How I Eliminate Tension In My Guitar Playing (And You Should Too)

Many of you wanted to know what kind of exercises I use to avoid tension in my playing. 

All guitarists struggle with playing with too much tension. And while tension can’t be eliminated completely — and is even necessary to properly play the guitar — playing with too much tension can make things unnecessarily difficult. It can affect our fluidity and accuracy. It can also be painful, and in some cases, cause physical damage. 

For this video I’m going to show you a simple yet powerful exercise I use to avoid tension in my playing, and to play softly and more fluidly. 

I’ll start by choosing a particular lick or scale. For example a B minor arpeggio, but it can really be anything you want. Once I’ve chosen a particular lick, I rest my fingertips on the strings so they are barely touching, then play the lick. It’s probably not going to sound very good at first, but that’s ok. Rather than a clear, defined note, I should only hear a muted clicking or harmonics when I do the run. 

After going through it a few times this way (lightly touching the strings), I begin to gradually add more pressure until I can hear clear, defined notes. Once I start to hear the notes clearly — without any noise — I know I have found the “sweet spot”. What’s happening here is I’m teaching my brain, hands and fingers the minimal effort concept. You’ll quickly find it does not require that much pressure to get to the pure note. It’s barely more pressure than what I started the exercise with, but now I am getting the pure essence of each note and doing it with very little tension. 

It’s very important that you practice this exercise every day to achieve positive results. Approach this with the goal of playing with a softer touch. Over time, this simple exercise will greatly reduce the tension in your playing; your playing will become more fluid, expressive and accurate. And best of all, you’ll achieve it with minimal effort. 

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  • Oi Kiko! Muito obrigado pelos seus videos. Acabo de suscrivir-me no novo curso Complete Guitar Workout Strategy e estou achando muito bom (é justo o que eu estava precisando!). Sera que voce poderia fazer um video sobre tecnica para tocar em pé? Mais uma vez, muito obrigado!!

    • Thank you so much for signing up Juan! I don’t speak Portuguese so Kiko will answer you as soon as he can (currently touring in Europe).

    • My two cents on stand-playing is to raise your strap to the point where it’s comfortable enough for you (even if it’s wierd and almost around your neck), and then start lowering it as you start feeling comfortable and confident while playing. Also always try to keep your back straight. Something really important is to pay attention to your hands position, try to see if you are positioning both hands the same way as they generaly are when you’re not standing.

  • OMG Kiko. Thats great! That what I need! Thank you.

  • This is excellent advice! I have really high anxiety to begin with and sometimes this translates directly in to my hands and my technique. This is definitely something that I’ve struggled with as a guitar player and it’s time to finally change that! Thanks for the great blog post. 🙂

  • Mikki Rousi Mikki Rousi says:

    Something so obvious but overlooked. This exercise also exposes how hard I pick and that’s something I need to start working on.

  • I love this. I’m always a ball of tension 5 minutes into any exercise. Jaw clenched or neck tight or shoulders hunched, always something.

  • Paul Paul says:

    This works great! Thanks Kiko.

  • So would you suggest to practice scale notes and do those “ghost notes” for 5 min before doing the hour practice to make you relax?

  • Thank you SO much Kiko! This is an awesome exercise! Rock on, Dude!

  • I Have RA In Hands Great Advice To Get Them Moving And Flowing With Out Pain Great Warm Up For Me Thank You

  • Day Two Of Exercise For Me One Hour

  • Gotta do this! My fretting hand almost always gets tight.

  • I end up pressng so hard that the note goes out of tune. Arrgh!

  • I’m not sure if you mentioned it in the video but will it also strengthen your right hand when doing riffs and such?

  • Hi Kiko! No better timing for the email with this lesson to come! Like an hour ago I was learning Holy Wars, and at a tempo little below 150 BPM, I though I was waaaay too tense to play any faster… I will try this technique tomorrow, and see where it gets me 🙂 Thanks!

  • Jack Jack says:

    Great advice for the left hand.
    I would really appreciate an equivalent approach for the right hand though.
    The most tension I is in the picking hand, more specifically in the right shoulder.

    If you could develop a systematic method for relaxing the “picking shoulder” that would be amazing!

  • Easy to get aggravated when not playing well and tense up. Need Kiko to smack me everytime I tense up! 🙂

  • Very good advice, thank you!

  • Theodore P Theodore P says:

    Thank you Kiko!

    Would you mind to explain how you reduce tension in your right hand?

  • Brian Robert Brian Robert says:

    I would also recommend switching to classical position when seated. This helps me to minimize stress. It takes some getting used to but is worth it. Give lighter gauge strings and a softer pick a try as well.

  • Hi Kiko, thanks for this exercise. Just realised that I pressed f… too strongly even if I thought I’m relaxed (without speaking about my face :-))

  • Jonathan Jonathan says:

    this is great for both hands, thanks Kiko!!

  • Kedar K Kedar K says:

    This was a super important tip for sure…..I aspire to have super elegant, fluid movement that Kiko has in playing….even if if its just a simple G major scale

  • Den Den says:

    Thank you so much Kiko, for your time and inspiration m/

  • I need to incorporate this into my first hour of practice…maybe during “fundamentals “.

  • Kiko parabéns! Você ajuda muito com seus videos, e torna motivante. Obg!

  • Ángel Ángel says:

    Thank you so much por this advice! It was just what I needed now.

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