We all have busy lives these days. Whether you’re an adult learner with a family and a full-time job or a kid with a week jam packed full of extracurricular activities. It can be hard to find the time to practice your guitar, bass, banjo or whatever instrument you play. Did you know that you can actually practice without your guitar?
What? I don’t always need my guitar to practice?
It’s true! You might think I’m sounding crazy but hear me out. I have mentioned in another blog post (Practice: It’s all in your head!) that it’s your brain doing the work and I’ve provided a few tips for using your brain more efficiently for practice. So, if your brain is doing all the work, why not do some of the brain work on its own without your guitar, bass or whatever instrument? Hopefully, it doesn’t sound so crazy now!
It’s all about visualisation…
Before we go any further, I don’t want you thinking I’m going to get you sitting in the lotus position and meditating (although meditation is great!). I can’t do the lotus position. If I get down on the floor, there’s a good chance I won’t be able to get back up again…anyway, I digress. It’s simply about running through things in your mind, concentrating on it and practicing in your head. Let me give you an example.
Many moons ago, I had piano lessons from a wonderful teacher Steve Owen. He was helping my get through my ABRSM piano grades. One week in a lesson that was frighteningly close to my exam date (for either grade 3 or 4, I can’t be sure), he told me to go home and not play the piano that week. Not play the piano!?! Was he crazy? I thought he was but I followed his advice anyway. The advice was as follows:
Keep your piano lid closed. Sit at the piano with your music and play it though in your head whilst looking at the score. Play the pieces as you want them to sound with all the phrasing and dynamics, speed etc. Come back next week and we’ll see how you’ve got on.
I was a good girl. I did as I was told. When I went to my lesson the following week, Steve asked me to play my 3 pieces. When I did, I was amazed at the result. Everything flowed beautifully. The dynamics and phrasing were great. It sounded much more musical than it had a week previously. My fingers could already play the notes, but the time away from the keys solidified the pieces in my mind and gave me a chance to experiment with them musically without the prospect of getting my fingers muddled by thinking too much about everything else while I was playing.
What I’m describing above is called auditory imagery. You can do this with any music you are learning to help improve your musicality. Another form of visualisation that people are more familiar with is visual imagery where you imagine seeing things in your minds eye. This is good for practicing scale shapes and fingerings, helping you to learn them more quickly.
Dare I say it, but you can also play air guitar, and imagine playing your pieces, scales, technical exercises etc. while mimicking the motions with your body. Whenever you are away from your instrument for a long period of time, you can keep things fresh in your mind. If you don’t have much free time to practice you can squeeze a few minutes of mental practice here and there. Maybe while you’re sitting in a waiting room, or waiting in the car for the kids to come out of school. Or as I do, to give me something to think about when I can’t get to sleep at night!
The ideas above are just a few examples of the tricks you can have up your sleeve while practicing. Remember, nothing compares to getting some expert advice if you are having problems. A teacher is always the best way forward. If there isn’t a teacher near you, you can always contact me for Skype guitar lessons!
The main thing is to enjoy what you do and keep practicing!
Do you have any comments on this article? If so, please feel free to comment below. The more we can help each other out, the better the musicians we will become.
I’ve been listening to acoustic songs and strumming on my shirt during quiet time (I find myself more capable of zoning in on the rhythm and timing when someone else is singing), and I did feel a bit more comfortable with it during practice today, so I think it could make a difference during actual instrumental time. I did have to find out if anyone else had found it to be true, though, and that’s how I got here