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How to practice guitar without a guitar and increase your practice time

In this lesson I show you how to optimize your guitar practice time so that you get more value out of each hour you put in.

In today’s lesson we’ll explore a way to have even more time available for practice by practicing the guitar in your head when a guitar is not available.

The only thing you need to be able to practice the guitar without a guitar is your own mind.

It’s something you can do while waiting for a friend or in a queue, or else doing a menial task that you can do on automation – that is, something you can do without thinking, such as washing the dishes. 

This method doesn’t require any gadgets, pocket guitars or finger strength builders, but it does require concentration.

One last thing before we start the process: Practicing the guitar without a guitar does not replace practicing with a guitar in your hand but complements it.

The goal is to earn more practice time, not to replace what you’re already doing on the instrument.

Thus, part of this process will involve using a guitar.

These are things you’ll need to learn on the guitar anyway, but can be complemented with practice exercises you won’t need a guitar for.

Step 1: Memorize a scale

In this step you will in fact be using your guitar.

The scale below is the easiest and most common guitar scale of all, the minor pentatonic scale.

If you haven’t already done so, memorize playing it on the guitar.

Now that you can play the scale easily on the guitar, start memorizing the sound of the notes of the scale.

This is an exercise in ear training, a very important skill you need to develop.

After listening attentively to the note patterns that form the scale, try singing them.

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t hit the notes perfectly when singing them.

Hitting the exact note when you sing involves other skills than ear training (such as how you breathe or use your vocal chords) and you won’t need these skills unless you’re also a singer.

Step 2: Recollecting the scale

In this step, you’ll actually start practicing without the guitar.

Visualise your index finger pressing the 5th fret of the low E string (the first note of the A minor pentatonic).

Then visualise yourself playing the whole scale very slowly, multiple times.

For now, we’re not worried with the sound of the scale, only visualizing the pattern and memorizing that visualisation so that you can recollect that scale in your mind, at will.

Step 3: Confirmation and more sound memorization

For this step you’re going to require the guitar again.

Recollect the scale you have memorized and play it again on the guitar, just to make sure you have it stored in your mind correctly.

Then, spend more time memorizing the sound of the notes, to prepare for the next step.

Step 4: Recollecting the scale (with sound)

From now on, we won’t be using the guitar again. 

However you may have to repeat step 3 more than once since training your ear to recollect note patterns may take some time if you’re new to this particular skill.

In this step, you’re going to give the A minor pentatonic scale, which is already stored in your mind visually, its sound.

Play the scale in your head slowly again and this time hear carefully every note being played.

Keep repeating the previous two steps until the scale is completely memorized both visually and auditorily. 

Step 5: Play scale sequences in your mind.

Now that the scale is memorized, you can start playing around with those notes in your mind in the same way you do on the guitar.

In this lesson, I show you how to practice scale sequences on the guitar.

You can now go through the same process in your mind, playing the notes in the scale in sequences like:

  • 1,2,3,4 – 2,3,4,5 – 4,5,6,7 etc.
  • 1,2,3 – 2,3,4 – 3,4,5 etc
  • 2,1 – 3,2 – 4,3 etc

As well as making up your own sequences.

Make sure you’re seeing yourself play the right notes, as well as hearing the right notes in your mind’s ear.

Step 6: Create music (advanced)

I wouldn’t try this step if I were a beginner guitar student, but you can give it a try if you’re an intermediate or more advanced player.

Playing sequential patterns from the scale is not hard if the scale is memorized well.

However you can take this even further by actually improvising on the guitar in your head.

In this lesson, I show you how to improvise on the guitar.

You can use the process given in the first 5 steps of today’s lesson to be able to improvise in your head.

Start simple at first, but once you get the hang of it you can even use techniques like string bending, and hear the correct note the bend intends to reach.

Conclusion: Don’t overrate your hands/fingers

For the layman, a guitarist plays the guitar with his hands and his fingers.

In reality, your hands are only doing a relatively small part of the job.

All of your body has a role in guitar playing. Some parts of the body simply by not being tense, since unnecessary tension in any part of the body while playing, reduces your ability to play well.

Other parts of the body, such as your eyes and your ears have an even more important role, but the part that’s doing most of the work is actually your brain.

After losing the ability to move not only his hands, but most of his body because of ALS, guitar virtuoso Jason Becker composed some of the most beautiful, and complex guitar music ever.

Though he lost the ability to move his muscles, what Jason Becker had learned in thousands of hours of practicing was still stored in his head.

He couldn’t play, but he could still “think” music. 

Needless to say, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend a lot of practicing time training your fingers to obey your brain, and achieve the necessary strength and stretch at the same time.

But if you emulate the process given in this lesson, you can practice the guitar literally anytime you’re not doing something that requires a lot of attention.

Whether a guitar is available or not


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