Visualization and Guitar Practice

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Recently, I spent some time working on visualization as a part of a guitar practice routine. The conclusion was I believe better gains will be made by spending time on both practice and visualization exercises rather than just spending all that time on practice alone. I thought I would devote this article to the nature of what I was doing here and a few main conclusions I came to regarding the practice.

What do you Visualize

Your essentially visualizing yourself playing guitar. Visualizing the left and right hand movements and the sound your guitar is producing. This could be of you playing through a piece in your repertoire, a small section of a piece your having problems with or even a technical exercise you would like to improve at.

The Nature of the Visualization

As you visualize this there are basically three components. The left hand, the right hand and the sound. Visualizing the sound is very much an auditory visualisation. In terms of the left and right hands, I believe it is better to aim for a visualization of the bodily feeling of the movements or more of a kinesthetic sense rather than visual imagery of the hands movements.

At times you may focus on only some of these (for example only the left hand and the sound and leave the right hand out), or you may spend time visualizing different aspects altogether such as the feeling of your bodies posture while you play.

Slow and Detailed Verse Quick and Blurry

One trade off I noticed here was that it can take considerable effort to get a detailed visualization of these components and if your want to visualize in great detail, you will typically have to do this at a much slower tempo than you would normally play. Other times I would reduce the level of detail to increase the tempo which I still believe is helpful. There were even some points where I would allow the visualization to proceed at a tempo much greater than I could play at the details would become quite blurry, but there was still a definite feeling of engaging in the activity.

Main Benefits

I really see three main benefits to this visualization:

  1. Improvement of Physical Technique: I believe the method has great potential to increase your physical co-ordination at the instrument and improve speed.
  2. Help with Memorization: Using this technique I was able to greatly accelerate the speed at which I could memorize a piece as I will detail below.
  3. Dissolving Tension: I believe the technique can be very useful for dissolving both physical and emotional tension while you play which I will also detail below.

Effect on Memorization

I was able to use the technique to greatly accelerate the speed at which I could memorize a piece. The important factor here was to cultivate the recall faculty in combination with the visualization.

Here, I used a fignerstyle piece that I had slowly gone through a bit with the tab. I then sat down for a period simply with the tab and tried to visualize myself playing the piece without looking at the music. As I would encounter parts I could not remember I would attempt to stop and recall that part. Only failing that would I look at the tab again to remember the part I could not recall. I did this until I could visualize playing through the whole piece. There would still be breaks and the need for recall but I kept going until I was able to get through several times without looking at the score.

When I went back to the instrument, I was able to play the piece completely by memory, with some pauses and the need for slow recall at points but without the use of the tab.

There was then a process of playing the piece repeatedly to master it without the breaks and integrate it into muscle memory. The whole process was much quicker than trying to memorize the piece all with my instrument though.

Dissolving Tension

At some points of the visualization, a sense of physical tension or a strong emotional reaction may be triggered. For example, If your visualizing playing your legato like Satriani, there may naturally be some desire triggered at some points. :)

If this reaction was strong enough I would typically stop the visualization and simply place a light attention of the reaction I was having. The purpose of this is to dissolve the physical or emotional tension you are experiencing.

I tend to think that the tension you can be experiencing here may be an obstacle when you pick up the instrument as it is a reaction that will still occur with its actual practice counterpart but you will be less able to dissolve this tension while playing the instrument. I believe this component of the visualisation has the ability to largely remove these obstacles to your physical playing in situations that may take much longer than with traditional playing.

So this is what I have been able to make of the visualization practice to date. If I come up with more ideas on the practice, I’ll update this article to reflect that. You sometimes see students that become quite obsessed with the instrument and their improvement is a lot greater than would be typical for the time they spend practicing. I believe the reason for this is that their visualization of playing tends to go on auto-pilot for significant periods of time and they are getting a lot of these benefits quite naturally without even realizing it.

I hope this was useful and let me know in the comments if you have any experience with visualization in your playing.

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  5 Responses to “Visualization and Guitar Practice”

  1. Super post. Thanks. I am about to start working this way and found your article in a search.

    How are you getting on with Visualization since you wrote the article?

    • Hi Neil,

      I haven’t really been working with this visualization much since then. I am still very much a believer in its effectiveness but it can be quite an effort to practice properly and is not as relaxing as sitting with the guitar. I still do some sometimes if I find a passage I’m having trouble with. My guess is my progress would be better if I was working on it more regularly though.

      • That’s my experience too. I just know things would be faster to learn with visualization, but I find it difficult to give up half an hour of valuable guitar practice for it:-) You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink!

        One technique I am finding useful is to visualise a note or two ahead of what I am actually playing at the time. This has helped a lot with minimising mistakes.



  3. Hi there! Pretty cool post; maybe not 100% related, but I myself find that I memorize scales and get smoother at them so, so, so very much faster when I practice in the dark at nighttime. It’s so much fun, too, just listening to the sounds and thinking about the fretboard without ever looking at it. ^.^

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