The SOBR Guitar Method
Many years ago, I studied some classical guitar. Over the last few months I have started practicing up on my old classical repertoire again.
Being a bit older now, I’ve taken a step back and am approaching the practice a bit differently. Here, I’ll go through the basics of what I’m doing in these practice sessions which I’m calling the SOBR method of guitar practice.
The method has 4 key elements to it:
Slow (tempo), Observational (frame of mind), Body (awareness), Relaxation – SOBR
When describing the method to a friend at one stage, I called it the Tai Chi of guitar, as the method is heavily influenced by pasts interests I’ve had in Tai Chi and meditation.
Lets start by looking at these 4 key elements which comprise the method, and then move on to talk a bit about what I believe the benefits of the method are.
It’s fairly widely recognized that the way to build speed and technique in your practice is to start slow and build the tempo up as you get proficient. The SOBR method takes this concept one step further here.
When I’m following this method, I would tend to devote maybe half the practice I am putting into a given piece at a tempo that is a lot slower than what I can comfortably play the piece at.
This is not referring to slowing the tempo down until you become proficient at a piece, but includes playing pieces you are proficient with at maybe a third or a quarter of what a comfortable tempo is for you. You might play at this tempo for up to half of your practice time of a given piece. The reason for this is that I believe playing at a slow tempo like this promotes a receptive observational frame of mind and allows a greater degree of awareness of your body and any tension that may exist in your posture while you play.
Observational Frame of Mind
As much as possible, while you practice you want to maintain a receptive observational frame of mind. Consider the different frames of mind that everyone experiences through their day to day activity. Sometimes, the mind is dull or lethargic. At these points you may not be highly active, but the mind is also not very receptive to what is occurring around you.
At other points, the mind may be quite busy analyzing and dissecting something of interest. You may be considering different points of view about a topic, posing different questions to yourself and forming conclusions about the topic of interest.
Another frame of mind is when the mind is very receptive and observational. This is quite different than the frames of mind mentioned above. For example, when you are looking at something new, your mind is not dull but quite receptive and aware of what it is looking at. This is also before the point that the mind is starting to draw conclusions, theories and further questions on the topic of interest.
I believe that this receptive, observational frame of mind is at the very heart of the learning process. The act of learning is almost a bi-product or consequence of maintaining this frame of mind on a topic. In the SOBR guitar method, you want to be cultivating this frame of mind as much as possible in your practice sessions. Sometimes you may be observing the sound, or the emotional impact the sound is having on you but you also want to cultivate a strong awareness of your body and its bodily sensations while you practice. This then brings us to the next point:
During practice, you want to regularly be maintaining an receptive frame of mind that is observing your body and its sensations while you play. Of primary interest here is the experience of any tension in your body or any feelings of relaxation through the body.
At different points of the practice session you may be aware of different parts of your body. For example, you may be focusing on tension in your hips or in your back at different points while you are playing.
One of the primary aims of focusing on your body through your practice session is to relax any tension you may be experiencing.
The topic of relaxation is very interesting. I tend to see the act of relaxing tension as more of a consequence of being aware of tension rather than an action you need to perform.
When you are aware of tension in your body, you are not so much attempting to relax that tension while you play as much as you are trying to maintain an awareness of the tension, which in time, will naturally lead the body to relax the tension of its own accord. If tension is occurring and you are finding it difficult to relax, there is no problem there. You simply want to maintain a light awareness of the tension and once you have done this enough it will become easy to relax the tension quite naturally.
The Benefits of the SOBR Method
I believe this method of practice has several benefits. Firstly, it is widely recognized that a relaxed technique is the best form of technique to develop proficiency at your instrument and prevent any injuries that may occur from excessive practice. I see this method as a very good method to develop a more relaxed technique at your instrument.
Secondly, as I mentioned above, I believe maintaining a receptive observational awareness is a key element of the learning process. As such, by practicing this method, you should be able to naturally learn what is the best way to improve you playing. You will quite intuitively start to understand things such as any changes you may need to make to your technique to improve. What changes may result in a better tone or find new interpretations of the piece you are working on such as tonal changes, tempo changes or the right points to swell the tempo in a rubato setting.
I’ve mainly been applying this method to my classical guitar practice recently. I’m sure it would be just as relevant to practicing the electric guitar but personally, I have found it easier to apply to classical guitar at this point.
I hope this sounds interesting to you.
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