Use your down time to improve your guitar skills.

Have you ever been sitting somewhere, bored to tears, wishing you had a guitar in your hands so you could get some practicing done?  Of course, there's no way to be a great guitarist without actually wrapping your hand around a neck regularly.  But these are some great techniques that will help your guitar playing even if you're empty handed.

Mental Workouts
A lot of being a good musician is being able to work through mental systems faster over time.  That's what makes it looks effortless.  A little bit of mental gymnastics and being able to think through the musical alphabet in different ways is a great help when you're considering what to play next.

These ideas will stick even better if you say them out loud.  If you're in public, try to do it without looking like a nutcase.  Put a Bluetooth on your ear or something.  Or just look like a nutcase.

- Say the musical alphabet in 3rds: A  C  E  G  B  D  F  A
- Name each note scale-wise along with a 3rd above: A  C  B  D  C  E  D  F  E  G  F  A  G  B
- Say them in perfect 4ths: A  D  G  C  F  Bb  Eb  Ab  Db  Gb  Cb  Fb
- Say them in perfect 5ths: A  E  B  F#  C#  G#  D#  A#  E#  B#
- You can also do variations like descending intervals, 6ths, and 7ths.

Doing these exercises will help you think through chords, arpeggios, key signatures, and your circle of 5ths.  It's also handy when you need to transpose keys on the fly.

Additionally, it's helpful to visualize the patterns for all of these intervals on a pair of strings on your guitar.  Which leads to my next technique.


"Oh no! Are you going to get all 'The Secret' on me?" - No, not at all.  Visualization is a technique that's been proven in studies with athletes and professionals in various art forms.  Here's some great techniques:

- Close your eyes and picture yourself playing a song you've been working on.  Concentrate on what your hands are doing and picture yourself performing it easily and flawlessly.
- If there's music of whatever sort playing where you are, close your eyes and picture yourself performing the guitar parts of the song easily and flawlessly, even if you don't know what they are and have never played the song before.

Recent scientific studies have shown that visualizing yourself performing an activity triggers your synapses in the same way as actually doing it.  You won't get the full effect of regular practice, but it does help.

Critical Listening

- Whenever you're listening to music, whether by choice or just random background music, listen critically to see if you can figure out the chord progression.  It's ok if you don't have perfect pitch and can't name the exact chords.  It's more about working out the relationships between the chords.  You'll learn what a I-IV or ii-V-I progression sounds like for example.

If you like the music you're hearing it's good to figure out.  But it's even better if you don't like it.  You begin to see the similarities of construction inherent in all styles of music.

Manual Dexterity

- To work on your left hand you can tap out different finger combinations:
... and any others you might come up with.  They all come up eventually.

- Drummer exercises are good to help sync up your left and right hands.  Start by tapping out quarter notes with one hand and eighth notes in the other.  Then switch them.

- Consider a two-handed rhythm you might encounter while playing a song. Something simple might be a quarter note strum in your right hand with your left hand changing chords once per measure (a whole note).  Tap those rhythms out with your hands. 

- Something a little more complex would be sixteenth notes in your right hand (like a funk strum or fast metal picking pattern) with your left hand changing chords on beat one and the "and" of beat two.  Come up with as many of these different patterns as you can.

Even when your treasured guitar (or 'the other woman' as my girlfriend calls my guitar) isn't close at hand, you can still use these exercises to get your brain firing in the right direction to make you a better player.  No excuses for wasted time now!