Guitar Anchors: Turn Your Guitar into a “Feel-Good Button”!

Whether you mean to or not, you create myriad “anchors” or “triggers” in every facet of your life.

Have you ever heard a certain song and had an emotional reaction? That’s an anchor. Ever reacted to a look or tone of voice from someone? Very likely, this was an anchor.

Anchoring is a natural part of human nature. As such, why not harness this power to improve your musical experience? Why not stack the deck in your favor, so you’re most likely to have productive, enjoyable, rewarding guitar practices every day?

So, What is “Anchoring”, Anyway?

Have you heard of Pavlov’s dogs? In this famous experiment in classical conditioning, every time Ivan Pavlov rang a bell, the dogs were fed. Soon, the sound of the bell alone cause the dogs to salivate, hungry or not. The bell had become an “anchor”.

An anchor is any stimulus that triggers an automatic reponse. Anchors can be visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory, or gustatory. They don’t even have to be “real”, and instead could be triggered by thought alone.

Examples of Visual Anchors

Faces – Imagine someone who is always in a sunny mood and happy to see you, and you may get a boost of cheer just from imagining his/her face. Expressions can also be anchors.

Places – Being in a certain place can bring back strong emotions that you felt there at some other time.

Objects – Talismans, rosaries, or any other object can trigger a behavior or emotional state. Just try to sit still at a green light, and you’ll feel the power of an anchor.

Examples of Aural Anchors

Songs – Special songs from the past, jingles, styles of music – Music can serve as a strong anchor it elicit emotional states.

Danger sounds – Alarms, sirens, breaking glass, threatening tonality in someone’s voice, or certain people’s voice in general – Some sounds immediately make us alert and on the lookout for danger. In the jungle, this could be just a rustling in the bushes.

Subvocalization – Talking to yourself – mantras are widely used to enter a peaceful state. Self-talk is very powerful in creating emotional states, both positive and negative.

Examples of Kinesthetic Anchors

Touch – in certain places on the body, or by specific people, can trigger behaviors and emotions.

Movement – A specific sequence of bodily movements can act as an anchor. Pregame rituals in sports (and music! more below.), the opening stance for martial artists or fighters. A specific bodily position for sleep or meditation.

Interaction with objects – Turning the front doorknob of your house, checking the mail, holding your favorite coffee cup, opening your guitar case….

The List Goes On

These are just a few examples, but potentially everything in your life could become an anchor. For instance, smokers often have a hard time quitting because everywhere they go, everyone they see, everything they do has repeatedly involved smoking. Everything in their life has become an anchor to smoke, and triggers the desire to smoke.

And in one of the most common examples of an anchor, we can consider that the mere thought of a sexual encounter can trigger both strong emotional and strong physical changes, almost instantly, in both men and women.  So anchors don’t have to be “real”.  They can be self-generated.

We can intentionally create anchors to trigger the feelings, emotions, and behaviors that we choose.

The main point is that we can intentionally create anchors to trigger the feelings, emotions, and behaviors that we choose.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Knowing what we do about anchors, we have the power to build more enjoyment, focus, and satisfaction into our lives.

When you imagine the perfect learning state, what do you see, hear, and feel? Are you relaxed, focused, alert, completely interested and curious?

When you imagine the perfect state for spending quality time with a friend, what does that feel like? What do you look like? How do you use your voice?

When you imagine luxuriating in a world class spa, how does your body feel? What sounds do you hear? What do you say to yourself? What do the muscles in your face and body do?

What’s Your Vision for Your Guitar Practice?

Take a moment to consider what you want from your guitar practice. What would you like your daily experience to be?

How would you like to feel after every practice? What would you like to think or say to yourself after each practice?

It’s easy to have long-term musical goals. “I want to play some Spanish Guitar Music like Asturias – Leyenda.” or “I want my scales smooth at 16ths at 120 beats per minute.”

These are measurable, definable end goals. And indeed, we need a positive agenda in our practices.  But each of these big goals is comprised of numerous daily practices. And as someone said, “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.”

Your daily guitar practice can reliably be a wonderful, satisfying, enriching daily experience. You can use anchoring to form the habits that will guarantee both daily enjoyment and long-term success.

Here’s how:

How to Create an Amazing Guitar Practice

At the start of each practice, before you even touch your guitar, do this simple sequence of events:

  1. Pause. Stop for second. Interrupt your pace.
  2. Take a breath. Nothing fancy, just create space between what you were doing and what you will be doing.
  3. Relax your body. Make a break with the rest of your day, relationships, interests, concerns, to-dos. Actively let go of muscular tension in your face and body (don’t forget the tongue).
  4. Consider your ideal state, and what you want to experience in your practice. How are your muscles, your eyes, your mind?
  5. Assume your ideal state. Fake it if you have to. Put on your ideal state like a suit. Within minutes, you’ll actually feel the way you want to feel.

What’s the Payoff? The Feel-Good Button.

The payoff is that regardless of your wins or losses in your practice, you’ll have set up the conditions to have the experience you want to have. And having rewarding, enjoyable experiences is what keeps us motivated and coming back to practice tomorrow.

Skills will inevitably follow if you’re focused and intentional in your practice. The main ingredient is consistency. And if you’re going to do something nearly every day, it may as well be as enjoyable and satisfying as possible.

Eventually, simply picking up your guitar will bring you focus, relaxation, and joy.

As a bonus, over time, picking up your guitar in your chosen state will transform your guitar into the anchor itself. This means that when you do to play for someone, or you’re in an especially foul mood, opening your case and picking up your guitar will be like Pavlov’s dinner bell. Your state will lean toward what you’ve conditioned in to be. You’ve created a “button” to turn on good feelings, deep focus, and overall guitar satisfaction!


Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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