Mental Practice – Practice Without a Guitar

What happens when you want to practice more than you do, but you just can’t get the time on a guitar?

Whether it’s travel, work, home life, or just general busyness, actual practice time on the guitar can be limited. When this is so, we have another option. It is mental practice, and it can double or even triple your daily practice.

So here’s a way to practice that is equally as effective as normal practice.

What is Mental Practice?

Mental practice is like regular guitar practice but without a guitar. Instead of physically pressing and plucking, we do these in our heads.

We imagine our hands playing. We think of the guidelines for technique and common mistakes to avoid. We make pictures of the guitar neck in our mind’s eye.

We can practice anything in this way.

The Benefits of Practice Away from the Guitar

Studies have shown that mental practice is just as effective as normal practice (or within a few percentage points). Visualization is widely used in performance sports and competitive arenas. From football to chess, from swimming to poker.

We gain as much progress as we would with the guitar in hand. The brain doesn’t know that the guitar is not really there, so it sees mental practice as regular practice.

And this type of inner practice has another big benefit. It builds our ability to focus. In mental practice, we must narrow our attention and manage our thoughts.

On a guitar, we can allow our minds to drift. Not so with mental practice. When we become distracted, the practice stops. Then we have to notice it and bring attention back to mental practice.

This is helpful when on the instrument as well.

Is Mental Practice the Same as Visualization for Music Practice?

Mental practice uses visualization. But it also brings in the methods and skills of daily practice.

For example, we may find that a given section of a piece of music is difficult for us. We may use various practice techniques to identify and overcome the challenges. These could include playing with dotted rhythms, using the 7-step process, or any useful practice method.

We can do these same practice methods as mental practice as we could on the guitar. We can visualize going through the troubleshooting formula. The effects will mirror what would have happened on the guitar.

How to Practice Mentally, With No Guitar

Step One: Find a comfortable seat. This can be a chair like the one you use to play guitar, or any other.

You can also lie on the floor. This is very good for noticing excess tension as you practice.

Step Two: Choose what you will do. To start, you may select a simple left-hand exercise.

Step Three: Soften the muscles around your eyes – this helps to settle the mind and encourages visualization.

Step Four: Go through the chosen practice slowly in your mind. Notice every small detail. Allow vivid colors and close-up shots.

You can stay aware of the muscles in your hand and body for this. Keep your muscles released and supple while visualizing the chosen exercise.

Step Five: You can then move to other practice areas of technical training or playing pieces. Mental practice is also very useful for memorizing music and reinforcing memory through recall.

Metronome Practice on Holiday

Another option that leads to astounding results is mental metronome practice.

Here, you practice as above, but you also use the metronome. The goal is to visualize each note and movement while the metronome keeps time.

This can be challenging, especially at first. It helps to keep the metronome at a slow tempo and get faster as you can.

This builds your ability to visualize. And it also helps to speed up the actual playing of the material when back on the guitar.

The Practice of Focus and the Delights of One-Pointed Attention

Metal practice takes serious brainpower. And as such, it is best to start in short bursts.

Frequent short practices are good for learning anyway. And the same holds true with mental practice and visualization.

The important part is the quality of the practice. So breaks are fine.

Whether we have access to a guitar or not, we can enjoy rich and satisfying practices. When we take the time to quiet the mind and center our attention, we become saner. We gain better awareness of our thoughts and mental habits.

Mental practice encourages calm. And we can bring this calm to other areas of life. Guitar visualization and inner practice can add joy and a sense of accomplishment to any day.

Well worth the time.

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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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