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In a perfect world, you would always be able to have your guitar on hand, no matter what. This would ensure that you’d be able to study and practice the instrument whenever you have the time.
Unfortunately, this life is full of little quirks and it is not always convenient to have a guitar on hand. Can you still learn how to play guitar without having a guitar to play? Can online guitar lessons help?
Can I Learn Guitar Without Having A Guitar?
It goes without saying that having the guitar in your hands will be the most beneficial to learning the guitar. Like any skill that requires the hands to be used, the guitar requires the hands to congruently work together.
Being able to play the guitar at a high level requires practice hours on the instrument itself. Not only will your hand synchronization be developed, but you’ll master the subtle minutia of the instrument. Your muscle memory will also be developed, which is a critical aspect of being able to do anything efficiently.
However, should you find yourself without a guitar, there are some things you can do. In fact, high-level playing utilizes a number of different skills that can be developed away from the instrument. Developing this knowledge base and applying it to the guitar will light the fuse to explosive progress.
So, what are the things you can do to develop your guitar skills? Let’s take a closer look at each of these aspects and how they can help your playing.
Learn Music Theory
Music theory is the study of the fundamental building blocks of music itself. Many guitarists often overlook this because the subject is shrouded in mystique. Even learning the very basics of music theory will help your guitar playing.
In this day and age, there is an ever-increasing amount of resources you can use to learn music theory. Many of these resources are free and only require you to take the time to learn.
Perhaps one of the best resources for this is Guitar Tricks. This guitar lesson website has a whole trove of music theory-based lessons. In fact, it’s almost ideal to learn this way as you’ll understand how it directly applies to the guitar.
Learning anything is good, but being able to apply learned knowledge is especially great. Guitar Tricks will teach you how to do this and it will be a rather painless process.
Once you start learning different things, you can effectively practice music theory away from the guitar. The trick to this is to actively think about it and test yourself on different topics. Little mental exercises go a long way to turning an ambiguous topic into concrete knowledge.
One of the biggest hurdles for new guitarists is the memorization of the note names on the fretboard. The guitar is an intimidating instrument. Just looking at the guitar can instill fear when you know you have a gargantuan task to accomplish.
The fact that the guitar has (at least) 6 different strings, 5 of which are tuned differently presents a challenge. How does one effectively memorize this in the most efficient way possible?
One of the easiest ways to learn this is, again, through a resource like Guitar Tricks. This will show you the quickest way to understand the fretboard. You’ll learn the names of the notes as well as the geometry of the fretboard to make identification easier.
When you start to play with others, you don’t want to be in the position of not knowing your notes. You will feel like an inadequate musician when others have to accommodate your shortcoming.
What’s even worse is that actively avoiding it (despite knowing its benefit) is a form of ignorance. Don’t be that person.
You can practice fretboard memorization mentally with a little dedicated focus. Try focusing on one string at a time before moving on to other fretboard-related things.
There are a few hacks that can help you in your memorization journey. Something like Guitar Tricks will show you these small shortcuts so you can recognize the notes faster and easier.
This memorization technique can be applied to memorizing scale positions and chords as well. Before you know it, you’ll have quite a bit memorized. The key is to stay focused and remain patient.
While playing the guitar requires mental focus and fine motor skills, the ear is one of the most important ingredients. Having a developed ear is going to take you very far as a musician.
After all, you are creating sound. If you don’t have a developed ear, how will you know if what you’re playing sounds good?
Of course, ear training goes far beyond this. A developed ear will allow you to:
- Easily play with others
- Improvise easily
- Recall intervallic note relationships
- Learn music faster and more accurately
- Translate the music from your head to the guitar
Some people are born with perfect pitch and can tell what note a specific tone is just by hearing it. Don’t stress if you aren’t blessed with this, because a highly developed ear can be built with practice.
How does one practice ear training? By far the easiest and most effective way is by doing ear training exercises. There is a wide range of different exercises available, including:
- Interval identification
- Chord progression identification
- Scale identification
- Pitch training
- Scale degree identification
- Intervals in the context of music
- Dictation of melodic phrases
Spending time on these exercises on a consistent basis will develop your ear into a critical and useful tool. Many of these exercises are customizable, allowing you to alter the difficulty as you get better.
Your time is going to be well spent with these exercises and you will thank yourself later. A good ear is a crucial asset required to becoming a master musician on any instrument.
Listening To Music
Hinging along with practicing ear training exercises is to actively listen to music. The key distinction here is the word “active” as this is something you must do with focus.
This is far different from listening to music while doing something else, which is effectively called passive listening. To actively listen, you should set aside some time to dedicate to listening to a piece of music with intention.
What Should You Be Listening For?
During your active listening session, you’ll want to focus on a few different things. Each of these things relates to the overall relationship to the music piece as a whole.
If you’re listening to a band, you’ll want to actively listen to understand how each instrument works together. Similarly, if it’s a solo performance piece, you can listen for things like dynamics, expression techniques, and intervallic phrases.
All of these aspects overlap into any musical performance, so do not discount any of these.
To get started in your active listening journey, it’s best to start with a short piece of music. The reason for this is that you’ll be listening to this piece multiple times. Each listening session will be focused on a different aspect.
Let’s say that you want to actively listen to a band. The first thing you’ll want to do is focus on one instrument at a time. Listen to what that instrument is doing and how it affects the larger picture.
On your next listen, focus on a completely different instrument and study the same thing. You’ll start to pick up on subtle nuances that you might not have been previously aware of.
Eventually, you want to have listened to every instrument in an actively focused listening session. Really take the time to study and analyze how each instrument is working together.
Doing this will give you great ideas that you can apply in your own musical contexts. You’ll also have some insight on how you can be a better guitarist in an ensemble setting.
A band of musicians must work together to create good music. However, good music is not often created unless each instrument works in a complementary fashion.
Can You Apply Other Areas Of Study To Active Listening?
After you’ve spent a great deal of time actively listening to music, you can take this a step further. Once you’ve understood the instrumental relationship, you can effectively apply other areas of study to your listening.
If you’ve spent the time learning music theory and practicing ear training exercises, these can be utilized while listening. This will allow you to analyze a piece of music from a theory perspective to understand the underlying composition.
Some of the things you can listen for include:
- The chord progression of the song
- Scales being used in the performance
- Intervallic phrases within the context of an instrument
- Intervallic phrases within the context of a conversation between instruments
- Determining whether any modes are used in the composition
You’ll also pick up techniques and understand which intervallic relationships have a high degree of effectiveness in certain contexts. Understanding this stuff will give you an immense knowledge base to apply to your own playing.
This will really benefit you if you are the creative type that likes to write music. You will find that your own music will become more mature sounding. You will become more adept at improvisation as well.
Using Apps To Learn Guitar Without A Guitar
One of the biggest benefits of the internet age and having powerful mobile devices is the number of applications available. As you might have guessed, there are applications you can use to practice aspects of the guitar without a guitar.
Perhaps the best resource for guitar-related apps has to be through Guitar Tricks. By having a membership to this guitar lesson resource, you’ll have access to a number of different apps.
Their fretboard trainer is going to be a great tool to help you memorize and recall notes on the fretboard. When using the app, a note will appear on the fretboard, and you’ll need to correctly guess its identification.
Believe it or not, this simple application is quite frustrating at first when you realize you don’t know your stuff. After some time, you’ll be able to quickly recall and correctly denote each projected note.
You’ll be able to keep track of your average speed during each session. The app will also show you your strongest areas and your weakest areas. This can help you isolate where you need the most work in fretboard memorization.
Once you start building skills, you can increase the difficulty of the app. You can change the settings to include a larger part of the fretboard, as well as the inclusion of accidentals.
If you’re having any issues, fear not. Guitar Tricks has a convenient fretboard diagram that you’ll have access to by having a membership. This will show you every note on every string, up and down the neck.
There’s some extra goodies in the Toolbox section you can use in your on-hands guitar practice as well. These include:
- A metronome
- Jam Station library of backing tracks
- Scale finder
- Chord finder
One of the best ways you can test your knowledge away from the guitar is by using flashcards. Yes, that’s right. This method for young school children actually works quite well for guitar-related material, no matter your age.
In fact, this is a method I have used time and again myself relating to different guitar subjects. You can use these nearly anywhere. They can come in handy if you work a monotonous job that allows some free time and a free mind.
You can certainly purchase flashcards for this purpose. There are quite a few different varieties available covering the things you wish to memorize.
However, it's far easier (and cheaper) to make your own flashcards. These can be made with a pack of standard 3 x 5-inch index cards. Simply write the problem on the front and the answer on the back.
The information you wish to memorize might actually be more concrete if you make the cards yourself. Just as taking notes in a class allows you to easily retain the information given, this process is similar.
Creating the flashcards allows you to process the information internally in order to create the card. When you use the flashcard, this will prompt you to recall the information easier.
The real beauty of flashcards is that you can use them for nearly anything. Some of the things I’ve personally used flashcards for include:
- Note memorization
- Chord shape and name memorization
- Scale position identification
- Key signature memorization
You’d be surprised at what just 10 minutes a day with flashcards can help you retain. If you need things memorized, definitely give this method a try.
Similar to flashcards, another method you can use to practice the guitar away from the guitar is to test yourself. This gives your brain an exercise that directly relates to the material you wish to study.
What you’ll want to do is have a piece of paper and present yourself with a problem question. For instance, let’s say you want to test your knowledge on open chords. Pose the question (How do you finger a G?) and answer it below the question.
The best way to answer the aforementioned question will be to draw a mini fretboard diagram. Then, simply put dots on the frets and strings that are required to play the chord. This should look similar to how mini chord diagrams look in any book or piece of sheet music.
You can test yourself on nearly anything that can be answered in a written form. Trying to memorize your chord scale in a specific key? Draw the musical staff and write it in standard notation, or create chord diagrams for all of the chords.
This process might induce a little stress because nobody really likes to be tested. However, with this method, you’re essentially acting as both the teacher and the student.
When you have the time, be sure to check your answers with a trusted resource. That way, you’ll know how correct you were. This will give you an indication of the potential areas you need to work on.
How To Learn Guitar Without A Guitar, Final Thoughts
While the guitar certainly requires hands-on experience, there are skills needed that can be developed away from the instrument. Much of this does require a bit of discipline and mental effort. But, the payoff will help you become a better guitarist.
Don’t let the lack of a guitar keep you from your studies! There are always things to be worked on for the perpetual student. Continual learning is a key ingredient in mastery.
Last Updated on February 23, 2022.
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