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I'm diagnosed with Asperger's' along with I have fine motor skill deficits, although they have improved with age. (The real life tasks I couldn't learn at all are swimming, bicycling, catching a ball, and hitting a ball correctly with a bat. I have trouble with tying and untying loops and knots, etc.)

It has been about an year I am self learning guitar (I can't go to real teacher due to the corona situation), practicing simple short monophonic melodies, and I am facing trouble specifically with muscle memory part. I feel obliged to keep the guitar flat and horizontal on my lap to directly see the fretboard. My ears are sharp enough to detect if I strike a wrong note but I am facing:

  1. trouble to gauge the positions and physical distance of frets without strongly staring at them.

  2. having tactile/proprioception illusions like when I am thinking I am going to hit the lower string, actually I am hitting a higher string (and vice versa)

  3. having trouble to shift focus from one string to another, being restricted to one string.

  4. memorising finger movement sequence

And a lot of others. Various areas of proprioception, muscle memory and kinaesthetic awareness.

I am proceeding slowly but steadily. Kindly provide some insights and lesson plans to to proceed guitar learning while having fine motor issues.

PS. I am particularly good at finding lost cellotape end just by touch and I'm also good with passing thread through the needle eye. Can these skills be exploited for guitar playing?

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    I admire the positivity in what you're doing. Well done!
    – Tim
    Aug 5 at 17:35
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    FYI I taught myself guitar and inside the first year I was still having the troubles you are having. It sounds like you have some unique challenges and it also sounds like you are not too far behind where anyone else would be in teaching themselves. If you have the money for a teacher then I have found that lessons over zoom have been helpful for me - even as a beginner (on French horn and clarinet). If you use Facebook, one way to find online teachers is to join FB groups for guitarists and post messages asking about online teachers. Aug 5 at 18:06
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    By the way, this question could be improved by narrowing its scope, from "what general advice do you have" to specific problems, perhaps asking individually, like "How can I increase my accuracy in finding different strings" and "How can I best memorize sequences of fingering?" I do have general advice, which I'll keep in these comments. For one thing, you might still consider finding a teacher even while staying at home; my daughter took piano lessons last year from a teacher in another country. Teaching over video chat has many drawbacks, but it can be much better than nothing. ... -> Aug 5 at 18:14
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    ... At the same time, you should be choosy when selecting a teacher; you need someone who is willing to work with your personal abilities and challenges and to tailor their approach. I once had a violin student with severe arthritis, and we had to modify some posture and technique by trial and error, by discovering what "didn't work" for her. Aug 5 at 18:16
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    @Andy "How can I increase my accuracy in finding different strings" I already asked this about an year ago. Its not practical to ask so many separate question, at least let me get some progress. Aug 5 at 18:20
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I also have [very mild] Asperger's. I don't have the motor skills issue [I do, but mine was from carpal tunnel 30 years ago, not Asperger's] I just have the 'social skills' end of the scale, combined with a need to always know where my keys are.
[BTW, I treat it lightly because I got through the first 50 years of my life before anyone thought to actually give it a name - way too late for me to actually worry about it;)

First thing is to not think about what you can't do, but what you can do. Then progress to what you will do. You basically have the same hill to climb as everyone else. Learning to play any musical instrument is hard, especially in the first few years. That's why most people give up. They never feel like they're up to the skillset of people they hear on the radio.
There's good reason for that - they've either been doing it a whole lot longer, or fall into that really rare but annoying category of "people for whom this is easy". That's not a common category, but by the time any player has bubbled far enough towards the top to be noticed by the general public, they're already in the 99.99th percentile.
Any new player is not only 5 or 10 years behind that curve, but also being forced to listen to people who can do it already, just to make them feel worse about it;) That's the point at which you do not give up.

So, practically.
Stop playing it on your lap. All you can ever learn that way is a set of bad habits it will take longer to unlearn than it did to learn.
Get a strap, stand up. Yup, that's harder as a beginner, but it does reduce the tendency to look, mainly because it's harder to see. It also makes your wrist feel like it was never designed to reach over in that way - but every time you see a guitarist on TV… that's just what they're doing. They just had longer to learn & get used to it.

Nobody hits the right string without looking to start with. Even a normally-able player will find it much easier to play simple strumming patterns for the first year or so, rather than making their pick hand find the right string every time. Many people also struggle with not only getting the fingering for each chord, but being able to swap to the next without stopping to look. It's as though the human hand was never really designed to form those shapes. It can do, but it takes a couple of years before it feels like it can. For single note melody lines, you're also wondering why the heck someone designed it so there's two frets between some notes but only one fret between others; then you have to change string & have to concentrate all over again on what your other hand is doing. Then you discover one string doesn't fit the same pattern as all the others so you're one fret out.
It's a nightmare. Who on earth designed it this way? Are they just doing it out of cruelty?
Nope. It actually works best that way - but you're still playing catch-up to the people who figured it out before you.

Think about catching a ball. The set of complex mathematical equations needed to describe that is actually really, really difficult to do. A human just 'guesses'. You don't work out the numbers, you use experience. After a while you can do it, experience forces behavioural patterns into the brain which can "just catch". Ask anyone how they do it & very few people could explain it.

This all comes with practise.

You don't really have to force yourself not to look, you just find that over time you need to look less. If you find some nice simple song with only a few chords, then you can ease yourself out of looking every time by pretending you're performing to an audience - so you have to face front & sing to them.

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    You didnt understand my question. If I dont stare at the fretboard I cannot fathom wher the frets are. Aug 5 at 18:27
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    There's always string, or screw-in strap buttons. You're still working on the what you can't do not what you can. If you continue to believe you can't do it, you never will.
    – Tetsujin
    Aug 5 at 18:27
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    oh yes I wondered what are those two screws are for. Aug 5 at 18:35
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    Sorry my comment "you didn't understood" is wrongly worded. I tried to mean "maybe i failed to explain or may not be". Aug 5 at 18:42
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    @AlwaysConfused It's a bad position for your fretting wrist and will lead to injury over time. Guitar injuries are very common, very painful, and affect every aspect of life, not just guitar. Aug 6 at 7:27
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Aside from general advice which I put in the comments: By finding cellotape ends, it sounds like tactile sense is a strength for you; and many of the sports you report difficulty with (catching/hitting balls) are actually larger motor skills than threading a needle. These are so-called "hand-eye-coordination" activities. If I were teaching you violin, and experimenting along with you on what works for you, I'd actually suggest relying less on sight and more on tactile sense. If you were to try learning with your eyes closed, in some ways it would be much harder, but in some ways it might be easier. As you point out, the goal is so-called "muscle memory"; experienced players don't find strings or frets primarily by sight.

If you were to experiment with learning with your eyes closed, you'd have to simplify your exercises. Instead of entire melodies, maybe start with simple repetitions of notes: Move one finger from the first string (the highest-pitch string, E) to the same fret on the second string (B), then back to E, and back and forth. When that seems familiar, maybe skip from the first string to the third. When that is familiar, maybe first to fourth, and so on. Playing scales would also provide a systematic way to move by only one step at a time and only one string at a time.

Of course such exercises can be boring, so feel free to play other material as well or even improvise, but the best way to learn is in small chunks that build on each other.

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  • not boring at all. I love to experiment with myself! Aug 5 at 18:37
  • I can do the same thing hours after hours after hours such as D-A-D-A-D-A-......... on D string etc. Repeatitive tasks are very soothing Aug 5 at 18:40
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    "experienced players don't find strings or frets primarily by sight".... I am primarily determining finger position by the visual memory... including the memory of yellow colour of the fretboards and the golden coloured ribs.... not primarily by the muscle's feel of how much I had moved my hand and fingers!!! Aug 5 at 19:10
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    Finding the position by sight is much much slower. Back to the ball catch analogy again - though you track the ball by sight, you don't track your hand by sight, you just put it in the way of the ball's path using muscle memory & that flight-path analysis that repetition ingrained in your brain. It's just the same for fretting strings.
    – Tetsujin
    Aug 6 at 15:31
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My strategies are as follows:

Problem-1: Stress on muscle-memory

Solution: Reduce stress on muscle memory by using a backup of visual memory

Instead of not looking at all; I am taking help of visual memory. At first I am sketching the relative positions of the frets (and selected spots to play, by thick, coloured dots). Then closing my eyes I am trying to visually remember the location of coloured dots (instead of trying to remember the amount of hand-shift to reach the frets). After the mental picture gets stronger I am translating it into muscle memory (as if i am seeing the fretboard and playing it).

So you can say instead of a purely kinaesthetic map of the guiter I am making a visual version of the memory, and later translating it into finger movement.

Also whatever melodies I am playing, I am sketching the note sequence as done in piano roll apps, and scribbling marking the beats, ups downs on them.

My goal is to reduce the stress on kinaesthetic memory, so cramming rote-memorising a visual photo-copy of the fretboard helps me as a kind of "guard-rail".

Problem-2. Need yo improve muscle memory

Solution: Plan muscle memory exercise

here are some exercise on recognising strings Similarly simple exercises could be developed for fathoming

  • The position of a spot on a particular string,

  • Distance of 2 spots on 1 particular string,

    • Playing 1 note at a time: Distance lower note to higher note
    • Playing 1 note at a time: Distance higher note to lower note
    • Pressing simultaneous
  • Distance of 2 spots on 2 different string

    • On same fret,
    • On different fret
      • Upper string higher fret, lower string lower fret. (Back and forth, simultaneous)
      • Upper string lower fret, lower string higher fret. (back and forth, simultaneous)
  • Creating a 2-finger shape (as in previous 2 string exercise), then trying to maintain the shape and "stamp" the shape in different part of the guitar with precision and reproducibility.

  • "Flipping" the shape horizontaly and vertically

  • Practice handwritting and drawing using the fret hand (which is usually the non dominant hand) and trust me it helps incredibly.

  • Play with fret hand such as opening and closing the fingers, twisting the fingers, playing with rubber band, trying to flip coin.

Problem-3: Left/ right and Up/ down confusions

  • Slowly practice with specific examples of shapes or finger patterns (multiple finger) such as I, --- , \, /, <, >, V, ^, N, и, z, s etc.

  • Move along the shape (back and forth) 1 finger

  • Try to visualise the pattern from different perspective such as how it would look like from top of the fret and from bottom of the fret

  • Try to flip and rotate the shape.

Problem-4: The "milky joey" problem.

Milky Joey

I don't really know if there is a technical name for the problem but it is related to executive function and interference.

Suppose every time you try to play D D# D# D, you are playing D D# D# D# or D D# E E. You perfectly recognised the note place yet yet the finger actions totally messed up.

  • Slow it down

  • Use visible chart on paper (Roll piano style)

  • Work on simple melody, Count the beats, remember the pitch up-down. try to move finger accordingly.

  • After gaining some proficiency, use a metronome app to (30bpm, 60bpm) to force a time limit to recall finger actions.

  • After gaining some proficiency, involve 2 finger on fret hand for multi tasking such as one finger in vertical movemen another finger performs a horizontal movement, etc.

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    That's fascinating! I can't say that I'd recommend it for everyone, but I'm glad it works for you. Aug 5 at 20:05
  • No need to recommend for everybody. Every people's cognition processes are incredibly different. Its much more different than we generally presume. Its a kind of diversity and its good for us. Aug 5 at 20:34
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    Most guitars have dots to mark fret locations (every other fret) on the edge that is easily visible. My daughter's violin teacher used colored tape to help her place her fingers, marking them in a similar manner that is easily visible. If your guitar does not have dots on the fretboard edge facing you, add some. I know a very good "shredder" who marked frets with glow-in-the-dark paint because she couldn't see the marks when playing clubs
    – Yorik
    Aug 5 at 21:33
  • LOL I use permanent marker for label the notes. Have built in black dots on fret and I also copied them on the upper edge of the fretboard. I appreciate your teacher using coloured tapes. Aug 6 at 3:56
  • Your first solution is a known technique often called "visualizing." We practiced this in guitar class in my high school. Experienced players will be able to sight-read new pieces and imagine both the sound of the notes and where on the fingerboard the fingers will be placed. Aug 7 at 4:32

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