9 Ways To Practice Guitar WITHOUT A Guitar!

Hey Rockstars!

When it comes to practicing the guitar, we all have reasons why we can’t practice as much as we want to. Most people blame time, family/work responsibilities, and life getting in the way as the main culprits for not being able to practice.

The ironic part is that you DO have the time to practice…

…you just may not know it yet. 😉

And I’m not even talking about practicing for 30-60 minutes a day (like many other guitar coaches insist on).

You would be surprised how much progress you can make with even 2-3 minutes a day.

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Exposing your mind and your fingers to the guitar even a little bit every day will do wonders for your retention and your confidence.

Consistency ALWAYS wins when it comes to learning and executing new information (especially when there’s a physical component involved).

You’ve probably seen The Pillow Trick post I wrote, which takes care of the ‘at home’ part of practicing consistently every day, but what about when you’re away from your guitar?

Maybe you travel a lot. Maybe you work long hours. Maybe you have to watch the kids or help them with their homework.

Either way, wouldn’t it be cool if you could practice guitar material in situations like these and still make consistent progress, so when you do pick up your guitar, your momentum is not lost.

Actually, quite the opposite.

When you implement some of the techniques I’m about to outline, you will find that:

  • your playing becomes more accurate
  • you’ll remember the material for longer and more clearly
  • you will play faster because your mind won’t have any question marks, and…
  • your practice sessions with the guitar will be WAY more productive (even if you’re only practicing for a couple of minutes with The Pillow Trick)

This is because your mind is the control station for your fingers, so if your mind doesn’t fully understand something, then how can your fingers accurately execute the information properly?

And we wonder why we make so many mistakes on the guitar.

It’s ok though, mistakes are inevitable and nobody’s perfect. Plus, in a future post, I will show you how you can cover up your mistakes in playing situations and no one will notice (if you only knew how many times I’ve made mistakes on stage…..lucky I had those techniques).

Now, since we don’t all have the luxury of having a guitar around us all day, we have to think outside of the box.

So today I want to introduce you to a new kind of practice that I like to call “Remote Practice”.


 What is Remote Practice?

Remote Practice is a way to practice your guitar skills (and whatever material you’re working on) without a guitar.

I know it sounds crazy, but if your mind really is a control station for your fingers – or a teacher to his/her loyal students – then we need to make sure that you can experience the material from  different angles and really understand it 100% clearly.

I know I say this a lot, but there’s really no such thing as easy and difficult.

It really comes down to familiar and unfamiliar.

So if that’s the case, then the goal of Remote Practice is to make the information, the sounds, and the movements as familiar as possible.

I remember teaching a client who was interested in playing guitar, but didn’t have one yet.

By using some of the Remote Practice techniques in this post, she was able to develop enough skill that she was strumming on the same day her guitar arrived in the mail!


Why is Remote Practice so important?

Did you say that you didn’t have enough time to practice?

Well, I want you to take a second to think about how many dead spots you have in your day.

What’s a dead spot?

A dead spot is a time in your day where you are literally waiting around with nothing to do (aka staring at the wall).

For example, some dead spots in my day include:

  • waiting in line at the bank or the grocery store
  • being put on hold with my cell phone provider
  • long drives and public transit commutes
  • being stuck in traffic

Do any of these situations sound familiar?

These can last anywhere from 30 seconds all the way to multiple hours at a time (ie. a long commute to and from work).

With the widespread use of smartphones, we tend to find comfort in filling in a lot of time with random text chats, scrolling through our Facebook and Instagram feeds, or worse, just accepting that there is nothing to do and either staring at the wall, people watching, or getting caught up in some unproductive thoughts.

What if you could use this same time to develop your guitar skills and musical knowledge instead?

With Remote Practice, now you can! *cue cheesy infomercial music*

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How do I practice ‘remotely’?

Remote Practice consists of different categories that include your hands, your mind, your ears, and your voice. Luckily, these are all related to each other and all build on each other, so they can be practiced either individually or in combinations.

1. Tapping (aka “Air Guitar 2.0”)

Tapping consists of developing the fretting and strumming hands without the guitar as well as your memory of the order of parts in a scale, strumming pattern, etc.

Strumming Hand

The idea behind Tapping the strumming hand is to learn and practice strumming patterns. You’ll do this by either thinking about the pattern and tapping your hand as you follow in your mind, or, even better, by saying the pattern out loud as you tap (aka “Chanting”).

To understand how tapping relates to strumming, you’ll need a hard surface like your desk or your leg. That way the downstroke isn’t just floating in the air and can register as an actual event. Remember guys, this is Air Guitar 2.0 😛

First, start with your hand in a flat position and practice moving down and up (try to keep the distance between the down and the up consistent – between 6 to 12 inches):


Down (flat) copyUp (flat) copy

Next, rotate your wrist so that you are in a chop position and do the same movement:

Down (chop) copyUp (chop) copy

Finally, form your hand as if you were holding a pick and perform the same movement:

Down (pick) copy Up (pick) copy

This is your Tapping formation that you will use to practice strumming patterns.

NOTE: You can even keep a guitar pick in your pocket and use it to make the last step more realistic:

Down (pick2) copy Up (pick2) copy

Once again, tapping works best when coupled with Chanting (see next section).

Check out this video for an example on Tapping strumming patterns:

You can also practice scale patterns by tapping the individual fingers in the correct sequence.

For example, the major scale in second position (don’t worry if all of that sounds like gibberish to you) follows a finger order of middle, pinky, index, middle, pinky, index, middle, pinky

So you can tap those fingers in that order 3x slowly on your desk or on the back of your forearm.

Arm

If your arm doesn’t cut it, then you can also buy a tool called the SHREDNECK, which is an accessory that mimics the fretboard of the guitar…

…mostly because it actually IS a fretboard….only about a third of one!

The SHREDNECK can make tapping and forming chords a lot more realistic while you’re away from your guitar, so it’s a seamless transition when you can practice properly.

The upside is that it feels good to play and you can use a strap to hold it up. The downside is that the strings don’t sound good when picked or strummed, so this will mostly be used to exercise your fretting hand.

Now, I will admit, the SHREDNECK is a little pricey, but I’ll also admit that after I bought mine, it definitely made those long car rides a lot more bearable.


2. Chanting

The next Remote Practice technique is called Chanting and this is one of my favourites. You can use travel time (driving to work, a long commute on public transit, etc.) or idle time at school/work to repeat different patterns out loud, under your breath, and even in your mind (although it is best to say it out loud, so it registers as more of a significant and memorable event for your mind).

Check out these videos for two examples of Chanting.

Example #1 – Chanting A Strumming Pattern

Example #2 – Chanting The Order Of Notes On String 6 (aka “Note Spelling”)

And as I mentioned in the previous section, Chanting works well with Tapping because we are connecting the information to both the mind’s memory and the muscles’ memory with the visual, auditory, and physical elements, which will help you program your mind and your muscles WAY faster.


3. Drawing/Guitar Apps

Next we have Drawing and this is one is really powerful because it is the closest thing to working with the actual fretboard. Since humans respond so strongly to visual information (pictures) more than any other format, this kind of Remote Practice will really help you find your way around the fretboard and remember guitar parts faster and for longer periods of time.

When learning anything, your brain will absorb any piece of information faster when you write it out by hand. This is because you are coupling two very powerful parts of the brain (the motor cortex for the physical act of writing and the visual cortex since you are looking at what you’re writing). If you couple this with Chanting, then you are adding the auditory cortex and working the 3 main learning areas of the brain.

As a side note, I think you can see that anytime you incorporate all 3 of these areas (visual, auditory, physical), you will learn faster.

Here are some options you can use to practice the guitar by Drawing (you don’t need any fancy equipment…just a pen and a lined sheet of paper:

  • Draw a chord diagram of chords you know or chords you’re working on:

Chord Diagram

The horizontal lines on the paper act as the frets. In this example I’ve created a 4×6 grid (4 frets and 6 strings).

  • Draw a fretboard diagram to practice note spelling, chords, and scale patterns:

Fretboard descr

The horizontal lines on the paper act as strings. Usually splitting the fretboard up into 12 frets is enough, but you can add more and/or focus on a specific area of the fretboard (you don’t have to start your diagram at fret #1.

  • Write out TAB of a song you’re working on either from memory or copying from a website (remember, you will remember and absorb information faster when you write it out by hand):

TAB (numbered)

In this example, I am practicing the intro to “Stairway To Heaven”.

  • Write out a strumming pattern or note spelling as a reference for Tapping or Chanting

Patterns

D = Downstroke

U = Upstroke

Guitar Apps

This article wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that there are a wide range of guitar apps available for Remote practice. Some of them are straight up drills and some incorporate games that will make practice more fun and competitive.

One of my favourite apps is Guitar Tuna, but have a search through your phone’s App Store using terms like “guitar app” or “guitar practice” and you’ll find one that’s best for your needs.

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Despite the apps, my advice is to always keep it simple, so I recommend using a pen and paper. Not only because this helps with learning faster, but also because if your boss walks in while you’re practicing, it will look like you’re working on something rather than playing on your phone.

Additional Resources


4. Visualizing

Visualization may be the most important skill to develop out of the bunch. Since our brains remember images more than anything else, the power of visualization should never be underestimated.

Basically, the logic goes like this: if you can’t picture yourself playing something on the guitar and really create a vivid mental picture of yourself playing, then how do you actually plan on playing it?

Of course, it’s possible that you can learn to play guitar without any mental exercises, but when you add them, you will learn to play and remember what you learn to play a lot faster.

The best part is that you can do this anywhere really because it requires ZERO equipment.

You may be asking yourself, “So what am I supposed to visualize exactly?”

Well, in my playing, I find that I mostly visualize my fretting hand playing solos slowly or even playing chord shapes and switches on the fretboard, but you can really visualize anything you want.

Take this one slow and in short segments. Visualization is not meant to be rushed.

Another cool thing is that this mini-meditation will also relax you and it can even work well as you’re going to sleep (goodbye sheep, hello pentatonic scales!).

And for those of you who think you can’t visualize, let me ask you this: Have you ever worried about something?

Worrying is one of the most common forms of visualizing because you are picturing an event in your mind that hasn’t happened, so if you can worry, you can visualize. 🙂

Your visualization skills will also improve over time, so you can look forward to your picture going from cutting in and out in Black & White to full fledged HD if you just practice for 30-60 seconds a day.

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5. Finger Fitness

First off, I want to give credit where credit’s due – Greg Irwin invented an amazing exercise system called “Finger Fitness” and has devoted his life to promoting hand health to musicians, surgeons, athletes, and pretty much anyone who uses their hands for a living.

The system consists of four main moves: Folds, Taps, Bends, and Splits and it looks pretty ridiculous…

…but it WORKS!

As a touring musician, my hands are my most important asset, so I can confidently say that Greg’s course helped my prevent any RSI’s like carpal tunnel and tendonitis as well as helped me play better because it works on the connection between your mind and your muscles (if you mind can send better signals to your muscles then you can automatically play guitar clearer, faster, and for longer periods of time.

Check out this video I made in 2014 to showcase the concepts oFinger Fitness.

Perform these exercises on the way to work or at work and you will find that a lot of nagging coordination problems start to take care of themselves.

I should also mention one of my favourite tools created by my friend Dr. Terry Zachary called the Handmaster Plus

This might remind you of a stress ball, but it is actually a very sophisticated tool that works all 18 muscles in our hands and forearms in only a couple of minutes.

Any time I felt even the slightest symptom(s) of tendonitis (like when my practice regimen or tour schedule was really getting intense), I would stop my practice session, use the HandMaster Plus one time, and the next day, the symptoms were GONE!

This same exact situation happened multiple times over the past 10 years of performing and touring.

These tools are a must when it comes to strengthening and conditioning your hands for guitar.


6. Active Listening

Active listening is a different kind of listening that requires more attention than regular (passive) listening. This is best suited for commutes and waiting in line.

Now that you’re developing your guitar skills, you can listen to music with a new awareness and you’ll start picking things out that you’ve never heard before (they were there the whole time, you just didn’t notice them before).

Here’s how Active Listening works:

  • Choose a song that you are working on or want to work on
  • Find a record and play the whole song (or just one section) a few times.
  • Be as analytical as possible
    • What strumming pattern are they playing?
    • How many chords are in the verse?
    • How often do they change chords?
    • Are they playing acoustic, electric, or classical guitar?
    • Are they using any guitar effects (distortion, reverb, delay)?
    • etc.

You may never have experienced this kind of listening before, so be creative.

You can also couple Active Listening with Tapping, Chanting, Visualizing, or Drawing to get every learning sense (Visual, Auditory, and Physical) into the mix. As I’ve mentioned before, using multiple senses is a staple of accelerated learning.

Some other forms of active listening are straight up Ear Training exercises that you can find online or in the App Store. I’ll be covering effective Ear Training methods in depth in a future post, but for now, I highly recommend my buddy Bruce Arnold’s products for the best ear training on the market (only for serious Remote Practicers lol).

Finally, a great way to fill in those gaps in the day is to review recordings from your practice sessions. The idea is to listen and analyze the quality of your playing to recognize your current playing strengths as well as make a game plan for what to work on next based on which areas need the most improvement.


7. Passive Listening

Passive listening is very different than Active Listening.

While the main goal is to let loose and enjoy whatever music you’re listening to, there may be a greater benefit called Passive Learning.

There is a huge debate about Passive Learning and whether or not it’s possible. I believe it is and compare it to when you have known someone for a long time.

At first, before you knew each other, you both had different quirks and sayings, but after a while of being friends, you started to act and talk like each other more and more.

Did you actively have to think about those changes in your behaviour and vocabulary? Of course not.

Listening to music passively can have a similar effect.

You are passively understanding so many things about the sounds and structures of music as you listen, as well as how and why things work the way they do….even if you don’t realize you are.

And then days, week, months, or years later, when you learn a new guitar/musical concept that relates to this passive understanding, you will have a big ‘A-HA’ moment because you’ll become aware of how this seemingly new concept connects to the music you’ve heard many times before.

I’ve seen musicians evolve in front of my eyes multiple times due to this phenomenon.

Passive Listening can work well with a song that you are currently learning or a song that you want to learn.

Side Note: I recommend you only learn songs on the guitar that you love….especially when starting out, as they will boost your confidence, give you motivation to practice, be easy to judge whether you’re playing it right or not since you’ve heard the song so many times, and most of all, it’ll be way more fun.


8. Hunting & Gathering

Your spare time can also be used to gather resources on new songs that you want to learn as well as discovering new artists. While it’s technically not Remote Practicing, it IS making good use of the dead spots in your day by finding new material to work on.

Search for good YouTube lesson videos with a lot of views, positive comments, and thumbs up and make sure the guitar coach isn’t moving to fast through the material or assuming too much (this is so common since a lot of them don’t realize what it’s like to sit there struggling with a guitar.

You can also gather TABS and Chordsheets for some songs you want to work on. Here are some popular sites with free resources:

Bookmark the pages, copy the links, and email yourself everything for your practice session with the guitar when you get home.

DISCLAIMER – these TABs weren’t necessarily written by a professional (a lot of times, it’s just someone who posts a TAB based on what he or she thought they heard, so always use your ear when practicing.

You could always go with buying a songbook by a company like Cherry Lane or Hal Leonard although you still should always trust your ears since there may even be errors on these books from time to time.


9. Reading

Sometimes there’s nothing like reading stories, articles, and information about guitar to really inspire you and accelerate your playing.

Here are some of my favourite books about practicing and how to be a better guitarist:

  • Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within is one of my favourite books and might be the only book I’ve read over 10 times. It’s that good! Check it out and study the Learning Diamond for an effective approach to practicing.
  • The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music is a great story about Victor Wooten’s time with a mysterious mentor who teaches him valuable insights about music and life.
  • Zen Guitar is more of a woo woo book yes, but it is full of great insights for calming the mind and approaching the guitar in a peaceful way.
  • Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music is a really cool book about a guy who gave up guitar on the brink of success to live a normal life. He revisits the guitar later in life and has to shake off the years of rust from not playing. It really reveals how in order to master guitar, you are forced to master yourself.
  • The Inner Game of Music is based on the Bestseller “The Inner Game of Tennis” which aims to connect the mind and body with proven exercises an techniques. Very insightful book that I’m still working through.
  • Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art is one of the most profound books on the topic of music because it relates music to life and vice versa. It’s a close second to Effortless Mastery.
  • And speaking of public transit, I have to mention One Train Later: A Memoir which is Andy Summers’ (the guitarist from The Police) autobiography. It’s cool how him an Stewart Copeland ran into each other on the train one day and if either of them caught the next train, The Police wouldn’t have happened!

You can also buy a magazine (hard copy or digital) like Guitar World or Guitar Techniques and read about equipment and check out the song resources if they have them.

These also work well on long commutes on public transit.


Conclusion

Well, there you have it! 9 ways you can practice guitar without a guitar.

As you can probably tell, having a solid Remote Practice routine under your belt is the perfect way to develop your guitar skills when you have a super busy schedule and can’t find time to practice at home.

It’s also a great supplement for an already solid at-home routine. Without it, you may always be wishing you had more time to practice.

Obviously, if your work situation allows you to bring in a guitar so you have one at home and at work, then that’s even better…

…however, there will always be more situations in your day where you don’t have a guitar in your hands (or worse, you’re waiting around in line or commuting and wish you had a guitar in your hands), so it’s really important to have the techniques I outlined above at your disposal.

This way you’ll be prepared for any situation and can practice guitar accordingly.

There you have it! You should be on your way to building a consistent, reliable way for practicing both with and without your guitar.

Have a question or a comment? Post it below and let’s start a conversation!

 

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Thanks for reading and talk soon,

signatureSteveakaVØID

About Steve (aka VØID)

Steve (aka VØID) is the owner and head Guitar Coach at Rockstar Mind. He is a self-taught guitarist for 20 years and a professional guitarist & Major label recording artist for 10 years (touring the world opening for and performing with big name acts such as KISS, Hinder, Finger Eleven, and Our Lady Peace). Most importantly, he has been coaching struggling guitarists for over 15 years to quickly overcome their playing obstacles and play their favourite songs on guitar. After his father was diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer, Steve put his music career on hold to become his primary caregiver. He created a fundraising initiative called VØID Cancer where he uses proceeds from every sale to create new programs for patients and caregiver. All in his father's honour. Connect with Steve (aka VØID) on Facebook.
About The Author

Steve (aka VØID)

Steve (aka VØID) is the owner and head Guitar Coach at Rockstar Mind. He is a self-taught guitarist for 20 years and a professional guitarist & Major label recording artist for 10 years (touring the world opening for and performing with big name acts such as KISS, Hinder, Finger Eleven, and Our Lady Peace). Most importantly, he has been coaching struggling guitarists for over 15 years to quickly overcome their playing obstacles and play their favourite songs on guitar. After his father was diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer, Steve put his music career on hold to become his primary caregiver. He created a fundraising initiative called VØID Cancer where he uses proceeds from every sale to create new programs for patients and caregiver. All in his father's honour. Connect with Steve (aka VØID) on Facebook.