Practicing Guitar Without a Guitar

author: beginnerguitarn date: 04/03/2013 category: practice tips
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Practicing Guitar Without a Guitar
As much as we'd all like to be pretty well permanently attached to our guitars, there are those unfortunate times when we have to put her down to do things like eat or attend a wedding. But as long as you're not doing something that needs direct brain engagement (work meetings anyone?) there are still ways that you can improve your guitar chops without a guitar actually being in your hands. Not to say you can become great without picking up a guitar. But you can develop important mental skills that will enhance your playing.

Manual Dexterity

Ever notice how drummers are always tapping and beating on stuff when not behind a kit? It can be super irritating. And now it's your turn to be irritating. 1. To work on your fret hand finger independence, tap out these different finger combinations on a table top.
Do any other combinations you come up with as well. For instance, starting each of those patterns on the 2nd or 3rd finger and rotating them around. 2. Do a tapping exercise to sync up your left and right hands. For instance tap quarter notes in one hand and eighth notes in the other. Then switch them. 3. Now come up with a two handed rhythm you might encounter in a song. For instance eighth notes in your strumming hand while changing chords on the first beat of each measure (i.e. a whole note) in your fretting hand. A more complex example of this might be sixteenth notes in you strumming hand and hitting the downbeat of 1 and the upbeat of 3. Play with every two-handed rhythm you can come up with.


This might sound like a bit of new agey hoo ha, but hang in with me. Artists and athletes of all types have used visualization to reach their goals to a long time now. It's not about wishing for something, it's more about playing out the scene in your head. 1. With your eyes closed, picture yourself playing a song you've been working on. In your head, you're playing it perfectly and easily, with no mistakes. Really concentrate on what your hands are doing and feel what it feels like to really nail the song. 2. If there's a song playing in the background of wherever you are, close your eyes and visualize yourself playing the guitar parts of the song in your head. Doesn't matter whether or not you actually know the song or have even heard it before. My apologies ahead of time for you having to play "Hit Me Baby One More Time" in your head while sitting in your dentist's waiting room. Why does this work? Recent studies have shown that this going through the mental motions of an activity stimulates the same synapses in your brain as actually doing it in real life. It's still not a replacement for real practice, but right now it's as close as we've got to Total Recall style mental downloads.

Work That Brain

Most guitar technique isn't about memorizing something. Our brains are that great at memorizing. What they are great at is working through systems. And if you work a system enough times you'll arrive at the answer so fast it looks like you have it memorized. As an example, being able to mentally plow through the musical alphabet in a variety of ways is very helpful when you're in the moment and looking for that next note. By the way, these techniques work a lot better if you say them out loud. If you're in public, just try to not look like a total nut job. Unless that's you're thing. Then rock n' roll with it. Or just stick a Bluetooth on your ear. 1. Recite the musical alphabet backwards, G to A. Hint: Break it up into two parts like a phone number: GFE-DCBA. 2. Recite the musical alphabet in 3rds: A C E G B D F A - Backwards and forwards. 3. Name each note scale-wise along with a 3rd above. An "up two, down one" pattern. - A C B D C E D F E G F A G B. Backwards and forwards. 4. Recite perfect 4ths - A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb Fb. 5. Recite perfect 5ths - A E B F# C# G# D# A# E# B#. 6. Bonus points for doing other intervals (octaves don't count, Lazy) as well as their major and minor versions. How does this help? All of these patterns are the ones you'll encounter when building chord arpeggios, working with key signatures, and dealing with key changes. You can also visualize each of the interval patterns on the different sets of strings on the guitar. Those little portable practice necks are handy for that too.

Critical Listening

Critical listening means listening to music with ear towards structure and composition isntead of just for pleasure. In fact, once you start doing this, you may never again be able to listen to a song without mentally deconstructing it. 1. Whenever you're listening to music, whether on purpose or just those horrible over played songs in the grocery store, see if you can figure out the chord progression. Not neccessarily exact chord names, but the relationships. Listen for I-IV or ii-V-I progressions for example. 2. Make an effot to figure out music you don't like as well as the songs you do. You'll start to see the similarities in all styles and be able to both with and against the rules in your own playing. So now you have no excuse for wasted time when you can't get a guitar in your hands. I mean, don't do them while operating heavy machinery. But waiting for your computer to reboot? Get it on. Also, there is one other concept that is really the best way to learn guitar and put me out of business.
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