Flying and Picking (2)

Red in 1971

Red in 1971

Folks, here's another installment about learning, whether it's on a musical instrument or in an airplane. This is something that a great many learners have trouble with, and it's called RELAXING.

When you're flying a plane, you have to relax. If you are tensed up you'll never be able to make the fine physical movements and mental judgments that you need in order to fly and land the plane. If your muscles are tensed up, you're fighting yourself all the time. You wear yourself out that way, and the delicate things your hands and feet need to do with the controls get lost in the frozen situation of your muscles. You become exhausted, and you don't get the job done.

So what does this have to do with playing music? Only everything. If you are trying to play your banjo or mandolin or guitar or fiddle and you're all tensed up, you can't possibly play the notes with the kind of tone and rhythm that you need to. If you are putting a bunch of muscular effort into things that should need only a few ounces' pressure, you're going to come out with some pretty bad-sounding music. Did you ever see J.D. Crowe, Sonny Osborne, Doyle Lawson, Jimmy Gaudreau, or Kenny Baker on stage? Those guys look (and are) RELAXED. The are able to focus all their attention on the notes (and the sound) they want to play, and when they get off stage they're not worn out-- they could get up there and do the same thing again.

Playing tensed-up restricts your tone, your speed, and your ability to really pay attention to the sound you're making (which, after all, is the point of it). RELAX. You'll be glad you did.


Posted in By Red, General and tagged , on by .

About Red Henry

Began playing mandolin, guitar, fiddle, and banjo in 1967-69. I married Murphy in 1974. We led the Red & Murphy bluegrass band, playing professionally, from 1975-87. Since then I've handled the technical side of Murphy Method cassette, videotape, and DVD production. When you call I usually answer the phone, and I'm normally the one who sends out the orders.

5 thoughts on “Flying and Picking (2)

  1. Arden Peters

    My experience is that you have given another valuable insight into learning to pick/play an instrument – I certainly notice an improvement in the accuracy as well as the speed and sound of my picking when I relax myself.

  2. Martin Bacon

    Now Red, you should blog on how to do that when you are an incompetent player. I wonder if some of the relaxing comes from having acquired the motor skills to play the notes without working hard. I remember the first time I played for Murphy at Brill’s Barber Shop and it was cold and I sweated like a stuck pig. She can still make me do that! But it’s harder to do now and I have more fun. Any suggestions on how to learn to relax before playing will be greatly appreciated.


  3. Red Henry

    Post author

    Now, THAT’s something more difficult to write about. It sure is easier to say “Relax!” than to tell about how to DO it.

    I could give an answer more descriptive than prescriptive. When I was learning to play the mandolin (my first instrument), my right hand was tensed up all the time. Not only did I not have good tone, but my note-accuracy was not very good and I had trouble playing at some speeds.

    Finally, after I’d been playing for a couple of years and realized that I was on the wrong path, I went back and changed what my right hand was doing. I changed the way I held the pick, the way I held my hand, and the way I was using my arm. It took two or three months to get back to where I’d been before, but this time I could go on and improve from there. I never developed a right hand like David McLaughlin or Jimmy Gaudreau (in fact, few have), but I got to be a pretty good player. It did take time to make my right hand re-learn to play, but it was worth it!


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