Ever wished you could practice your guitar chops without the instrument itself? A good guess is...you probably have. Just because you cannot always have your guitar with you, it shouldn't mean that you won't be thinking about it...or even playing some air guitar as you imagine your fingers on the strings. It won't matter if you need to work, travel, rest, and do other things. It’s very possible to practice without your guitar on your commute to and from work, during your tea or lunch break, a bus journey, or even on a long haul flight.
Here are some of the things you can do to keep on improving your guitar play even when you don't have a guitar in your hands.
1. Exercise Your Fingers To Improve Their Strength and Dexterity
Take the time while you can’t have your guitar on you to exercise your fingers for strength. These exercises will train your fingers for dexterity and coordination, and even help build your calluses
Tapping exercises will help you practice your beats
Playing guitar has much to do with keeping rhythm and holding a tune, which you do with your frets and strums. You can train these skills just as well with tapping exercises.
You can use just about any hard surface to exercise your fingers for strength and flexibility, and practice any chords you are working on at a particular time.
To practice your frets, you can tap your fingers in any sequence at a time.
Some guitarists will even go to the extent of imitating the actual guitar by doing tummy strumming exercises. Even though there is no actual guitar, the hand movements and body posture is the same.
Tummy strumming is great practice, provided you can do it without turning into the butt of jokes among those who must deal with hilarity of watching you play your imaginary instrument.
Finger Exercise Tools
There are some fairly inexpensive finger exercise tools you can buy too.
Die-hard rockers, who go everywhere with their guitars, will have a thing or two to say about tools like Gripmaster and Shredneck, and insist you play your instrument instead. But you only use these when it is impractical to have your guitar on you.
There are some guitarists who feel good old tennis balls are cheaper and more effective at exercising your fingers.
Just carry a ball with you and squeeze it repeatedly whenever you get sometime between tasks, or even when doing an activity that doesn’t need absolute concentration.
2. Use Guitar Apps
Maybe you are one who has been struggling to keep a handle on your social media habits which are distracting you from more important activities, like guitar practice? Why not make use of an app? These apps will give you a way to cut the time you spend on social media that feels less radical than a complete digital cleanse. For guitar practice, there are several on the app store.
GuitarTricks has a pretty handy free guitar lessons app that allows you access to over 11,000 guitar lessons, with a feature that teaches you how to play like some of your heroes.
Anytune is another good one. This iOS app teaches you to play by ear and can slow down and adjust tempo without any effect on pitch.
There are many more apps to choose from, so browse around you favorite app store to find one that works best for you.
This may not be something you do on a flight or in places where other people may want to concentrate on their own distractions, but chanting is a good way to memorize your beats.
Chanting has long been used to improve memory retention. The Hindus have believed for centuries that chanting mantras can also help with concentration and brain power.
You can adapt the power of this brain exercise by chanting your chords and scales during times you are away from your guitar.
Just as chanting, visualization forces you to draw a picture of your guitar in your mind, including chord and scale patterns, to better memorize your tunes.
Take this a step further by keeping a pen and notebook on you so you can write down the tabs and chord diagrams as you visualize them.
John Kehoe describes visualization like this:
"Visualization is simply a mental rehearsal. You create images in your mind of having or doing whatever it is that you want. You then repeat these images over and over again, daily for about five minutes a day. In your five-minute practice, use your imagination to see yourself being successful in whatever goal you may have."
5. Listen To The Masters
We are not talking about passive listening here.
This is that time you should lose yourself in the music. Not just any music, but music from players whose work you respect and would like to emulate.
When you take time to absorb good music, you will not help but want to take it apart and see just how they do it. You will separate notes and chords, and piece them together again.
This way you learn how the pros do it, which helps you correct any errors you may be making in your own music.
Without your own instrument as a distraction, there may not be a better way of passing up idle time while still ‘working’ on your music.
6. Carry a Digital Recorder
A digital recorder for musicians is like a notebook for writers. You keep a notebook on you to record random ideas because you may not recall them all when you sit down to actually write.
And so it is with musicians. Many beats come to you when you are busy with other things. It could be the sound of birds singing outside, the clunk of an old washing machine, or just some funny distorted sound echoing through your home from the TV in the lounge....you just never know when inspiration might strike.
Just reach out for your recorder the next time you hear an interesting sound and hum it into before you forget. When you wake up in the middle of the night with a sound in your head, record it...because chances are it will be gone in the morning if you don't.
For one who cares to listen, music is all around us. All we must do is harvest those sounds that we feel are more musical and rhythmic...and then reproduce them with our instruments.
7. Consume as much guitar content as you can
This could be video, audio, or any written literature about guitar. It may not be actual physical guitar practice, but it will exercise your brain and grow your enthusiasm and knowledge on guitar.
It is another great way to visualize, because you can’t help but see yourself playing as you watch a video or read a blog on guitar.
For one who actively seeks it, there is tonnes of free content on guitar, especially online.
Blogs have articles written by master guitarists, while YouTube has possibly the largest library of free video content, including guitar lessons. Stories of musicians who learned to play just by watching videos are everywhere to be found.
So there you have it. Seven ways you can practice your tunes without the guitar itself.
Take every opportunity you can get to practice. Consistent practice is the only sure way to improve your craft as a musician.
Yes, you can’t always have your instrument with you, but don’t let that be an excuse to not practice.
About the Author: Joseph Evans
My name is Joseph Evans and I am a guitar playing, freelance writing, online teaching music lover based in Seattle, WA. Growing up in a musical family naturally lead to obtaining my Bachelor of Music (BM) in Composition & Music Theory degree, after which I taught and traveled my way across Europe for 7 years before returning back home to settle in beautiful Seattle. On a typical day, you would find me playing my guitar, pottering around in the vegetable garden, going on long hikes, reading and/or writing.