Practicing When You Can't Practice

What can you do when you are stuck somewhere without your guitar? Here are some ideas.

Ultimate Guitar
One frustrating thing about being a guitarist or just a musician in general is that we aren't always near our instruments. Few of us are fortunate to be a guitarist full time and work and school tend to consume large amounts of our time. We want to be back at home practicing, but we're not. We can either get pissed about it or try to use our time to the best of our ability.

So what can we do to improve or make some progress musically?

Finger Exercises

If you are going to be playing when you get home why not get your fingers warmed up for playing? One thing I like to do is to place my hand down on my leg or the surface of a table with my fingers bent 90 degrees with my fingertips touching the surface. Then I will lift and drop each of my four fingers one at a time until they touch the surface. I'll start off slow and build up speed.

The great thing about this is that you can sit and do this during a boring class or unproductive meeting and no one is wiser. As far as your fretting hand can tell you are running 1-2-3-4 chromatic exercises. Everyone around you just thinks you have a nervous tick or have had too much coffee. Just try and stay semi-alert if you are called on to respond to something.

This may seem silly, but try it for 20 minutes and tell me your fret hand isn't ready to shred.

If you want to kick it up a notch, visualize some scale patterns and start tapping those from low to high. You can even move your hand up to compensate for switching strings if you feel so inclined. You see the muscle memory part of your brain and your fingers don't know there is no guitar in your hands. Tap out your scale practice routine. I mean what do you really have to lose?

Practice Planning

Everyone has a smart phone these days. You can type the next great American Novel out in a device that fits in your pocket. Hell, I'm writing this post while waiting for my car inspection. What I'm getting at is get a nice note-taking app installed and when you are stuck somewhere else start writing a new practice routine. You'll only have so much time to play when you get home so you might as well be prepared. I know when I was in high school I really wanted to go home and practice, but when I got home I would noodle around for a while, mess with some songs I was learning, and then put it down after a while. If you are prepared for what you are going to play when you get home you can simply get started.

If you have never had a practice routine you should try it. For example, build a list of categories you are working on and come up with at least one exercise for each. Then, depending on how much time you have to play each day set a certain amount of time that you are going to do that exercise. Maybe it will look something like this.
  1. Legato
  2. Alternate Picking
  3. Tapping
  4. Sweep Picking
  5. Finger-picking
  6. Song Parts
  7. Scale Sequences
  8. Improve to Backing Track
If you focused 5 minutes per exercise you would have a 40 minute routine. This is a tried and true method to becoming well-rounded. Pretty simple, right?

Here is the thing. You are going to get bored really fast when you master those things so you need more. Spend some of your isolated time looking up new potential exercises for your routine. Look them up and take a screen shot with your phone. Everyone is probably on Facebook or looking up sports scores. Why not actually do something productive with this time?

Take online lessons apart and pull some of the exercises from them out and try them when you get home.

You can also look up scale patterns for new scales are try and memorize them. There are several useful guitar apps out there that have tons of info you can look at. Just make sure your volume is down on your phone.

There are a lot of things you can do when you are away from your instrument. Don't let life get in your way.

Happy Shredding!

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7 comments sorted by best / new / date

    It sounds like a dude who just can't wait to get home and play lol "I just went on the internet and got a bunch of new stuff to play when I get home because all the stuff I've mastered is so boring! But I only play for a little bit so I'd better be prepared that way every second counts! I'm tapping my fingers like I'm playing, what a workout! Hey, I should write an article about this!"
    ainakhokhar · Jan 31, 2016 06:15 AM
    anjali321 · Feb 03, 2016 03:33 AM
    mahwishnaz8 · Feb 05, 2016 09:10 PM
    sumairareddy · Feb 09, 2016 08:38 PM
    Not bad at all adding onto the smartphone part, I also recommend looking for app-based resources to assist guitar practice. Theres some great fretboard memorization apps out there, which have helped me immensely