearm and show you a technique to release the tension in your forearm to help you reduce this problem.

Hi I’m Trevor Dimoff, 

I transform musicians into songwriters at epicsongwriting.com. Like this video and subscribe to this channel if you learn from this video. Click the description links to learn more…

A disclaimer: I’m not a medical practitioner, I’m a music and songwriting teacher. I’ve learned these techniques from different instrumental teachers, from many visits to and discussions with massage therapists and physiotherapists, and from practicing yoga for many years. 

I’ll show you how to treat and manage some symptoms, not cure the underlying problem. That’s more complicated. If you have a significant and chronic problem you should seek personalized professional medical advice.

  • Follow along with me. 
  • Be gentle with yourself. 
  • If it feels awkward or hurts, stop doing it.!

Now that I’ve said that, here’s what I know.

Most problems start with poor or awkward playing technique. 

When you’re playing a musical instrument you often put your body into an odd position for long periods of time. Then you train yourself to be focused on the music you’re making and to ignore signs of distress that your body is sending you. My hands are sore, I’ll just play it one more time. Where did these blisters come from? It’s like you’re addicted to music or something.

If you carry stress in your body or put your body into awkward positions that aren’t ergonomic you can strain your body to far. If your shoulders are tense, it’s likely that your forearms are tense to, so playing can make this even worse. If your wrist is bent to far while you’re playing, your fretting arm can tense up. Playing with excessive tension becomes normal, your body tries to adapt and you can push it to an injury. Not fun.

Why Your Arms Might Be Tense From Playing Guitar

Let’s diagnose possible problems.

Switch to Guitar

Stand or sit in your normal playing position, move your shoulders, hips, neck and head and feel for any points or areas of tension.

  • Check your fretting wrist and arm. 
  • Is your wrist almost straight or bent? 
  • Is your arm tense anywhere?
  • Shake it out and reset your position.

Do a brief playing test. Pause the video, grab your guitar and try all that…

Now that you’ve played your guitar for a minute. Put it down and follow along.

Exercise Summary: Releasing Tension in your Forearms

No, it’s not more guitar playing…

Do this exercise standing and hold your forearm vertically, or sit down and lay your forearm along your thigh.

Slower is More Effective, Lean your wrist back while gently pinching against your forearm tendons
Slower is More Effective, Then bend wrist towards yourself while gently pinching against your forearm tendons
  • Hold your fretting wrist just below the joint with your other hand, thumb on the inside.
  • Open your fretting hand and roll the wrist back, away from you.
  • Squeeze your thumb against the inside of your fretting forearm tendons and your first two fingers.
  • As you slowly breath in then out, 
  • Slowly fold your wrist forward while you close your fingers into a fist, take a slow in breath and out breath to move your fretting hand.
  • Slowly unfold your wrist and open your fingers for another in and out breath.
  • Move your other hand down your fretting forearm, about a thumb width towards your elbow.
  • Continue repeating downwards to your elbow. 
  • 8-10 total repetitions to move your other hand from your wrist to elbow.
  • Repeat on the release on your other forearm.

The flower you open and close your fretting the more you’ll feel the release of tension in your forearm.

Repeat the release on the same point a few times if it feels especially tight.

Move your pinch further down your forearms and repeat
Move your hand down your forearm for each repetition.
Slower is More Effective, Lean your wrist back while gently pinching against your forearm tendons, do it slowly or you're missing out
This is great for building your guns too 🙂

Variation: Try wiggling your fingers while rolling your fretting wrist

Bonus try wiggling your fingers while you bend your wrist towards you

Resume Transcript

Once you’ve released some tension in your forearm, try playing the same thing on your guitar again. How does it feel? Easier, smoother, faster?

Tension is not your friend. If you ignore it, you’ll develop bad habits that compound the problem and make things harder or possibly lead to injury. Work a few warm ups into your regular routine. Focusing on proper position and technique pays off, even if your progress feels slow.

Thanks for watching, I’m Trevor Dimoff, I transform musicians into songwriters at epicsongwriting.com. Like and subscribe if you learned something. If you have a question or a favourite tension reducing warmup leave a comment. You can find more songwriting help if you click the description links below. Once you’ve done that, go write something cool with your guitar! 

End Transcript

Bonus: Weak Guitar Technique Checklist

Warning signs and bad habits that can cause tension in your arms and make it harder to play guitar to your full potential. Don’t get frustrated if you find it difficult to break these habits, you’ve likely practiced them for a while. Take a few minutes at the start of each practice to do an exercise that helps you focus on guitar technique that makes playing feel easier.

If you have trouble on your own… take time to find a guitar teacher you resonate with to help you correct your guitar technique.

  • Feeling pain in your shoulders, arms, forearms, hands or fingers
  • Leaning over the guitar
  • The pad of your fretting thumb should touch the middle of the guitar neck
  • Bent wrists while playing
  • Guitar strap to long
  • Guitar neck to low or to far back
  • Pressing on the strings with too much pressure
  • Trying harder to look cool than sound cool!

Leave a comment and tell me: your best takeaway from the lesson, or

Tell me about your best tension reducing warm up exercises…

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Trevor Dimoff

Trevor Dimoff

Trevor Dimoff has taught, played and written music professionally for the last 25+ years.
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