How To Practice Away From The Guitar

How to practice when life gets busy and you don't have pick up your guitar.

Ultimate Guitar
Most of us lead very busy lives with commitments like school, work, and family functions taking up a lot of our time. That does not mean we have to stop thinking about music or stop practicing while we are away for home. There are ways to practice without the guitar in your hands that will help you become a better musician. I would like to give you some ideas on how you can practice quietly, not disturb the people around you, and allow you to expand the amount of time you are able devote to music everyday.

Draw It Out

The guitar is a very visual instrument and most of what we play is based around shapes. Keep a notebook with you so when you get a break in your day you can draw out the shapes you are working on. Just draw a section of the guitar neck and mark in chord shapes, scale diagrams, arpeggios, what ever it is that you are currently working on. Make sure you take the time to mark in the correct fingerings too. Being able to draw the shape away from your instrument really helps you visualize and then internalize this information which will help you commit it to your long term memory.

Spelling Test

Every chord/arpeggio or scale has a correct spelling or group of notes that give it the correct sound. Knowing what these notes are will help you in everything you do. When I was memorizing this information I made two sets of flash cards. One set for scales with the name of the scale on one side and the correct number of sharps and flats on the other. The other set had chord names and formulas (ex 1 3 5 = major) on one side with the chord tones (or correct spelling) on the other side. I would pick two or three cards and carry them with me each day so when I had a minute or two to myself I could review them. It really did not take that long to memorize this information using this method. Once you have the spelling of your chords and scales down you should go back to your diagrams you drew out and label all the notes. For your chords and arpeggios you should also mark in the notes quality (is it a root, third, fifth, etc.)


There are a lot of things you can do to train your ears while just listening to music. Guess the time signature or rhythms being used in a song. Pick one instrument and focus on what you feel it adds to or distracts from the song. Would you have played the same part or changed something? For people who have done some ear training already you can pick out the flow of the chords. Is the song built on a I IV V or is there a ii chord or vi chord in the progression. Try and guess what scale/ mode the song is built around and then check your answers when you get home and can pick up your guitar. The possibilities are endless. Any piece of music you listen to can become an opportunity to train or test your ears. The ideas presented here will help you maximize the amount of time you are able to focus on music and practice throughout your day. If you are able to add just one half hour to your practice time five days a week (every week) you will gain 130 extra hours of practice in a year. Get started today, find the breaks in your day, and fill them with your new found practice time. About The Author: Brian Fish is a musician, performer, and guitar teacher at Guitar Lessons Geauga in North East Ohio.

33 comments sorted by best / new / date

    As a guitar player/musician, or anyone who has an artistic craft for that matter, practicing without your medium is essential. The painter who studies color without paint or canvas, the photographer who studies light and shade without a camera, the sculptor who studies texture without clay. If the only time you ponder music and study guitar is when you have guitar in hand, then its just a hobby... Real musicianship comes from living your craft; eat, breathe, sleep, think, feel your art whenever you have the chance!!
    I'm a drummer, and constantly, when I'm away from my drums, I keep tapping my legs, or something rytm-related. Usually pissing everyone around me off...
    I've never been a drummer (I'm a guitarist), but I've been doing the same thing since I was in elementary school. I think that's what enables me to hear rhythms in my head so well that I don't need percussion to keep time for me, unless it's an unusual signature that trips me up.
    you're right it does i also tap my feet and fingers despite being a bassist not a drummer. rhythm section fo life bruvva
    If I'm working on a song, I'll always think of the guitar part in my head and try to figure out vocal melodies while I'm working. Once I find a melody I like I think about how my riff is played and what syllable the word lands on. This way when I get home and can pick up my guitar I have already worked out a bunch of things for my song while I'm getting paid to work. Although, it is harder when I have top 40 pop songs playing all day
    These are good. It's amazing to me how much writing things down and practicing away from the guitar can really help compose my thoughts when I sit down to play it, especially since I tend to just lose myself in my self-worshipped "incredible guitar skills." Hahaha!
    the only sort of "practicing", for lack of a better word, i do away from the guitar is play a song i know on my headphones and then think of the tabs to them as the song goes.
    I'm sorry, but guitar practice without guitar - only wasting of time.
    your an idiot, I bet you couldn't even tell if a guitar is out of tune after that comment. I've actually done these things before this was written naturally and it really does help.
    Hi Brian, Thanks for the tips. I think they will help me too with composing songs while being away from my guitar(s). CU, Oscar
    i'm constantly thinking of numbers in my head of tablature, and thinking of scales using and combining those numbers on each string and fret of the fretboard.
    It's invaluable to use your imagination to find a part that fits the whole. Close your eyes and explore the options. The impossible becomes possible with a little thought. At least you now have possibilities. Mike
    I've been travelling for half year now. The first three months I was thinkin til numbness how to practice without my guitar. I brought a thing that you have to press with your fingers and emulates the fretboard, I read partitures, and others theory stuffs, and I start to try to pay more attention to the guitars in the song. At the end I save some money and I bought the chepeast guitar and a little amp...and my fingers didn't forget how to play, but I was kinda rusty. At the end..It could help this things to practice away from wour guitar..but at the end, the best thing to practice guitar is with a guitar.
    all great methods but one in particular that definetly helps out, try learning every note from any given scale your studying and write out a complete diagram, learn the scale on every single string ascending and descending, draw on your diagram where certain chords you choose can be used, and constantly copy this diagram, it will forever stay in your memory just like it was a part of your childhood. I'm not sure how I passed but all through school I said **** homework and studied theory, even in class I would draw about 15 diagrams every period besides auto shop or stagecraft lol.
    This is off topic, but I've been playing guitar for about five years and I've just learned chords. I'm pretty good at them, though. It's been a couple of months since then.
    Great lesson!! and misabell22 said it ALL: "Real musicianship comes from living your craft; eat, breathe, sleep, think, feel your art whenever you have the chance!!"
    Jamming on: when composing, I may be awake at night concocting chord runs & drum grooves to fit some vague idea.
    Brian above you showed an example of spelling out an A chord as A C# E. Does the order of the spelling matter. Should it be in alphabetical order as you show in the example or the string/finger order? (ie. E A C#) I'm new to playing so....
    Nice article. Drawing out chords and scales on neck grids works very well for memorizing them. Great ideas for practicing away from guitar.
    Great! Now i want to use the "spelling test"...could you make me a pair of examples of a chord card and a scale card? Thanks
    Brian Fish
    sure for a chord card write A on one side and the spelling A C# E on the other for a scale we can use A too. Write A on one side and then write the sharps on the other F# C# G#
    I like that idea, seriously. Writing out the entire scale on the other side would be a good first step, also. It's easy to learn scale shapes. Learning the notes is another level up from that. Then getting the sharps and flats from the key name is another, and so on.