Practice Guitar Without a Guitar - How to Practice Anywhere
Practising the guitar when you do not have a guitar available may become your biggest asset and sky-rocket your progression as a musician. We all have very busy lives in this modern age with many commitments on our time and finding a spare moment to pick up the guitar can be difficult, but it doesn't necessarily mean your practice and progression needs to suffer. In the following article I will share a few of the tips I've picked up over the years to keep you ahead of your game even when your guitar is not to hand.
Technical & Independence Exercises
There are a few physical hand and wrist exercises you can do at any stage to help build strength and mobility to your digits. A few ideas would be to number each of your fingers 1-4 (first to little finger) and practise pressing and raising each finger in turn in different combinations.
Here are a few ideas to get your started:
4132, etcetera. You can hopefully come up with a lot yourself. You can practise these on your leg, the table, your right forearm, anywhere you like.
Another on a similar note is to anchor one finger and try to raise only two alternating fingers in pairs. For example, put all of your left hand finger tips on the table like a little spider. Anchor your thumb down and number the remaining fingers 1-4 from left to right. Then try to fully raise and lower 1 and 3 at the same time, without raising any other fingers. Next raise and lower 2 and 4. All while anchoring your thumb. Next anchor your first finger and repeat the process; Excluding the anchored finger number the remaining digits (thumb included this time) 1-4 and raise/lower 1 and 3, and then 2 and 4 without moving anything unintentionally. Repeat this until each digit has had a chance at playing anchor.
Singing On The Go
Spend some time memorising the sounds of certain intervals and then you can practise them while on the go. For example, sing a random note and then hear and sing an interval a perfect fifth above. If you come across a long sustained note in life, maybe something that is making a sustained droning sound try to harmonise different intervals over the top of it.
On top of the intervals you can sing your favourite melodies, and try replicating sounds you hear, birds singing, doors squeaking to pitch even sirens. Try to match any pitches you hear during your everyday life. This connection between hearing sounds and being able to replicate them with your voice will help reinforce the connection between concepts/ideas and the actual physical production of those sounds. This will aid you in composition, transcribing, and improvising.
The old transcribing phrase works here: 'If you can sing it, you can play it'. Also note that humming and whistling are just as viable as singing.
Thinking About Theory
Thinking about the notes belonging to certain scales and chord/arpeggios will aid your theory. At first you should memorise the formulas required to create the particular scale/chord such as a major chord is a 'Root' 'Major third' and 'Perfect Fifth'. Another example is a 'Dorian scale' is a 'Root', 'Major Second', 'Minor Third', 'Perfect Fourth', 'Perfect Fifth', 'Major Sixth', 'Minor Seventh'.
After you have various choice formulas or intervallic structures memorised you can start plugging notes into them. The above examples with C playing the 'Root' role would create the following:
C Major - C, E, G.
C Dorian - C, D, Eb, F, G, A, Bb
Visualisation is incredibly powerful and incredibly simple. This entails you picturing a fretboard in your imagination and then picturing certain shapes, patterns, arpeggios, scales, intervals that you have learnt on top of the imaginary fretboard. You can also try this with solos and guitar parts. Personally I picture my own guitar from the perspective of me looking down at it in my hands, and the notes are highlighted with red dots/circles. The more you do this the easier it gets and it can really work wonders.
Transcribing On The Go
This will require a small amount of ear training to begin with learning and hearing chord types and movement between chords but the basic idea is to work out how the harmony is moving in any song you hear, be it songs in shops while you're shopping, iPod music on the commute to work, songs on the radio or in the car. To begin with only try to work out if each individual chord is either major or minor. Then you can develop this into working out the progression numbers from a harmonised scale. For example is the progression a ii-V-I progression? Is it moving in a I- IV- V progression and so on. Further development of this will involve you working out the type of seventh chord it could be, any possible chord extensions you might hear and finally the type of inversion the might be being used.
This is another of my personal favourites. This involves printing off a small blank fretboard diagram from online, cutting it out with blank space above or below for some text, and then laminating it. Then all you need to do is use a dry wipe marker pen to draw out your shapes, scales or chord inversions or whatever you need to use it for. This is exactly the same function as the visualisation technique above except with the advantage of not having to hold all the information in memory and being able to look at it for reference as you are playing. Make several and keep one in your work office draw, one at home, one in your bag for train commutes. Cheap, simple and incredibly effective.
Playing pretend is not just for children. Physically acting out how certain guitar chords or scales would look/feel will also help reinforce them in your mind/memory. This can be useful for memorising the chords to certain songs where you already know the chord shapes but need to remember the order of the chords. Use this in conjunction with the visualisation technique to increase how powerful this technique can be.
Active listening is what I call the act of listening to a song and trying to ascertain which playing techniques are being used to make certain sounds (the sounds do not need to be limited to just guitar parts). Can you hear a slide guitar part? Maybe, legato phrases or pre-bends? You are listening out for the types of sounds and thinking about what would be required for you to play the exact same line in the exact same way. Imagine and picture yourself playing the part and what techniques and details would be required to replicate the part. Also, listen out for where on the neck you think the part is being played. There are often several places on the neck where you can play the same phrase in the same octave and each has its own unique timbre to the notes.
Tapping Out Rhythms
This exercise is often used by drummers but it can help dial in your rhythmic chops as well. Try keeping a quarter note rhythm with your foot and tapping triplets on your lap with your hands, or maybe semi-quavers with varying accents. Try starting with whole note rhythms and work your way up the beat subdivisions, counting in your head as you go. You can also try working on different odd time signatures, odd groupings like pentuplets and septuplets or even polyrhythms. A simple example of polyrhythms could be to try 3 over 2, where you tap both hands on the 1, and in the same length of time tap 3 evenly with one hand and 2 evenly with the other hand coming back around to land on 'one' with both hands. It's difficult at first but a lot of fun when you get it.
So there you have it. Plenty of things to practise to help you keep on top of your game even when there is no guitar around. Use these in the car, on the train, in your lunch breaks, in the queue at the supermarket, on the way to the bank, anywhere you like!
No more excuses I'm afraid.
Steven Adrian Martin
For more information or for guitar and theory lessons visit http://www.stevenmartinguitar.com
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