Aaron Shearer’s Four Principles of Efficient Muscle Function

In Learning the Classic Guitar (1990), Shearer introduced one of his most important pedagogic ideas: the Four Principles of Efficient Musical Function.  The principles address body posturing and muscle motion, including Alignment & Midrange,  Follow through & Uniform Direction of Joint Movement.  Most would agree these concepts are universal and form the foundation for all technical development.

  • Muscular Alignment:

    Muscles function most efficiently only when naturally aligned with their base and joint attachments. Natural alignment provides the most direct pull of the muscles which control your back, wrist, and finger joints.  

hand alignment

From The Shearer Method—Optimal Position

  • Midrange Function of Joints:

    Muscles function most efficiently only when the joints they control are operated within their midrange of movement. This affects both posturing and movement.  Midrange positioning is the relaxed muscle state and midrange movement is the area which provides optimum leverage to the muscles involved.

hand alignment

From The Shearer Method—Optimal Position

  • Uniform Direction of Joint Movement:

    Muscles function most efficiently only when all three joints (tip, middle, and basal) of a finger or thumb are either flexed or extended together. In contrast to flexing one joint while extending another, simultaneous extension or flexion simplifies coordination fo the muscles.

hand alignment

From The Shearer Method—Beginning Free Stroke

  • Follow-Though:

    Muscles function most efficiently only when there is sufficient follow-through to avoid a build-up counterproductive tension. Sufficient follow-through means that once a movement has been initiated, no intentional restraint has been applied to the movement.

hand alignment

From The Shearer Method—Beginning Free Stroke

Principles Shape a Unique Pedagogic Approach 

The technical sequences of both Learning the Classic Guitar and the The Shearer Method (2012) are built around supporting these principles, starting with easiest skills and building challenge gradually.  For example, Shearer begins with p free stroke on open strings ③, ④, & ② with i & m resting on ① because:

Starting p free stroke
  • P free stroke is much easier than alternating fingers. Fingers resting on ①, steadies the R.H, promoting easy hand/forearm alignment.
  • With R.H. relaxed in its midrange position, p on ③ is exactly at the midrange point, while p on both ④ and ② are at the outer limits of the midrange area.
  • p easily plays with follow through to the tip of the i (resting on ①).

This approach drastically differs from other methods which begin with i & m rest stroke on a single string (starting ①, then ②, & ③, etc.).

Starting p free stroke

Next in the Shearer Method sequence, is  2 on A at ③.  This is the easiest L.H. finger to start with, since it’s central in the hand, easy to align and, like placing p on ③, is closest to the midrange position.

Optimal Position

In Shearer’s 3rd series, The Shearer Method, Alignment and Midrange, are unified into one concept: Optimal Positioning.   Uniform Direction of Joint Movement and Follow Through, are “baked” into the technical instruction and part of what Shearer refers to as the natural Grasping motion of the hands.

From the Shearer Method Book I: Classic Guitar Foundations

For more on Optimal Position and the Four Principles of Efficient Muscle Function, see  The Shearer Method Classical Guitar Foundation, Book I and Learning the Classic Guitar, Part I

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