Practicing Guitar When You Don't Have a Guitar With You

Being able to visualize notes on the guitar.

Ultimate Guitar
Sounds like a strange concept doesn't it? How on earth can you practice guitar when you don't have a guitar with you? In this article I am going to show you not only how you can do it but why you should do it. Let's get started...

Playing guitar well is as much a mental action as a physical one:

While its true that you need your left and right hands to be perfectly coordinated, it is also true that you need to be able to see what you do before you actually do it. The phrase "See it then do it" is heard in sports all the time and the same can be said for playing guitar, or any any musical instrument really. If you can see yourself playing something (actually visualizing it) before you actually play it, playing the part will be much easier to do than if you "guess" or think that "you might be able to play it."

Try this: think of a song or solo that you would love to be able to play. Using your mp3 player or computer, play the song and while listening to it, close your eyes and try to "see" what is going on. Visualize yourself playing guitar on that recording. What chords are you playing, how are you playing the solo or the riffs in the song. Listen to the direction of the chord progression, the movement of the notes. Can you see it? If not, you need to start practicing this technique.

If all of this is new to you and seems strange or overwhelming, know that the more you do this, the easier it will become and before you know it you will easily be able to practice without having a guitar anywhere near you.

Fretboard Visualization:

You need to first be able to name notes on the guitar. If you can't already do that, learn the notes on the fretboard first and then come back to this article.

If you can already name notes on the fretboard, lets start with seeing individual notes along the fretboard. Without picking up your guitar, visualize each open string on the guitar and also the notes on the first four frets on each string. If you can do that with ease, continue on and visualize the notes on the 5th through 8th frets on each string. If you can do that with ease, continue on and visualize the notes on the 9th through 12th frets on each string.

Next, take a major scale, in this case we're going to use the C Major scale. Starting with the first position that we used (open string through 4th fret on each string) find the lowest C note, then build a C Major scale (C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C). Remember, don't use the guitar at all, visualize where the notes are on the fretboard.

Once you're able to visualize the scale in that position, move on to visualizing the scale between the next position, frets 5 through 8. You won't have the benefit of open strings anymore so every note must be fretted. Make sure that you get to every C note in this position.

The next phase of this exercise is to move to the third position, frets 9 through 12. Repeat all of the same steps that you did in the previous positions, making sure to get to every C note in the position.

The last step of this exercise is to visualize this same scale (C Major C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C) moving up and back down each string individually. For example, starting on the low E string, visualize each note of the C major scale, starting on E and going until you hit the next E. Do this for every string, starting on the open string.

Doing these exercises and making them a regular part of your practice routine when you're away from your guitar or even before picking the guitar up to practice will connect the dots, so to speak, on the guitar's fretboard. The guitar neck will be far less mysterious and you'll be ready for the next part of fretboard visualization.

See you next time.

About the Author:
By Byron Marks.

14 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Nice stuff. Visualisation came naturally to me after several years of playing, now I can't listen to a single song without analyzing the song and visualizing myself playing it.
    Great article never really thought of practising without a guitar like this. As I'm away in hotels a lot this is perfect, although the look I get at the check in desk with my guitar on my shoulder is still pretty funny
    Thanks my Dad is making me go to Nebraska for 10 days W/ no guitar. Might have to bring some cash
    Danyal Zia
    Nice lesson and advice! But isn't it further encourage the obsession with guitars? :p