We all have times when there’s no guitar close at hand, but we’d love to get some practicing done. But there are things you can do to improve your guitar skills without a guitar. Now, you and both know that to be great (even mediocre) you have wrap your digits around a fretboard regularly. These exercises aren’t meant to substitute for real practice. But they can help with some of the mental and physical agility you need to be a guitarist.
Work Your Brain
I talk a lot about using mental systems for musical concepts on here. Remember that memorizing doesn’t work that well. But having a little mental system is great. With practice your brain will work through it faster and faster until it appears to be memorized (and effortless). Being able to mentally work your way around the musical alphabet in different ways will be a huge help when you’re deciding what to play next.
These techniques will stick in your head even better if you say them out loud. If you’re in public, just try to do it without looking like a crazed weirdo. Or go ahead and look like a crazed weirdo if that’s your thing.
– Recite the musical alphabet in 3rds: A C E G B D F A
– Do the same thing backwards in descending 3rds: A F D B G E C A
– Name each note scale-wise along with a 3rd above. It will be an “up two, down one” type pattern: A C B D C E D F E G F A G B
– Recite perfect 4ths: A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb Fb
– Recite perfect 5ths: A E B F# C# G# D# A# E# B#
– You can continue that same idea by reciting other intervals like 6ths and 7ths or even major and minor variations of any of them.
How is this useful? These are the common patterns you’ll use with thinking through chords and arpeggios, key signatures, and the circle of 5ths. It also makes transposing keys quick and easy.
You can also visualize the patterns for each of these intervals on a pair of guitar strings in your head. If you need help with intervals, check out The Epic Guide To Intervals For Beginning Guitar.
This isn’t going to be a bunch of new-agey, “The Secret” style hoo-hoo. Visualization is a proven technique used in studies of athletes and various artistic professionals. Try these out.
– With your eyes closed, picture yourself playing a song you’ve been working on and trying to play correctly. Picture yourself playing it easily and with no mistakes. Concentrate on what your hands are doing and feel what it’s like to easily play the song.
– If there’s a song playing in the background of wherever you are, shut your eyes and picture yourself playing the guitar parts of the song, easily and with no mistakes. Even if have no idea what they are or have never heard the song before.
New scientific studies have shown that the act of visualizing yourself performing an activity triggers the same synapses as actually doing it. It’s still not as good as regular, full-on practice, but it does help.
– Critical listening means listening to music with an ear for structure and composition rather than just passive listening for pleasure.
– Whenever you’re listening to music, either purposely or just in the background, see if you can figure out the chord progression. We’re not looking for perfect pitch and exact chord names here. You want to concentrate on the relationships between the chords. Listen for I-IV or ii-V-I progressions, for example.
– Make an effort to even figure out music you don’t like. You’ll see the compositional similarities inherent in all styles.
– You can work on your left hand by doing some tabletop piano exercises. Tap these different finger combinations to mimic a good chromatic warmup exercise.
Do any other combinations you come up with as well. You’ll run across them all in songs eventually.
– Take a cue from drummers for some exercises to sync up your left and right hands better. Try tapping a quarter note rhythm in one hand and eigth notes in the other. Then switch.
– Think of a two-handed rhythm you would encounter in a song. Something like your right hand strumming eighth notes with your left hand changing chords once per measure (ie. A whole note). Tap those rhythms out with both hands.
– A more complex rhythm would be sixteenth notes in your right hand (as in a funk strum or fast metal downstroke picking pattern). Have your left hand change chords on the downbeat of “one” and the upbeat (‘and’) of beat two. Do as many different rhythm patterns as you can think of.
So even when your treasured guitar isn’t strapped over your shoulder, you can use these very effective exercises to practice guitar without a guitar, work your brain and fingers, and make you a better guitarist. No you have no excuse for wasted time!
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