Review: Ergonomic Guitar Technique by Joakim Zelmerlööw

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Review: Ergonomic Guitar Technique by Joakim Zelmerlööw
Paperback: 216 pages
Publisher: lulu.com (January 19, 2012)
Language: English

Summary via the publisher:

The method Ergonomic guitar technique takes the individual behind the instrument as its starting point, thus creating a technique that makes the best use of the human resources. The method deals not only with the guitar technique, but also discusses the playing in relation to physical and psychological well-being. Injuries and tensions can often be a serious impediment to a guitar player’s development and progress, and may in some cases totally ruin the joy of playing. These injuries are the effects of the way in which we use our body and mind during playing, but can be avoided through a greater understanding and knowledge of the physical effects of guitar playing.

Psychological factors, such as stress and heavy demands, may have a negative influence on both learning ability and the way in which the player relates to his or her progress as a musician. The Ergonomic guitar technique therefore aims to gain an understanding of our way of thinking and how we can adapt our playing, body and mind to one another in a positive way.

This is a translated and revised edition that, among other supplements such as the right and left hand exercises by Mauro Giuliani, also features the collection of caprices Capricci Dinamarca op 7.

In General: 

Zelmerlööw organizes the book into three sections: Psychology (chapters 1-2), Ergonomics (chapters 3-6), and Technique (chapters 7-15). Take a look at the table of contents via the author’s website.

So is this a book on ergonomics or a technique method? Well, it’s both but certainly focused on technique. I would call it a comprehensive look at Joakim Zelmerlööw’s approach to guitar technique through the lens of ergonomic principles. It is also educational in introductory human physiology in relation to guitar posture, common injuries, and preventative measures. There is a good amount of advice given on how to approach practicing, performance, and study in general. If you have read books such as the The Inner Game of Music or On Practicing by Ricardo Iznaola, you get the idea. Put all these elements together and you have a 216 page method/approach.

The largest section by far is the technique chapters which explain all the different techniques involved in playing such as specific left-hand or right-hand movements but also things like articulation, expression, acoustics and more. This takes up the majority of the book. If you are purely interested in ergonomics then expect to approach the subject through guitar technique except for pages 39-59 which are specifically dedicated to ergonomics in general.

Conceptual Approach:

As the author states in the preface:

classical guitar technique, as it is being taught today, does not always consider the individual behind the instrument. Both pupils and teachers are focusing their energy on coping with the playing, without putting enough emphasis on all other aspects of guitar playing…the pupil will just barely have the chance to discover how the mind and body influence the playing. (pg.8)

The author’s approach, as you can see in the table of contents, begins with the player’s psychological context. Then introduces concepts of ergonomics. Finally, with psychology and ergonomics in mind, guitar technique itself is examined. That is the point of the book and it’s importance to guitar literature. It’s an excellent idea to approach guitar technique from this perspective, rather than entering into mindless and blind practicing.

The Good Stuff:

The psychology section is good way to ease into the question of ergonomics because it gives the reader context and the right frame-of-mind to approach the topic. You can’t just read the text, look at pictures, and BANG, expect results. It’s a long process of mental and physical discovery. Furthermore, this section helps to make the book a method for approaching guitar rather than just an explanation.

The section on ergonomics is small but concise. The best thing about it is that it looks at common problems and injuries and aims to give practical advice regarding recovery, origins of the injury, and preventive methods. I particularly like it when the problem is approached away from the guitar such as looking at other activities in life that might have contributed to the problem (think back issues while driving a car or neck tension during sleep).

The rest of the book is a detailed and very descriptive look at guitar technique and specific movements. This is a mix of explanation but also a philosophical approach. For example, there is a good three pages on three finger right-hand study. So, as a reference this is a stimulating book for students of guitar as well as an idea booster for teachers and advanced players.

The conceptual approach to this book is the single most important and valuable aspect to readers. There are many great guitar books out there but very few give a real conceptual approach to technique. Books such as Pumping Nylon give the technique but seriously lack the conceptual aspect. Whereas, books such as Desrosby’s  Unlock Your Potential mainly give the conceptual information. The only other guitar book I can think of with both aspects, that of conceptual approach with guitar specific technique, is Art of Classical Guitar Playing by Charles Duncan. However, Duncan’s book falls a bit short on the ergonomics and is a bit out of date for me.

A critical look:

There are quite a few grammatical and spelling errors. Never so bad that one can not get the concept but beware. The book is a translated version so I can forgive it but still keep it in mind if you end up buying a copy.

I would have appreciated a few more pictures to complement the text. The use of the digital wooden mannequin is good for a model but should be backed up by real-life photos so one can see how the ideal is realized by a real player. There are a good number of pictures of real people but there needs to be more to back up each explanation.

Another complaint is the use of facsimile scores, although excellent as reference material, it is impractical for students. No one really wants to read little dots instead of p,i,m,a fingering and the scores are also generally messy. They should have been written out to be the same high quality as the regular examples which are in modern notation.

This book does not give a biography of the author. I also couldn’t find anything about the author on his website. I consider this a serious mistake. I don’t care what his qualifications are, but I do want to know something about the author. There is value in a player and teacher putting down their thoughts on a subject, that is not in dispute. However, I want to know something about the author before taking on their ‘method’ or ‘way’.  There is a very small reference list at the end of the book but it is not significant. I’m not saying the book is right or wrong on any concepts or explanations, but readers will have to trust in the author blindly… His website at least has some videos of BWV 998 so you can see him play which is something at least.

Conclusion:

A stimulating supplement to existing technique books outlining Joakim Zelmerlööw’s approach to guitar technique and his take on ergonomics. The main downside of the book is the lack of information about the author and his experiences with students. Also, the lack of an index is downside too as 216 pages is long enough that I wanted it. Although impractical as a performance method for in the studio, it could open the eyes of many students unfamiliar with ergonomics. Furthermore, it can prove a worthy reference book both in the studio and at home for finding Zelmerlööw’s advice on specific guitar techniques.

Future revamped editions could be improved but for now I’ll say that it is a welcomed additional to classical guitar literature as it brings up very important issues that are generally not addressed by others. The book’s greatest strength is that guitar technique will be approached only when the correct psychological frame of mind and proper ergonomic concepts have been considered. Bravo to Joakim Zelmerlööw for approaching classical guitar technique from such a thoughtful and important perspective.

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