Something that makes learning and applying music theory much easier is making sure that you take a multisensory approach.
By this I mean that you make sure to employ as many of your senses as possible when studying music theory. I’m going to show you how can do this in a practical way.
Now the reason I put such an emphasis on practical exercises in my method is because there is a big difference between being handed information and being shown how to get it into your head and your fingers.
Now obviously by learning with your guitar in your hands you are already using two senses. Your eyes for reading the information and knowing where to put your fingers, and your sense of touch to get those scales and chords into your muscle memory.
The next sense that is critical and funnily enough most often overlooked is your hearing. You might not realise it but many guitar players are so focussed on looking to see whether they are playing the right notes that they don’t spend as much time actually listening to what they are playing. Whether they are fretting the notes cleanly, bending up to the right pitch or strumming in the correct tempo.
I kept listening, kept going to see people, kept sitting in with people, kept listening to records. If I wanted to learn somebody’s stuff, like with Clapton, when I wanted to learn how he was getting some of his sounds – which were real neat – I learned how to make the sounds with my mouth and then copied that with my guitar.
– Stevie Ray Vaughan
There are two ways to open your awareness of how your hearing interacts with your playing. The first is to sing or hum along with everything that you play. I mean everything. Scales, melodies, rhythms. It doesn’t matter if you can sing or not, it’s not intended to be for other people. It’s about connecting what you hear in your mind with what you can play on the guitar.
Have you ever wondered why so many famous guitar players emote and make noises when they play? It’s because they have a strong musical link between their mind and their hands.
Something I often do is sing and play along with TV or Movie tunes. Things that I know off by heart because I’ve heard them a million times. Or something like the Happy Birthday song. I bet you can hear that in your head right now. Can you play it on your guitar? If not just grab your guitar and figure it out one note at a time.
Another thing you should do from time to time is play with your eyes closed or blindfolded. In this case you’ll find out just how much you are relying on sight in stead of your ears. You’ll also become much more aware of your touch on the fretboard and how it affects the sounds you are making.
Countless studies have shown that imagining doing something gives you almost the same kind of brain activity as actually doing that thing in real life.
Many guitar players feel like they are just running up and down scales when they try to solo. This is one of the best ways to break out of that box because you are putting half of your attention on the feel of your fingers on the fretboard and half of your attention on the music. That’s a lot better than one third on what you see, one third on what you feel and only one third on what you can hear.
Now sometimes you may want to practice when you don’t have your guitar at hand. For example when you’re driving to work or sitting on the train. This is when you should practice singing melodies in your head.
Again, just stop and think about how many famous guitar players or musicians said they would practice in their head when they were sitting in a school classroom when they were young. Countless studies have shown that imagining doing something gives you almost the same kind of brain activity as actually doing that thing in real life.
So just try singing the theme tune to your favourite tv show in your head, or imagine a rhythm to go with the noises of the traffic outside, hear the Major scale in your head or even come up with new melodies. These little things add up and train your mind to become more musical.
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