December 12, 2023

ZEN guitar Practice

After the nuclear war there will only be cockroaches and Keith Richards!! So let`s get practicing…with  some general tips that you oughta bear in mind when you want to get all Zen on your fretboard.

1. Cultivate a desire to try and achieve excellence. But do so on your own terms!
When your lazy friends are down at the bar setting the world to rights you could stay at home beginning a journey to set either your own world on fire, or, even set the real world on fire. Progression naturally requires a level of dedication but don’t kill yourself – find the pace that suits you . It is NOT a race, just a journey. Excellence does not necessarily equate with conventional ideas of virtuosity – you may want to cultivate your skills as songwriter like Noel Gallagher or George Harrison for example. If you aren’t sure in which direction you`d like to go just watch the river flow – it`s no big deal.

2. Set yourself goals  – both  sensible  & unattainable.

Set yourself some goals and schedule your practice and try to STICK to IT.
Perhaps consider two goals:

An aspirational one such as becoming as good as Jeff Beck (insert your favourite guitar maestro here) but also,

A realistic, realtime short term goal:
for example “In six months I will be able to play Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry”.
Remember though it’s the journey not the destination that counts, a guitar is for life not just for Christmas if you want to go anywhere with it.

Don`t use your aspirational goal to beat yourself about though. Expecting to be able to play like (insert your favourite guitar maestro here) is akin to expecting to replicate the Cistine Chapel Ceiling on the interior of a ping pong ball – it’s a long hard difficult road walked only by those with a unique, god-given gift…you CAN begin to unlock that gift in even the smallest ways.

3. Find an environment that really works for you.

It may be outside beneath your favourite weeping willow or it may be in  a quiet corner of your barn – make it as comfortable and as appealing as possible with few, or no distractions or interruptions.
If you can and you are serious about progression try to practice alone in a silent area. Also get the right chair, I`ll sometimes find myself thirty minutes into a jam session only to realise  I`m curled up like a pretzel with a `dead` leg that feels like someone else’s! …no good man!

4. Make it easy…

…as the playing will initially be hard enough make it easy by using the tools that help. Buy the best guitar you can, buy a decent tuner and invest in learning materials that suit where you want to take your playing. Read this blog for more advice on the learning tools available. There is a veritable cornucopia of new digital practice tools such as the Ovation iDea guitar,  the Fretlight guitars, Loopstation pedal or Fender G-Dec amplifier.

5. Develop Routines and excercises

Start off with an easy rewarding warm up work before moving onto your structured learning path (or course) – this may be a couple of songs you really enjoy, so write them down,  and maybe singalong if it helps you relax. When you fist begin to play you may find a great deal of tension in your wrists, fingers and arms; try to learn to relax – it may take some time to lose that whole “stiff as a board”, heavy feeling but it will ultimately pass.

Remember to breathe properly and don’t fight the guitar – relax INTO it; if that makes sense.

If you are finding the wealth of learning materials at your disposal somewhat confusing, if you’re finding it hard to join all the dots don’t fret – take a step back and relax. Everything is interrelated and will ultimately become clear. There is no one method, way or route. Frustration will be gnawing away at your toes like a hungry dog – use it as fuel to try and figure things out.

If you are struggling to figure out musical theory then have a look at playing a piano because the piano keyboard is in a sense one single long guitar string and may help you clarify some of the more confusing parts of musical theory.

Another idea is to write, or using stickers the actual corresponding notes along the top of your guitar neck; and maybe on the fretboard itself using marker pen. Only do this if you are happy with bastardising your guitar…

6. Join a band – the fastest way to learn is from other more competent players. Use your ears and your eyes, ask questions, never be intimidated. EVERYONE was once a beginner and it’s a healthy tenet to try to always consider yourself a beginner, no matter how good you may be because there is no end to the guitar – it’s an infinite lifestyle decision.

7. It`s never too late to start and whatever happens don’t give up. If David Geffen isn’t ringing you up don`t worry. The journey is usually far more interesting than the destination anyway.

8. Make mistakes and every now and then try stuff well outside your usual playing boundaries. Experiment as much as possible and try unusual positions. Try sliding chords around or even moving them across the strings. Be unusual, be unique, be yourself, break the rules, do what you want.

9. If your fingers, hands and wrists are hurting then stop awhile and rest.]

10. Enjoy using effects and guitar toys but don’t fall into the trap of letting them do all the playing for you – one day you`ll  want to be at the stage where you compliment the effects and not vice versa.

11. Reward yourself afterwards with something you enjoy like “icecream”.

12. Try and listen to the right records for a start but don’t limit yourself to the world of guitar. Choose your poison for example  saxophonists Sonny Rollins, Roland Kirk and Miles Davis play some fantastic lead lines.

13. Adopt a meditational approach to your playing.

The nature of sound is infinitely associated with consciousness and there are interesting listening exercises you can perform.

Acoustically, a note perceived to have a single distinct pitch in fact contains a variety of additional overtones.

If you listen very carefully to just one note and work hard to train your ear you will begin to hear more than just the fundamental – try spending some time just playing single notes – what you hear most clearly is the fundamental (sometimes called the first harmonic) but it is accompanied by several frequencies known as partials, by several harmonics, overtones and undertones – try and hear them. You’ll need to concentrate though.  Some people like to think synaesthetically whilst playing and try to see different notes or chords  as different colours.

If you would actually like to experiment with sound colour have a look at

1. Metasynth – mindblowingingly powerful sound painting tool

2. Audio paint – FREE

Have a look at the book “Zen Guitar” by Philip Toshio Sudo – it’s about motivation and fulfillment, not technique.

14. Most importantly – make sure it’s fun.

I hope that this helps you to create an environment where you can engage with your guitar in a more philosophical sense and in a way that will inform and aid your learning – after all when you stretch that string you’re stretching your life!


Jake Edwards

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