Practicing Without Your Instrument

Posted on September 1, 2010


Reading the following will give you Jedi Knight-style powers to play that beautiful stringed hunk of wood across the room with your eyes or your money back!

Well not really, but here are some things to think about while you are away from your instrument or find yourself having trouble concentrating:

Know Your Fretboard.
D string, 17th fret, what note is that? Go!  ….G.  Taking a few minutes thinking of a string and a fret number will slowly unlock the mystery of the fretboard.

Learn patterns.  If it’s above the 12th fret, subtract 12 and it’s the same note.  17th – 12 = 5th fret.  Skip a string, move down 2 frets and your at one octave below (unless you’re dealing with that pesky B-string on a guitar!)

Wooahh-O Listen To The Music.
Sorry had to drop some Doobie Brothers.  Listening and learning other artist’s tunes is essential on becoming a more versatile player.  You’ve got your Marshall halfstack on 11 and you can’t seem to figure out what the 3rd chord of the progression is;

First, mute the guitar or the feedback will really annoy your neighbor’s dog, then set the guitar down and listen to the song.  Someone much smarter than I once said, “If you can sing it, you can play it”  My singing voice is somewhere between William Shatner and William Hung, so the quality of your voice does not matter, listen to the song a few times, get it in your head and sing the song to yourself.

Start slow with a simpler song and relax; that note has to be somewhere on your 19-string bass, shoot they are even on my old 4-string.  Take breaks to avoid yelling/insulting your stereo.  Having trouble?  Pull out something you already have transcribed, doesn’t matter if it’s tablature or standard notation and just follow along with a recorded version.

Pull Over And Ask For Directions!
Sometimes I get a chart that I swear came from Ikea!  Not sure if it’s even in my language.  Before you sight read a note; skim the chart and ask yourself: What key is the song in?  What is the tempo of the song?  What is the time signature?  What is the highest note and what is the lowest note of the piece?  Are there any repeats?  Knowing the boundaries of the song will make things easier.

One underrated piece of advice is stretching and warming up your hands.  Something as simple as making a fist then opening your fingers up and stretching them as far back as they go a few times will get the blood flowing.  There are plenty of great books that discuss warming up and stretching further.  This will help you become a more consistent player and avoid injury.  Playing should never cause pain.

So, How Do I Sound?
I remember the first time a player I respected said, “Record yourself playing and then listen back”  I was horrified.  I thought I was the sloppiest player on Earth.  I was behind the beat, my dynamics were loud, louder and loudest and I spent more time filling the song than actually supporting it.

Doesn’t have to fancy.  These days you can plug into your computer’s soundcard, use a digital camera or cell phone and well it looks like you can still kick it oldschool and pickup a cassette recorder for under $20 @ Walmart.  Chances are you don’t want to hang onto to these recordings, but rather listen to them and give yourself an honest assessment of your playing.

Well there it is.  I’m sure there are plenty more ways to get your mind thinking musically while you are away from your instrument.  Good Luck.

Currently Listening to: George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass

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