There’s no question that we’d love to be permanently attached to our instruments. But there are those unfortunate times when we have to put our best friend aside to do things like eat a meal or attend our own wedding. But if you’re doing something that doesn’t involve a lot of brain power (ie. riding the bus, watching TV, sitting through yet another boring business meeting…) there are ways that you can improve your musical chops without having your instrument in your hands.

That’s not to say you can become a great player without actually picking up your instrument. You definitely need plenty of quality time there. But you can use these exercise to work on dexterity and mental skills that will enhance your playing.

Manual Dexterity

If you’ve ever been around a drummer you know they’re constantly beating and tapping on things, thoroughly annoying everyone around them. Well, now it’s your turn to be annoying too!

1. To work on your fret hand finger independence, tap out these different finger combinations on a table top.







Do any other combinations you come up with as well. For instance, starting each of those patterns on the 2nd or 3rd finger and rotating them around.

Piano players and others can also add the thumb into the mix, which yields still more combinations.

2. Use a full-hand tapping exercise to work on coordination between your hands. For example, you can tap out quarter notes in one hand and eighths in the other. Then switch them.

3. Now try a two handed rhythm you might encounter in a song. For instance eighth notes in your strumming hand while changing chords on the first beat of each measure (ie. a whole note) in your fretting hand.

Or for piano players try an eighth note pulse in your left hand with a mix of quarter and eights in your right hand.

A more complex version might be sixteenth notes in your right hand and hitting the downbeat of 1 and the upbeat of 3 with your left. Play with every two-handed rhythm you can come up with.



This might sound like a bit of new agey hoo ha, but hang in with me. Artists and athletes of all types have used visualization to reach their goals to a long time now. It’s not about wishing for something, it’s more about playing out the scene in your head.

1. With your eyes closed, picture yourself playing a song you’ve been working on. In your head, you’re playing it perfectly and easily, with no mistakes. Really concetrate on what your hands are doing and feel what it feels like to really nail the song.

2. If there’s a song playing in the background of wherever you are, close your eyes and visualize yourself playing the guitar parts of the song in your head. Doesn’t matter whether or not you actually know the song or have even heard it before.

My apologies ahead of time for you having to play “Hit Me Baby One More Time” while sitting in your dentist’s waiting room.

Why does this work? Recent studies have shown that this going through the mental motions of an activity stimulates the same synapses in your brain as actually doing it in real life. It’s still not a replacement for real practice, but right now it’s as close as we’ve got to Total Recall style mental downloads.

Work That Brain

Most guitar technique isn’t about memorizing something. Our brains are that great at memorizing. What they are great at is working through systems. And if you work a system enough times you’ll arrive at the answer so fast it looks like you have it memorized.

As an example, being able to mentally plow through the musical alphabet in a variety of ways is very helpful when you’re in the moment and looking for that next note.

By the way, these techniques work a lot better if you say them out loud. If you’re in public, just try to not look like a total nut job. Unless that’s you’re thing. Then rock n’ roll with it. Or just stick a Bluetooth on your ear.

1. Recite the musical alphabet backwards, G to A. Hint: Break it up into two parts like a phone number: GFE-DCBA

2. Recite the musical alphabet in 3rds: A C E G B D F A – Backwards and forwards

3. Name each note scale-wise along with a 3rd above. An “up two, down one” pattern. – A C B D C E D F E G F A G B. Backwards and forwards.

4. Recite perfect 4ths – A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb Fb

5. Recite perfect 5ths – A E B F# C# G# D# A# E# B#

6. Bonus points for doing other intervals (octaves don’t count, Lazy) as well as their major and minor versions.

How does this help? All of these patterns are the ones you’ll encounter when building chord arpeggios, working with key signatures, and dealing with key changes.

You can also visualize each of the interval patterns on the different sets of strings on the guitar. Those little portable practice necks are handy for that too.

Critical Listening

Critical listening means listening to music with ear towards structure and composition isntead of just for pleasure. In fact, once you start doing this, you may never again be able to listen to a song without mentally deconstructing it.

1. Whenever you’re listening to music, whether on purpose or just those horrible over played songs in the grocery store, see if you can figure out the chord progression. Not neccessarily exact chord names, but the relationships. Listen for I-IV or ii-V-I progressions for example.

2. Make an effot to figure out music you don’t like as well as the songs you do. You’ll start to see the similarities in all styles and be able to both with and against the rules in your own playing.

So now you have no excuse for wasted time when you can’t get a guitar in your hands. I mean, don’t do them while operating heavy machinery. But waiting for your computer to reboot? Get it on.

Also, there is one other concept that is really the <a href=”” best way to learn guitar and put me out of business.</a>