It's the mark of a true professional to make it look effortless. It doesn't matter if you play guitar, play in the big leagues, or mix drinks for a living, the pro's always have two things in common. One, they've done it a thousand times. They put in the repetitions during practice. Two, they're relaxed. I've covered the first point in "Technique from Zero", let's take a look at the second.
1. Resolve Tension
Can you notice unnecessary tension in your fingers, wrists, hands, arms, shoulders, neck, hips, legs, and face? To help get a baseline for what tension feels like, flex and relax each muscle in your body. Pay attention to what the release of tension feels like. A muscle cannot be both relaxed and tense at the same time.
Before you play, perform a body scan. It's a meditation technique where you bring attention to your body as you mentally scan down from head to toe with the specific intention to consciously release any physical tension. You can do it anytime, anywhere, in any position.
As you continue the body scan practice, you'll become more aware of your body and the tension it holds, allow you to release it and improve the fluidity of your playing. Once you get really good, you'll be able to become aware of tension and release it in the moment.
Pay attention to the parts in your playing when tension hits. It's a useful signal for areas that need more work. Get those practice reps in.
Modern day gunslingers (i.e. special forces operators) use the box breathing method to stay calm under pressure when they jump out of airplanes and get shot at. If that isn't a good enough reason for you to try it out, you can read about the details of how it works here.
Box breathing, a 4-4-4-4 breathing pattern (4 second inhale, 4 second hold, 4 second exhale, 4 second hold empty) signals to the brain to perform functions that help you focus attention and relax simultaneously. Use this technique to re-center your attention and stay in a relaxed state when playing. Stay loose gunslingers.
John Lee Hooker the “King of the Boogie" rose to prominence playing Delta blues. His albums vary between a one man show (him, a guitar, and a tapping foot) to a full blown band with killer musicians.
I'm fond of the 1970 joint album "Hooker 'n Heat" cut with Canned Heat. It has some damn fine harp playing and class act banter between takes from John Lee. It makes you feel like you're in the same room with him. At one point, John Lee comments (in reference to Alan Wilson's harp playing):
"I don't know how he follow me but he do, I see I can't lose ya."
Hell of a kudos from a legend.