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Most of us lead very busy lives with commitments like school, work, and family functions taking up a lot of our time. That does not mean we have to stop thinking about music or stop practicing while we are away for home. There are ways to practice without the guitar in your hands that will help you become a better musician. I would like to give you some ideas on how you can practice quietly, not disturb the people around you, and allow you to expand the amount of time you are able devote to music every day.
Draw It Out
The guitar is a very visual instrument and most of what we play is based around shapes. Keep a notebook with you so when you get a break in your day you can draw out the shapes you are working on. Just draw a section of the guitar neck and mark in chord shapes, scale diagrams, arpeggios, whatever it is that you are currently working on. Make sure you take the time to mark in the correct fingerings too. Being able to draw the shape away from your instrument really helps you visualize and then internalize this information which will help you commit it to your long term memory.
Every chord/arpeggio or scale has a correct spelling or group of notes that give it the correct sound. Knowing what these notes are will help you in everything you do. When I was memorizing this information I made two sets of flash cards. One set for scales with the name of the scale on one side and the correct number of sharps and flats on the other. The other set had chord names and formulas (ex 1 3 5 = major) on one side with the chord tones (or correct spelling) on the other side. I would pick two or three cards and carry them with me each day so when I had a minute or two to myself I could review them. It really did not take that long to memorize this information using this method. Once you have the spelling of your chords and scales down you should go back to your diagrams you drew out and label all the notes. For your chords and arpeggios you should also mark in the notes quality (is it a root, third, fifth, etc.)
There are a lot of things you can do to train your ears while just listening to music. Guess the time signature or rhythms being used in a song. Pick one instrument and focus on what you feel it adds to or distracts from the song. Would you have played the same part or changed something? For people who have done some ear training already you can pick out the flow of the chords. Is the song built on a I IV V or is there a ii chord or vi chord in the progression. Try and guess what scale/ mode the song is built around and then check your answers when you get home and can pick up your guitar. The possibilities are endless. Any piece of music you listen to can become an opportunity to train or test your ears.
The ideas presented here will help you maximize the amount of time you are able to focus on music and practice throughout your day. If you are able to add just one half hour to your practice time five days a week (every week) you will gain 130 extra hours of practice in a year. Get started today, find the breaks in your day, and fill them with your new found practice time.