Thursday, May 5, 2016

Multi Task Practicing

Here is a guitar practicing tip I found quite useful in releasing tension: play a very simple lick along to the metronome at a very slow speed, something like quarter or 8th notes at 60 bpm. Now, while playing try shift your focus towards something completely different. One example would be to watch a TV show and basically describe out loud everything you see happening. Yes, you will look like an idiot so you might want to make sure you don't have any company. Or even better: start a conversation with your company while playing.

For me, I found out that I was unable to do both simultaneously. Either the notes get messed up or my speech becomes irregular. After a few such practice session this became much easier. And with that, the playing itself becomes much easier and tension is relieved. To me, this set a new bar of how comfortable I should be able to play a riff or lick before increasing the tempo or moving on to a more difficult passage. It's a very honest indicator of how relaxed your are when playing.

An added advantage of practicing technique is that it is much easier to sustain longer practice sessions because you're not getting mentally tired of constantly analyzing what you're doing. By moving the activity to the background practicing at a slow tempo won't become boring and prevents you from jumping into hyperdrive. Let your unconsciousness work out the problems of relaxing instead of 'trying to relax', which in itself is kind of a contradiction. As is the case with pretty much everything, a balance is involved and so you might not want to practice like this all the time. There are times where you also want to pay attention to your playing mechanics like eliminating excess motion, playing in time, playing in tune, posture, etc.

Regardless of this being a legitimate practicing technique, I can guarantee you one thing: great guitar players are able to do this. Take the next video for example where Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal refers to this as mental multitasking. Great musician and absolutely great guy.

Another example is the following Guthrie Govan video. While it's short, it demonstrates the ability to speak while playing perfectly. Of course, what can't Guthrie do, the guy is amazing. I'm pretty sure he could solve mathematical equations while playing. 

Now, I'm sure I could find similar videos of guys like Paul Gilbert and Shawn Lane doing this mental multitasking but I think these videos prove my point. Probably there is a whole bunch of psychological or biological reasons for why this works. I won't go into that because I've no clue about that. For me, it is just a practicing technique that has helped me become a much more comfortable player, and hopefully it will help you too. Keep practicing, keep playing! Cheers.

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