Expressing yourself through the guitar using the Visualization Technique
Varga Girl, October 1942
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by Ilan Ashkenazi
When I first picked up the guitar, my social life (not that I had much of one to begin with at that age) kind of diminished....to say the least. To begin with I am a very obsessive person. Add to that passion and, well let's just say that practicing 3 days straight (72 hours) NO SLEEP was not entirely unusual for me during those early learning times. My parents thought I was crazy, and well looking back, it was kind of insane.
During the times that I did take breaks; usually after total exhaustion, I can remember lying in bed, basically drained, and instead of having those nice peaceful thoughts to help me drift off to sleep, I was bombarded with mental repetitions of my practice routines...talk about taking a break!! The best way I can relate to those times was being "wired and tired" whereas my mind sometimes just would not give it up, especially if I did not feel entirely satisfied with my previous practice session.
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In any case, I did have at times what I always referred to as my "special episodes" of fantasizing myself playing perfectly what might have been either a piece of music, or a certain technique that I was having a hard time with. I would just imagine myself playing it as if I had it down cold, without any errors. I would be as vivid as I could, picturing the exact technique, the sounds, the way the strings felt in my finger(s), each individual finger and hand movement, each note....played with confidence and mastery...error free and perfect. Well I noticed something amazing after a while...that "piece" or "technique" became a lot easier the next morning. It took me a little while to see the connection but when it became clear, I was ecstatic. Imagine...now I can practice technique without a guitar in my hand!!! ..and what a way to get over those mental blocks.
Well I cut my practice routine a bit after that and set out to find out more about my new "discovery". Turns out that this "visualization technique" has been around for years, hell basket ball players are doing it to improve their foul shots. World records where broken by it,...they even used similar techniques to keep full grown elephants convinced that a little piece of string is strong enough to keep them tied to a pole. Since they where attached to that same little string from the time they where born, weaker then, after countless attempts to break free with no success, they finally gave up and as they grew larger and stronger, their minds became convinced (even though they could plow through huge trees!!) that that same piece of thread was stronger then they...(poor elephants). How does this relate? Where did we get from practicing guitar to elephants??
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Apparently (to a certain extent) the brain does not know the difference between mental and physical practice. It puts them both in the same folder. Yes I like to think of the brain as a filing system...memory is like that. Kind of rearing off here, I always liked this metaphor: think of memory like a closet...you throw in a baseball in your newly cleaned out closet one day. Over the months, more things are thrown in, and you can barely see it, just under that old pair of skiis, after a few years it is covered with so much garbage that it is not visible..you can't see it anymore, but it is still there!! Just miss filed. Like any filing system, it is never always in order and sometimes problems occur, which is where some of these "blocks" come from. They are your own creations, and here is the way to tricking your brain against them. If there was ever a better way to break through those mental barriers, or plateaus, or whatever you want to call them, this is the one.
Try it out, add it to your schedule...even just 20 minuets to your practice a day..in a quite room, without distractions and with total concentration and attention to visualizing yourself practicing or playing that (impossible) lick or whatever,....perfectly. You might even find it hard to imagine! You might even have unwillingly convinced yourself that it IS "impossible" or "too difficult" when in reality it is just another block. Make the session as vivid as possible and practice with as much, if not more concentration, as if you where really holding that guitar in your hands. Remember this is just something to add to your practice routine...not replace it. I don't believe that you will have a beginner playing "flight of the bumblebee" presto speed after just using visualization techniques primarily), but it should definitely be added to your list of practice methods.
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There are also plenty of other techniques quite similar, which are also very useful as well. Later on as I grew up, I applied all these nice little techniques like Mnemonics (memory by association etc...) to help study theory and other areas. Through my personal experience, I feel that there is so much to be gained from using these techniques that it is truly a waste to overlook them. Keep an open mind.
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by Ilan Ashkenazi
"If you want to play something that you hear, you need to listen with your mind's eye. You've heard of the mind's eye, right? Your mind has an ear too. It's a kind of listening, but it's not using your ears to listen. It's listening with your inner ear, and that's what you want to translate onto the guitar.
- Steve Vai
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