Why do Mental Practice / Use Visualisation for Learning?
It’s great for:
- Memorising a piece
- Improving technical issues – difficult leaps, stretches, left hand finger contortions
- Understanding/ reinforcing your structural/ harmonic understanding of a piece
- Working on phrasing and interpretation
- Practising the performance of a piece without muscle fatigue
- Becoming much more secure in a performance situation
Clear your mind of clutter. Then in the quietness of your mind, imagine yourself playing. Visualise yourself playing through tricky passages or an entire section of a piece, or maybe a scale that is proving difficult to memorise.
What can you see in your Mind’s Eye?
Your left hand and the fretboard
An image of the score
Your right forearm, wrist, hand and thumb plus graceful curve of the other fingers
What can you Feel?
The flesh and nail of your right hand finger-tips on the strings
The sensation of the strings or frets on your left hand finger tips and a very light left hand thumb on the guitar neck
What do you hear?
A guitar that is in tune!
Super tone production, an array of wonderful tonal colours and a range of dynamics that effortlessly serve your artistic decisions.
Why do mental practice when you could actually do the real thing and play the guitar?
Because in conjunction with actual playing, mental practice IS the real thing! This type of practice is hard, but extremely effective and gets easier the more you do it!
How to get Started
If you’ve never done this type of mental practice before, here are a few ideas to get you started. If you have dabbled with visualization techniques already, perhaps try the exercises so that you get to know the whereabouts of notes on the fretboard even more securely.
(Imagine all of the exercises)
- You are warming up. Your right hand is playing open strings, string one twice, mi, string two twice, mi, string three twice mi, etc, all the way down to string six.
- Can you hear the sound of the open strings? Feel the tension of the open strings? Feel a beautifully smooth nail glide over the string? Did you hear a nail scrape on the bass strings?
- Do you normally have one?! Maybe change the angle of your fingers when playing on the bass strings so as to avoid that scraping sound.
- Play E, F, G on string one, 1st position
- Play E,F,G (same pitch) on string two, 5thposition
- Lastly, E,F,G (same pitch) string three 9thposition.
How did you locate 9thposition in your Mind’s Eye? Did you count back four frets from 12thfret? Did you count up two frets from a white dot on the guitar neck at 7thfret perhaps? Which fingers of the left hand did you use?
- Play B,C, D, E,F,G 1stposition,
- Then start on B string three, and play all notes with a combination of 4thand 5thposition. This is more complex because of the position shift. Feel a relaxed left hand thumb on the guitar neck as you make the shift.
- Lastly start on B string four, in 9thposition. Can you imagine how the 4th string feels thicker under your finger tips?
- Play G,A,B,C,D,E,F,G 1stposition,
- Then start on G string 4 and play all notes with a combination of 4thand 5thposition
- Lastly play all the notes in 9thposition. Which string did you start on when playing in 9thposition. Which finger?
If you’re like me, sometimes when visualizing, things get a bit fuzzy in the head, a bit unclear… perhaps the internal ear hears the correct pitch and in your mind’s eye you know you are at the right position, but perhaps when imagining the left hand finger placement it was a little fudged. It wasn’t definitely right or wrong, but a little grey perhaps. That’s usually when the concentration goes. Get it back! Refer back to a real fretboard or a real score and sort it out! This is the spot that is likely to let you down in a real time, performance situation.
For those that found the above exercises easy, how about memorizing one single bar of a piece and mentally practising it away from the guitar? Build it up to a couple of bars, a phrase, a section of a piece or even a whole piece. If that seems impossible – choose an easier piece! If that proves too difficult, choose an even easier piece!
Is it worth all the effort?
Yes! It does take a lot of time though. With practise, mental rehearsal enables you to become much more secure with your memory, it helps you practise phasing without the hindrance of technical difficulties, it helps you smooth out and practise awkward leaps and shifts, it coerces you to think more deeply about structure and harmony and it allows you to experiment with tempi and tonal colour with total freedom. Additionally, time is rarely wasted in this kind of practice as so much concentration is required. It’s a very time-efficient method of learning/memorising a piece. Good for us all!