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Five Tips For Practising Guitar When You’re Away From The Instrument

Updated on September 1, 2014

For many of us guitarist, whether aspiring or novice, we would play for hours on end if we could. Unfortunately there are other things in life that demand our attention. There are times, however, when we can do activities in our head that will keep us focused on improving as a musician. A lot of what goes towards playing an instrument is muscle memory, repetitive practice and being in the right mental frame of mind.

The following practice tips are intended to help you develop your skills as a musician and to hopefully inspire some new ways of thinking about your playing.


Counting the beats in your favorite songs is a great way to get to know the various sections of the songs. If you have the sheet music you can follow along with it as well. Listen for recurring riffs and melodies. This is known as active listening. Start with easy songs. Most mainstream music on top forty throughout the history of popular music, even from complex musicians, will be written in common time - 4/4. Once you get a feel for counting each section you can impress your friends by pointing out when a change is approaching. i.e, verse to chorus.


As an aspiring musician, I’m sure you need no encouragement to listen to your favorite songs. Start to listen to what the whole band is doing. When does the bass not play? Is there a change in the drum pattern? If so, is this indicating a change approaching?

Find the pulse of the song, the constant beat. Yes, tap your foot. Start to count the bars to each section. - Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Bridge, Solo, etc. Taking notes for this will help and it’ll make you a better musician. You should end up with something like this…

Intro – 14 bars / Riff – 4 bars / Verse 1 – 8 bars / Chorus – 6 bars / Verse 2 – 8 bars / Chorus – 6 bars / Solo 1 – 8 bars / Verse 3 – 8 bars / Chorus – 6 bars / Bridge – 15 bars / Solo 2 – 16 bars / Breakdown – 16 bars / Chorus – 14 bars / End – 3 bars.


Visualize what the guitarist is doing. Is he playing chords or single notes? Is he performing a vibrato or tapping? Where is he positioned on the fret board - high or low? Is he using slurs (Hammer ons, Pull offs) or slides? Is he picking hard, or gentling raking the pick across all strings?


Let your fingers have a break. There are many exercises to stretch your fingers and it can be tempting to practice getting them to move fast. Fact is, you can do some serious damage to the muscles in your fingers if they’re over used, so don’t do anything that will stop you from playing the instrument you love.


Structure a practice schedule that breaks things up for you so you’re not practicing the same things every day and getting board. Set yourself some goals. If you want to play a favorite song, look through the sheet music and see what chords are used and spend some time working on them, then check the sheet music again to see what scales are used for solos and melodies. Spend some time practicing the scales to get familiar with finger positioning, then work on playing the song.


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      Dave Smiles 

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