Mental Practice - The Art of Practicing Guitar Without a Guitar

"I kept listening, kept going to see people, kept sitting in with people, kept listening to records” – Stevie Ray Vaughan

Need your guitar fix but not enough hours in your day?

Nothing’s better than having a guitar in your hand, but if you get the urge to play and find yourself guitar-less, you can still make hay. Here’s how:

Use Dead Time

Dead time is any time you’re not actively focusing or concentrating. For teenagers, this is most of the time. For adults, this can be when you’re driving, on a bus or plane, doing dishes, on a coffee break at work, etc. Use this time to listen to the song you’re learning. Repeated listening will help you internalize the sounds, rhythms, chords, and licks you’re learning.

When I work out at the gym, I crank my favourite tunes through earbuds. It’s great; you can hear the glorious sound in detailed stereo! As the tune’s playing, I visualize playing along: changing chords, fretting notes, strumming, picking, bending, muting, playing upstrokes/downstrokes, etc. There’s actually quite a bit involved in playing guitar well. This “mental playing along” increases your ability to:

  • associate sounds with fretboard shapes and positions
  • memorize the sequence of chords or notes in a song
  • anticipate what part comes next
  • fret quicker and easier using correct fingering
  • strum or pick in the correct/most efficient way
  • know when to play louder or softer

Think about it. When you play guitar, everything originates from your brain. Example: suppose you want to bash out a G5 chord. The process in your mind goes something like this (think inner self-talk):

  • I want to hear a beautiful G5 chord
  • What does G5 look like and which fingers do I use?
  • Okay, I’ll use fingers 2,3, and 4 all on the 3rd fret of strings 6, 2, and 1 respectively
  • I need to place the fingers close to the fret, dampen the 5th string, and avoid touching all other neighboring strings
  • This is a loud part so I need a big downstroke... I'd better bring my strumming hand up a bit
  • Okay, ready, set, here we go! (and remember to follow through with my strumming hand)
  • Beautiful noise ensues followed by audience roar and applause

Mental practice really helps. When I eventually get a guitar back in my hands, the mental part is already well-rehearsed. I know what I need to do, I just need my fingers to do it now!

Roland Nipp is a self-professed music junkie, knob-twiddler, and song addict from Canada. When not playing music, he is usually thinking about guitars, amps, pedals, songs, and CDs. Roland has written and produced six albums of electric guitar music.

Nipp's solo CD, "Ragged Hearts", is now available. Here's the video of the title cut.

Roland Nipp