There are some cool gadgets and software to focus on learning the guitar during times when a guitar is not accessible. We can leverage this guitar “downtime” easily and this post is about what I do (good or bad). First I immersed myself with the fretboard itself, I have fretboard notes and scales as my desktop wallpapers and printed some posters which are posted in several areas of my home. But staring blankly at a bunch of notes or charts out of context won’t cut it. Feel free to share your “downtime” methods… Keep in mind we all have different learning styles and I am not going to pretend I know how to teach or even play guitar all that well.

Smartphones

I really enjoy an iOS app called FretWiz. It’s pretty intuitive and keeps me trying again and again to bring up the score (speed counts). It starts at the 5th fret asking for notes (multiple choice), then as you progress it will ask you to identify notes on the fretboard itself. I use this while on the bus, lunch breaks at work, etc… It’s a great learning tool and keeps your mind sharp. I tried other apps and they didn’t seem to keep me engaged like this one does.

Repeat after me

Besides using your smart phone, you could rinse and repeat the notes for the E, A & D strings for the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 10th frets. Why? Because they’re easy to remember: 3 = GCF, 5 = ADG, 7 = BEA, 10 = DGC. Knowing the sharps/flats are just a step away (fret) it will start to fill in pretty quickly. I used this to memorize the “chromatic circle” or: C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B (note, I left out the flats).

Doodling habits

If you’re like me and doodle in meetings, start doodling the fretboard (I like to draw the patterns for pentatonics and such too, burning these shapes in my head).  Of course, make sure to verify your doodles once in a while so you’re not burning in a wrong image – that would suck. I seem to be pretty good at doodling pentatonic scales and do it without really thinking about it, this translates well on the guitar while I’m still learning how to play lead. By the way, doodling does help you remember what goes on in meetings:

Why does doodling aid memory? Andrade offers several theories, but the most persuasive is that when you doodle, you don’t daydream. Daydreaming may seem absentminded and pointless, but it actually demands a lot of the brain’s processing power. You start daydreaming about a vacation, which leads you to think about potential destinations, how you would pay for the trip, whether you could get the flight upgraded, how you might score a bigger hotel room. These cognitions require what psychologists call “executive functioning” — for example, planning for the future and comparing costs and benefits.

Doodling, in contrast, requires very few executive resources but just enough cognitive effort to keep you from daydreaming, which — if unchecked — will jump-start activity in cortical networks that will keep you from remembering what’s going on. Doodling forces your brain to expend just enough energy to stop it from daydreaming but not so much that you don’t pay attention.”

Source: http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1882127,00.html

Auditory methods

Another, maybe a little weird, thing I like to do is listen to some sort of ear training Mp3s I made which are essentially me playing a note on the guitar and saying what the note is, some scale runs, arpeggios, etc… If I’m stuck in traffic, you may overhear me singing along to some very awkward “music” haha! I’m guessing this is a make-shift “Pimsleur method” but for learning the language of guitar.

Especially useful if you’re an auditory learner (if you learn best by listening to information). While listening to actual music from your favorite musicians. Try and grasp certain nuances of their playing, try to visualize where they are on the fretboard, what key they’re playing in, etc… I don’t recommend focusing heavily on these sorts of things whilst driving though, paying attention to the road will allow you to live another day so you can actually practice.

While working out

At the gym, you can add some grip strengthening routines to your mix (if not already being done) reinforcing your hands/wrists will allow you to practice for longer periods safely and without pain. Bonus points if you listen to Mp3s designed to help you learn to play guitar.

Reading up on theory

Lastly you can purchase some music theory books and start reading at your leisure, if your commute permits it – it would be great benefit to mix in some of that theory reading along the way. Make sure to take notes for further research if something seems too crazy or confusing. To be honest, I haven’t started this yet, although I’m doing some light reading (not really music theory) like Fretboard Logic and such.

Conclusion

In conclusion there are tons of options available to practice the guitar without the instrument. Lots of smartphone apps available, old school memorization techniques (on paper), additional routines at the gym, reading theory, etc… Hopefully thinking about these “downtime” practices can help you further your performance. I know it has been helping me (although, it feels like it doesn’t show at all during my actual playing).