Mental Rehearsal – Learning Without Using Your Guitar

“There does not seem to be much difference between a clearly imagined outcome and the real thing.”

– Dr Harry Alder (Associate International Business School Professor, NLP Master Practitioner & Author)

When I was frantically studying the basic technical aspects of how to play and trying to make the necessary time to practice for the band I’d recklessly agreed to join, I read a very thought provoking claim in one of the many guitar books I’d bought. The writer Peter Murray in his “Essential Bass Technique” book said of practicing:

“Remember it’s your brain that’s telling your fingers what to do, so it’s not enough to train your fingers, you have to train your brain.”

He went on to talk about the benefits of visualizing in your mind the techniques and lessons you’d already learnt on guitar as well as physically practicing them. As a student, practitioner and believer of using visualization for achieving other goals over the years, this fascinated me. More importantly, it also gave me real hope that I might actually be able to learn in the extremely limited amount of time I had available by being able to use this mental rehearsal when I couldn’t physically practice.

Although it’s now widely accepted that most top sports people run through their performances in their minds before an event, use amongst musicians is less widely talked about. I delved a little further and found out some surprising information about this kind of mental rehearsal technique.

I discovered that neurologists (“brain doctors” to you and me) have shown, in a number of clinical tests, that when a person mentally visualizes themselves in their mind’s eye rehearsing an activity, they can cause a significant increase in their actual skill.

One particular piece of research published in the Journal of Neurophysiology used two groups of musicians in a five-day study.

The first group were given a short sequence of notes to physically practice on their instruments for two hours every day for five days.

The second group did not touch their instruments but merely watched the first group being taught the sequence until they too had memorized it. They then mentally rehearsed by imagining themselves practice for the same length of time per day.

At the conclusion of the five days the researchers found the same level of development and progress in the group who only mentally practiced as they did in the group who did so physically.

Now you shouldn’t take this as showing evidence that you don’t ever need to physically practice. However, if this shows you can still learn and improve using only mental rehearsal, imagine the possibilities by doing both. As the US National Library of Medicine suggests:

“Learning with physical practice combined with mental training seems to be the best method.”

For me, this method of rehearsing remains a crucial technique whenever I have something new to learn. It will work brilliantly for you too by increasing your available practice time. Even when you’re not able to pick up the guitar and rehearse, you can close your eyes (when convenient and safe to do so) and briefly visualize the movement and sequences of your hands on your guitar. Closing your eyes allows you to concentrate more but you can do this with your eyes open as long as you kind of stare off into the middle distance (as you would if you were daydreaming).

Again, this hands-free rehearsal and basic visualizing technique is something you can incorporate into your day as you need it and as free moments allow. I’m not ashamed to admit that plenty of dull meetings or training courses have been enlivened by my mind drifting off to imagine that tricky riff I need to learn.

Visualization is a fantastic tool to have but we’ve only just scratched the surface here. What I’m going to show you now is how to really master it and use it to achieve those guitar goals that you established earlier.

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