Can you improve your guitar playing when you don't have your guitar handy to practice on? As this next post will show you--the answer is "yes".
While practice is really the best way to improve for many of us this time is limited. You might have a day job, or studies, a family to take care of, and little necessities like shopping, cooking and cleaning that all fill your day.
But often you have spare time during these activities, like when you wait at the supermarket checkout, and some of them don't require all your concentration. That's when you can use the ideas below to work on your guitar skills.
1. Think About Music - A Lot
Keep music and guitar playing in the front of your mind to reinforce what you know already. You can also ask yourself questions, about your problems for example. When you stimulate your subconscious in this way it will help you by providing answers.
2. Learn The Fretboard
The better you know your fretboard the better you know your instrument and the more easily you can move around it.
Here's one technique to try, slip a small fretboard diagram into your wallet so you'll carry it around with you everywhere. When you have two spare minutes you can pull out your chart and name notes to help memorize them.
If you don't have the slip of paper handy you can use visualization exercises. Picture a fretboard in your mind, pick some notes and "see" where they occur on the fretboard image.
3. Learn About Chords
No matter how long you've been playing there is always something new to learn about chords. Look around for sources of new ideas or information, find yourself some chord theory books, lessons from Internet, or study the chords used by great song writers.
Use visualization to work on all kinds of guitar skills. Visualization is the process of picturing a situation in your mind as if it were real. It has been proven that visualization stimulates the same nerve paths as actually performing actions, so it helps to reinforce your learning.
Use visualization to practice chord changes and progressions, scales and licks, picking patterns, and whole songs.
5. Learn Songs
Use some of your time away from the guitar to really get to know the songs you play intimately. Listen to them on your car stereo or portable music player, memorize the words, chords, licks and solos.
Listen to the drum parts, the bass, and any other instruments until you really know the song inside out. You will develop new insights that will make your guitar playing easier and better.
6. Develop Your Ears
As you listen to music and other sounds in the street try to pick out the sound of certain intervals or notes. For example, you can designate a "major thirds day" where you try to spot major third sounds around you.
7. Learn Another Instrument
Can't take your guitar with you to practice? Maybe you can pack something smaller, a harmonica or a ukulele for example.
Learning how to play another instrument is a great way to reinforce your musical knowledge, train your ears, and give you a new perspective on the guitar.
8. Study Music Notation
Many self-taught guitarists neglect music reading and writing skills. Carry around some sheet music and you can practice reading it during your lunch break or on the bus.
9. Watch Other Musicians
You always learn lots from your fellow musicians. Seek out local concerts and pay attention to the musicians with your eyes and ears. Note ideas to put into practice next time you have your guitar handy.
10. Make Up Rhythms
All you need to practice rhythm skills are a few fingers or a pair of hands to tap. Create interesting rhythm patterns to use in your guitar playing. If you have a friend around you can play "copy my rhythm pattern" games to develop your listening and reacting skills too.
11. Bonus - Finger Independence Exercises
Speaking of tapping fingers, you can practice tapping individual fingers in controlled sequences. This helps you to develop independent muscle control of your fingers for fretting notes or playing picking patterns.
There you have plenty of ideas on how to improve your guitar playing without your guitar to hand. Put them to work everywhere, whenever you have a few spare minutes in your day. They will help you develop skills and knowledge useful to your guitar playing, and you'll also find they boost your motivation to practice when you can finally get to your guitar. Gary Fletcher is a writing guy who spends too much time not playing guitar.