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How to Mentally Practice Your Guitar

In the world of sports, a commonly used technique off the field is mentally visualizing yourself completing a skill. When I was an early teen I played youth football. My coach made the team sit quietly on the bench, shut our eyes and mentally picture ourselves executing our tasks and skills for our assigned position on the field. He used to say “Imagine yourself doing it correctly, making the big play, and winning the game”. At the time, I had no idea why he made us do this. What I realized later on was that he was using a technique to reinforce us mentally on how we could do something correctly and with success. The same type of technique has been used by professional athletes and other iconic figures. It is proven to be an effective technique to performing at a higher skill level with likelihood of success.

Believe it or not, we can take the same type of mental technique and apply it to the guitar with ease. As soon as you can remember how to do something correctly, with having little to no experience with it on your instrument, you can start practicing your guitar without physically playing it. You can apply this technique to learn chords, single note phrases, scales, or entire songs.

"What's important is that you specifically recall things that you need to do in detail when mentally practicing guitar."

Do not solely focus on where the fingers of your left-hand go. It is important to also focus on what your right hand is doing in succession with the left. Another example would be proper form and body orientation.This includes visualizing yourself sitting in your chair with your back straight, left foot elevated on your footstool and relaxing. Think about everything you need to do properly in order to execute what you were trying to play. This type of detail will train your brain to perform it properly with less effort once you have your guitar in your hand.

If you are practicing chords, imagine fretting with your fingertips, not allowing your other fingers to touch the adjacent strings so every note rings out clearly. Make sure that you envision your thumb properly placed behind the guitar neck and your wrist in the proper position to execute the chord.

If you're practicing a phrase or a scale, not only do you need to think about the proper techniques I had just mentioned, but also visualizing yourself using the correct up-and-down alternate picking pattern as it is required in order to execute your scale or phrase. If it's a rhythm guitar sequence you're working on, pay attention to what your right hand does as well as where your fingers need to be in order to form whichever chords you play. Visualize your left hand forming the shape of the chords and what the names of the chords look like as if they were written out on paper.

Initially, when we want to learn an entire song, we have a tendency to pick up our guitar first. Instead, we should listen to the song and write down an arrangement as it is being played. The first step to arranging a song is by writing out the form, for example: intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, guitar solo, etc. This process may require you to listen back to the song several times and revise your original arrangement. Once you have the arrangement clearly written out, you now have a visual representation of the song as if it were transcribed on paper. This process makes it much easier to remember the form of the song since you have all of the sections laid out in front of you. You can easily practice an entire song you know by just thinking about it.

Another useful and beneficial technique when dealing with arranging songs without your instrument is that once you are familiar with the song, you can listen to it and visualize yourself playing all the parts correctly. If you already have the ability to play the song in its entirety, it is not always necessary to have your hands on your instrument.

The more detailed you are in visualizing how to learn a song correctly, the process of learning how to play the song on your instrument will be easier.

Now that you know how to practice away from your guitar, try any of these techniques I have taught you with whichever song you may be currently working on. If you continue to do this on a regular basis, you will be surprised at how much visualizing will help in reaching your goals at a faster rate than ever before.

About the author: Mark Turko is a professional guitarist with over 25 years of playing and teaching experience in Connecticut. If you are interested in guitar lessons in North Haven CT please be sure to contact Mark.

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