No one will argue the fact that there are many areas of practice and factors to consider on one’s quest to becoming a master musician. However, most people are so wrapped up in learning theory, running scales and the like that they forget that much can be accomplished even away from their instrument.
Get Better Away From Your Instrument
Throughout my time as a guitarist, there have been plenty of times, be it traveling or an injury, that has prevented me from practicing with an actual guitar. I have, nevertheless, still been able to find ways of practicing that have not just occupied my time but have actually resulted in improvement. Following are the methods I use to enhance my skills when circumstances dictate a brief hiatus from having a guitar in my hands.
This is a common technique and effective tool used by many people regardless of profession. From musicians to athletes and even business people, the art of visualizing and its positive results have been well documented. Visualizing can include everything from seeing what your final product will be to internalizing tempos and rhythms. My most noticeable gains with this approach are when I run through entire songs in my head while imagining how each movement feels. It’s amazing how well the mind and body can “feel” the imagined movements making it easy to hone in on problem areas and smooth them out in your mind.
2. Draw Diagrams and Notation
A great way of learning the fretboard is to get a book of fretboard diagrams and draw and redraw note names, scales and chords until they are memorized. This technique is especially beneficial when scale degree names are used for drawing scales and chords instead of simply using dots. Knowing where the scale degrees lie is much more revealing than simply memorizing a bunch of dots in a pattern.
3. Practice Clapping or Air Strumming to a Metronome
It’s amazing that one of the most important things that a serious musician can do doesn’t even require an instrument. Having a great sense of time not only speeds up the learning process but also immediately makes you sound professional regardless of the complexity of what is being played. Being able to manipulate the beat also allows for much more expressive playing when you can control where in the beat the notes are landing.
4. Active Listening/Ear Training
Oddly enough, the simplest way to improve musicianship while away from your instrument is to actually listen to music. Go figure. By listening, I don’t just mean pop in the latest album from your favorite band and crack a beer but actually train your ear by deciphering what you’re hearing. Analyze the song structure. How many bars in the verse? What is the structure in regards to Verse-Chorus-Bridge, etc? Can you go further and determine the tempo accurately? How about the key of the song? Imagine playing the riffs and visualize the shapes as you do. Also, buy a high quality ear training course and use these extensively. There is no substitute for being able to recognize intervals, chord qualities and the like by ear.
This is an idea that you will unlikely hear anywhere else. Music is much more than technical details. While all of the above are key ingredients to becoming a well rounded musician, they don’t touch on what probably made you choose this profession in the first place. The feel in what you do and the passion in which you do it is as equally important. So sit down and meditate, drink a 6 pack or do whatever you have to do to create a feeling of inspiration. Determine to develop your sound and please yourself. Much can be said on this topic but above all, develop a positive attitude.
Hopefully you’re hungry to try these ideas as soon as possible. However, the next time you have a break from playing be sure to implement these ideas and I guarantee you’ll experience gains even away from your instrument.
“Sometimes you want to give up the guitar, you’ll hate the guitar. But if you stick with it, you’re gonna be rewarded.”
– Jimi Hendrix