Friday, February 11, 2005

Stop looking at your guitar!

Let go young Jedi.. trust the.. guitar.

I don't care if your a seasoned player, or if you have just picked up the guitar for the first time, one of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to stop watching yourself play guitar. Sure, it's hard, and your going to make some really horrible sounding mistakes at first, but if you stop looking at your fingers and the fret board, you'll free yourself and play better. I know, it sounds like some crazy Jedi training, or metaphysical mumbo jumbo, but it's not. If you practice your guitar without looking at it, your fingers will eventually find the right place, you'll hear what your playing better, and you will become a better guitarist.

Think about it, Ray Charles, Jeff Healey, and so many other great musicians are all blind. They are unencumbered by watching themselves play their instruments, and they are all excellent players. Why? Because your eye will lie to you. Your eyes will talk to your brain and say things like "Hey man, there is no way I can make my fingers stretch that far!", or "There is no way I can play that fast!". Freeing yourself from watching your instrument allows your brain to concentrate on more important matters, like your tone, or tempo, the overall sound of the band, or the hotty in the front row. Looking at your hands while you play can actually become a crutch that will hold you back.

Seriously, it's all about freeing your mind.

It is easier to do than you think. The hardest part is believing that you can do it.

Your muscles have memory, and they will remember where to go, even better than if your eyes try to show them. Once the muscles in your fingers and arms know where they should be, they will go right back to it, every single time, without even thinking about it. Now, that's when you will really start to play.

Here are some ideas for you to try at home.

Beginners Homework:

Beginning guitarists should start with a very easy chord progression. ex. G A D
I know that playing chords can be very hard at first, and you probably don't have the shape memorized just yet. Here's what I want you to do. Use your chord chart, or song book, whatever it is that you like, and lay it out in front of you. Play it through the chord progression once while looking, only if you have to. Now, this time, don't look and play the first chord. GO SLOW. Stare at the wall in front of you, or close your eyes. If your having a hard time finding the right notes with your fingers, keep trying without looking, until you find it. Imagine the chord shape in your head. Look at your chord chart if you need to. You will notice that you can feel the fret board better. It will seem different, out of proportion somehow, but it isn't different. Try pressing down on the strings lighter, see how soft you can press before you can't hear the note

  • Learn to play these major chords, in the first position, without looking. C, D, E, F, G, A
  • Play 3 chord progression, all without looking. ex. G, C, D
  • The Chromatic Scale - Play each note, on every string, with every finger, all without looking. ex.. on the low E.. play frets 1,2,3,4 with fingers 1,2,3,4. repeat on all 6 strings. then do it backwards, on every string.

Intermediate Homework:

  • Learn to play an entire song without looking, from beginning to end, no mistakes. Any song, but make it a simple song.
  • Play the pentatonic scale, in all positions(boxes), up and down, without looking.
    Move between the positions without looking.

Advanced Homework:

  • As an advanced guitarist who has not yet learned to play without looking, you will find this to be a very difficult task for some things and quit easy for others. You have a bad habit, and now you will have a hard time breaking it. The hardest part for you will be hearing yourself play bad and knowing that if you just look you will sound better. You will be tempted to give up because you will hate the fact that you are sucking. DON'T GIVE UP! If/when you make a mistake, just keep trying to find the right note, without looking. I have seen advanced guitarists make huge progress by learning to play without looking, it's a great way to get out of a playing rut. You will learn faster, play faster, smoother, and begin to play on a whole new advanced level. It's worth the effort.
  • start by doing the chromatic scale up and down the neck, one position at a time. No looking, ever.
  • Play an entire song without looking. Play it until you play it perfect, and only then move on to another song.
  • Learn to play every scale, in every key, in every position, without looking. Start with the pentatonic, move on from there.

One of my favorite guitarists is Jimi Hendrix. Jimi could play the guitar behind his head, under his leg, all without looking. I heard Stevie Ray Vaughan comment on that very thing, saying that it was the key to playing Hendrix correctly. Notice that Stevie Ray didn't need to look either.

Once you learn how to do this, you will play so much better. Beginners will learn faster and progress faster, and advanced guitarists will quickly jump to a whole new amazing level. The hardest part is to not get discouraged.

You can do this. I know you can. Good Luck!