Two strategies that will triple your results

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How to improve your chops when you are away from your instrument

In this article I'm going to give you two methods that you can use to practice when you don't have a guitar. With these two strategies, you can practice everywhere. Depending on what you do for a living, you might add as much as 6 to 8 hours of valuable practice time to your daily shedule. When you use them enough, they become automatic and you'll start to be able to have a conversation with other people while you practice. I've used both these techniques to build my skills and I still use them (Because I can't stop using them!) Please be open to my suggestions and remember this: To achieve unusual things you must have an unusual behaviour.

1. Practice picking motions

It's really not a matter of how fast you can pick, it's how fast you can pick AND accentuate every 3rd, 6th 4th or 8th note. The faster you pick, the fewer accentuation's you must have in your lick. When I play triplets at max speed, I accent every 6th note. But when I slow things down a bit, I accent every 3rd note. Imagine playing six notes from the lowest to the highest - on two different strings, 3 notes on each string. At mid tempo, I would accent the first note on every string (every third note) but as I am about to reach maximum speed I would have to give my brain a broader structure to focus on, so I only accent the first note out of the six. If you're good at this, picking speed will follow naturally, if you're not, everything else will be hard.

Picking the air

But how you can practice this without a guitar? It's very easy: hold you fingers like you where holding a pick. Then pick the air using very small movements and accent every third note. Imagine picking the guitar until you have the hang of it. Then try accenting every 4th note. then every 6th and then every 8th note. Your movements should be so small that people around you wont notice it.  How much can you do this during the day? It depends on who you are and what you do, but chances are that you can practice this for several hours a day. If you do, here's what happens:

"I have found it advisable not to give too much heed to what people say when I am trying to accomplish something of consequence. Invariably they proclaim it can't be done. I deem that the very best time to make the effort"

Calvin Coolidge

If you do it enough, it becomes a habit

A long time ago someone made an experiment where they took a monkey and moved one of its fingers up and down 10.000 times. When they stopped, the monkey couldn't help but continue the movement. It kept on moving the finger up and down endlessly. Humans might have the biggest brain on the planet but in some ways, it's not any more clever than that of a monkey. If you pick the air enough times consciously, you'll start to do it unconsciously, until someone suddenly says "What's that you're doing with your hand?!" and you realize at that moment, that you where practicing without being conscious of it.. When that happens, your brain is on automatic pilot and the destination is shred heaven.

Remember, what you practice is not the picking motion, but the accents! The second your brain "looses it's place" with regards to where the accents are, you can't play any faster. If you increase speed without increasing your ability to accent the right notes, your right hand / left hand sync is destroyed and you'll be faking it instead. When it comes to picking, accents should be your focal point. When you've got that hammered in, string shifting is the second challenge.

Church Organ Arpeggio Lick

When ever I kick in my Octaver I get this urge to play classical church organ phrases. What those are excatly, I don't know, but they sound something like this.

2. Practice fingering

This techique is really quite simple and very straight forward. Place your fretting hand on the table in front of you, with the palm facing down. If you're standing up, just let your arm hang down and use your thigh as the table top. Then think of a simple 6 note lick you know and then start to tap the table lightly with your fingertips, as if you where fretting the notes on the fretboard. Don't worry about "shifting strings" keep your hand in the same place, even if the lick covers multiple strings. This will seem very awkward the first couple of times, but hang in there. Remember to use very small movements. You might want to start with just three notes up or down. When that feels comfortable, start adding the picking motion with your right hand! You can sit through a boring two hour meeting and do this all the time. - And come out of the meeting having practiced intensely for two hours. Did I hear someone say "I can't find the time to practice?" I guess that excuse it well on the way to the museum.

It's not a cute idea!

Most people will read this and maybe even try it out a few times, but then they'll dismiss it as a "cute idea". Then there are the select few that make these two strategies habits. They do them several hours a day. They may even have job that allows them to do it eight hours a day! When I see a bus or taxi driver just sitting there, passively listening to the radio, I can't help but think how skilled they could become in a couple of months :) Decide to do this for the ten days. Schedule it at times where you are doing other things. Then make sure that you remember it. If you do it at every possible opportunity during the ten days, you will be like the monkey that can't stop again.

"They who lack talent expect things to happen without effort. They ascribe failure to a lack of inspiration or ability, or to misfortune, rather than to insufficient application. At the core of every true talent there is an awareness of the difficulties inherent in any achievement, and the confidence that by persistence and patience something worthwhile will be realized. Thus talent is a species of vigor"

Eric Hoffer

Guitar playing vs breathing

When you make this kind of practice an ingrained part of your daily routine, the following will happen: You'll send neurological signals to the brain, embedding a very unusual pattern of movement, very deeply in your memory. You can practice these patterns of movement so often and for so much time, that you'll be moving it up right besides things like walking, talking, drinking, eating and all other automated, life supporting patterns in the brain. In other words: You place guitar playing right beneath "breathing" on the brains priority list! Do you think that will give you a smidge of an advantage? I think so...