Engaging Your Mind in Guitar Practice

I have had some real difficulty lately motivating myself to learn new material on guitar. I’ve also had a hard time figuring out how to go about making progress with what I’ve already learned. As a practicing guitar player, it’s important that we have a sense of progressing–but I’m not feeling that lately! It seems like whenever I sit down and practice I’m playing the same old licks, chord progressions, or scales. Maybe you can relate? What’s one to do?

Fortunately, I’ve been able to put into practice something that’s really helped me to have a sense of progress. I’ve talked before about how to practice guitar and get the most out of it, and those are all very good tips, but something I failed to mention was the importance of engaging your mind in your practice times.

What do I mean by this?

Just recently, I was practicing some scales and triads up and down the fretboard. I found it to be really easy to play a scale pattern or a triad pattern without much thought. And this is good in a certain regard because you are committing these scales and triads to muscle memory, but what I’ve been wary of is only committing it to muscle memory and not having a real understanding of what I’m playing. I’m not engaging my mind in my practice.

How do you engage your mind in practice?

When I engage my mind in practice, I am not only thinking about the different scale or triad patterns I’m playing, but I’m thinking more importantly about how these elements relate to one another. How does learning a triad position build off of what I know about scales? How does learning a scale relate to the way I understand and play chords?

Perhaps this type of talk is kind of intimidating. You could very well not even know the definition of a guitar scale or a triad! But we can go even more simply. Just simply recognizing how a “D” major chord sounds so slightly but very different to a “Dsus” chord is engaging your mind.

It’s helpful to see how the elements of playing guitar overlap and interlock as we’re practicing. Learning your scales isn’t very much different to learning chords. Sometimes it is hard to identify these things right away, but it’s important that our minds are engaged and looking for these ways the elements of our guitar playing interconnect.

How do you engage your mind in your practice?

About Brett McQueen

Brett McQueen is a musician, songwriter, and the founder and editor of Guitar Friendly and Ukulele Tricks. Learn more about him here and follow him on Twitter at @GuitarFriendly.