When I play live with my rock band, I have to look at the guitar neck constantly, which is really bad to my stage presence. Whenever I stop looking, little mistakes start to show up. I really enjoy the music I'm playing, but the need to stand there staring at the neck really is a problem for me to move around and feel comfortable.

What can I do about this?

  • 6
    The simple answer is: practice playing without looking at the fretboard. It might seem hard at first, but it is just the sort of thing many other instrumentalists have to do when sight-reading. Practice, practice, practice ...
    – Old John
    Mar 22, 2015 at 2:57
  • 1
    Practice playing while looking yourself in the eye in a mirror. Then practice playing while recording video of yourself on your cell phone, while looking straight at the lens. Play back the video and confirm that you don't look away from the lens. When you get on stage, find a place in the audience where you can look and try to keep eye contact with people (if the stage lighting permits this).
    – user1044
    Mar 22, 2015 at 4:04
  • 2
    I'll add: try practicing in the dark, so you can't easily see the fretboard. For example, typing on the computer late at night in the dark helped my touch-type skills. Mar 22, 2015 at 4:09
  • What does your performance routine includes and how does your neck-looking habit affect it? You could always develop a stage persona that doesn't bother looking his instrument.
    – Chris
    Mar 22, 2015 at 14:01
  • Have a read of this question for a perspective on why it really doesn't ruin stage presence! music.stackexchange.com/q/1446/104
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Mar 23, 2015 at 8:20

3 Answers 3


I understand where you are coming from. I used to have the same problem. To overcome this takes a concerted effort and dedicated practice.

You must develop muscle memory so that you can put your brain and fretting hand on auto pilot. To internalize the movements needed to play a song, take one part at a time. Play it over and over while looking at the fret board and be sure you are able to play it comfortably and smoothly with no mistakes.

Then try playing it with your eyes closed or in a dark room. At first you will miss some notes or barre chord positions. Keep practicing over and over - one section at a time until you can play the song in the dark.

It was a big help for me to learn to play without looking at the fret board. Not only can I make eye contact with my audience, but I don't have to worry about if dim stage lighting will not let me see the fret markers.

I recommend playing a section over and over while looking - and then try to play it with your eyes closed or just looking at something other than your guitar neck. Then if you mess up you can open your eyes and see what you are doing wrong and make the needed adjustment.

Once you are able to play the whole song with your eyes closed, try it in a dark room so you don't even have the option to open your eyes. Once you are able to play the song in pitch black darkness, you have it - and will never need to look at the fret board again for that song.

EDIT: Your brain will lock in to the positions on the fret board instinctively with enough practice. To prove this, close your eyes and touch the tip of your nose. Try your ear lobe. These are things your brain locked into when you were a baby. Or another example - most folks can find the snooze button on their alarm clock while half asleep without turning on the light or even opening their eyes.

I find that I unconsciously touch base with where the headstock joins the neck as a frame of reference from time to time to get my bearings (similar to placing your first fingers on the home keys on your keyboard before touch typing). You can feel that spot on the neck because there is an change in the angle and also can feel the nut with your first finger.

One final tip. Some folks will put stick-on round labels (dots) on certain reference points on the back of the neck so they can feel them as they slide their hand up and down the neck. The larger ones stick better. Don't do this on a vintage guitar - but if you play your work horse guitar on stage - give it a shot.

  • 3
    Good advice here. I'll add one thing that my guitar teacher taught me: ideally, your fingers should be essentially right up against the backs of the frets -- you'll feel them. Of course, not every finger will be in that position every time, but at least one finger should be there. That gives you a tactile anchor you can use to place the rest of your fingers. You'll know you're getting it when your hand position just feels right. You'll know your hand is in the right spot by feel. Mar 22, 2015 at 8:37
  • 1
    Pretty much what @rockinCowboy has said here. Practice practice practice. You'll be thankful when playing gigs with bad lighting (pretty much every gig).
    – Lyrical.me
    Feb 21, 2016 at 13:50

One possible approach - which is what I would do but not necessarily the best - is the following.

Do as you would do when you have to read the music (and thus can't watch the fretboard as @OldJohn points out):

  1. Get sheet music, or transcribe the piece yourself.
  2. Fire up a metronome at a comfortable speed and look at the music, not at the fretboard.
  3. Progressively raise the metronome speed.
  4. Remove the music
  5. Profit!
  • My variation of this is to practice while watching TV. You'll miss the show if you have to look at the fretboard. Sep 7, 2017 at 18:29

Another idea, if you don't want to read tab or sheet music, is to focus on your right hand and strumming/picking hand and don't look up the neck.

It takes practice and time for your fingers to naturally find their positions on the neck. There's no real shortcuts except consistency in your practice (eg. always playing the chord with the same hand positioning), and more practice.

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