I’ve recently been called away off and on a work project, oftentimes meaning I’m either unable to take my guitar or finding little time to physically practice. It has been reasonably annoying, but these things happen from time to time.
During time such as these I have been managing to “practice” in a few different ways away from the guitar, so I thought I’d share some….
O.K., so this first one is not strictly “away” from a guitar, but there is an option which allows you to tangibly practice guitar whilst not having your usual guitar around – investing in a travel guitar, such as the Yamaha silent guitar or SoloEtte guitar. These guitars either fold up or disassemble in someway, allowing you to pack it down into a smaller, more portable size to travel around with, fling in the back of the car or take as carry-on on most interstate and international flights. The sound quality of these type of guitars isn’t going to set the world alight, but does most definitely give you an option of physically playing a guitar and practicing.
I personally have one of the Yamaha Silent Guitars and it does the job reasonably well in allowing me to physically practice if in a situation where I can’t take the Allan Bull.
The Yamaha Silent Guitar is also excellent for practicing in situations where you’re not able to make too much noise. And folds down into a case which Bob The Dog greatly approves of.
They are an investment to a degree though and although not ridiculously expensive there are further options for practicing away from the guitar, which actually may put a different spin on things for you (well, they do for me anyway).
Sing It Back
Singing the music in your head (or out loud if the neighbours don’t mind… Mine would, as my singing voice is terrible!) is a great way of keeping in touch with a piece, with it’s melody, flow, rhythm and general outline. It’s also good for highlighting where you may be unsure of certain elements, perhaps melodically or rhythmically.
Can you hear the melody line of a piece you’re learning at the moment? Can you sing/hear the whole thing? Are there gaps? If so, go back to the sheet music (you can pretty much take that wherever you go, right?) and remind yourself of the bit that’s not quite lodged in the memory yet.
One of the things I do is sing the melody line of a piece whilst walking the dog or walking to my office. I actually discovered I was doing this by accident, not really tuned into my inner voice, then realizing my walking tempo was creating a metronomic beat which my brain picked up on and apparently said to itself “ooh, that’s a bit like Variation No 4 of those Sor Variations on a Theme of Mozart! Let’s play it!”. Cool.
Along with singing the main melody, can you also see in your mind’s eye how your left and right hand fingers move to create those sounds? I, more often than not, focus more on the shapes and movements my left hand needs to make to create the music.
But don’t forget about your right hand movements either – which strings are you touching? I’m talking from the perspective of a right-handed guitarist here, so swap it all round if you’re a Southpaw, of course.
Are we playing lightly, piano or with more gusto, a bit more forte? Are you playing tirando (free stroke) or apoyando (rest stroke) or a mix of the two? What kind of sounds are you wanting to produce? What angle of attack are you going at with the fingers? Are you playing a sweeter, rounder, dolce sound, so playing over or the nearer the fingerboard? Or are you after a brighter, zingier sound, so playing more ponticello, nearer the bridge of the guitar?
I think this kind of technique is akin to what top athletes do when they visualise themselves crossing the finish line first or making the killer move, rehearsing in their minds how the game or race is going to play out for them. Same applies here, just that we’re rehearsing how a piece of music is going to play out.
Score and Musical Structure – Visualisation, Memorisation and Recall
In addition to singing and visualising you movements, you can also try out memorising and visualising the written music itself. Think about the shape of the music on the page – arpeggios, chords, shape of
phrases and melody lines.
Have a think about the the musical structure too – what key is the piece in? Where are there any modulations? What is the harmonic landscape (ooh, that sounds fancy doesn’t it?) – what are the main “signposts” or features in that landscape, I.e. main chords, key notes, landing points?
One big test is to see if you can actually rewrite out on stave paper the piece itself – that’s an excellent test of whether you know the piece inside out!
O.K., so the whole thing might be a bit of a challenge initially, but see if you can commit to memory and write out the first few bars or first phrase, and build it out from there. You might find you pick up on some subtleties in the harmonies, themes and the structure of the music that you’d not noticed or thought about before. This is in turn will help give you greater understanding of the music, helping you to better perform it and remember it when committing to memory.