Imagine you’re approaching the hardest passage in the piece you’ve been working on.

How many times has it happened that you tense up a bit? Anticipate trying to get it right? Inadvertently hold your breath? Just have anxiety in general about getting it right?

Then you screw it up!

Anxiety about achieving something that requires coordination can often inhibit getting the job done. I played for years like that: totally tense. I mastered some really hard classical pieces and some great rock stuff that way but I worked way too hard for it. If I had known how to relax while I practiced, things would have been a lot easier.

But it seems that some of the greatest players are totally relaxed and make it look so natural and easy.

But what can you do about it? Well, here’s one of my favorite techniques. It finds its roots in deep breathing used to relax that can be found in yoga, meditation and other relaxation techniques.

First consider this: when you exhale, your body tends to relax. When you inhale, you tense up a bit. Unfortunately most of us have a natural tendency to inhale or, even worse, hold our breath when we are faced with something that challenges our motor skills. That’s when we get tense, too tense to pull off that passage you’ve been practicing. It’s even worse when you get in front of people and are nervous! It’s no wonder you screw it up.

So we need to unlearn that. Here’s the first trick I can offer to help you do it. It will take your playing to a whole new level. Fair warning, though…it will take a while to get used to and is a fair amount of work.

Try this: BEFORE you attempt that hard lick or passage, INHALE. EXHALE AS YOU PLAY IT! Did you feel more relaxed? Was it easier to play it right? If it worked for you, do it a bunch of times. Repeat it a lot, about 100 times with different things you find challenging.

By the time you get used to this technique, you are ready to move on to my next blog entry that is a continuation of this lesson. Stay tuned for that. It should be posted soon.