My guitar instructor insists that, as part of my training, I set a fixed minimum amount of time each day for practice and make sure that I practice at least that much, with a fixed upper limit of 4x45 minute practice sessions.

Would you at all track mental practice, and, if so, would you include it as part of a general measure of how much you've been practicing each day, or separately from sessions with your instrument?

  • 4
    What is "mental practice"? Commented Apr 30, 2011 at 17:38
  • I practice mentally in the following sense: I'll be at, say, the grocery store and I'll hear the Muzac over the PA system. While picking out cabbages, I'll analyze the harmony by Roman numeral and then analyze the melody in relation to the harmony. It's a form of ear training. Commented Apr 30, 2011 at 18:20
  • Do you count reading sheet music (a thing you can do without instrument) as "mental practice"?
    – ogerard
    Commented Apr 30, 2011 at 19:20
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    Rein, I wholeheartedly disagree. In High School, I was an MTNA state piano competition winner. The majority of my practice occurs away from the instrument. Scientific research has also shown that mental practice develops the same motor pathways. Commented Oct 5, 2011 at 20:04
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    @Rein .. I'm afraid the scientific evidence is opposed to this viewpoint. I'm not saying you don't need physical practice as well but there are studies that show the development of mental practice groups vs physical are not as far apart as you might expect and brain imaging/scans supports the development of the name neural pathways in both approaches. Commented Feb 20, 2014 at 23:36

4 Answers 4


There's just something much more valuable about making the actual physical and aural connections between the ideas you're thinking about. It's one thing to think of, say, a C Major scale and imagine where the notes are on the fretboard and what they sound like. It's another, much deeper experience to actually put your fingers on the instrument and actually hear the notes with your ears.

I'm not going to say that "mental" practice isn't worth something---if, say, you're on the subway or in the car for an hour and can't practice with your instrument, it's better than nothing. But if you were my student, I wouldn't count it towards your practice quota. Your teacher may feel differently than I do, and by all means you should ask. But I wouldn't be surprised if mental practice doesn't count.

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    Aren't we supposed to be supporting this site so that we can merge with the Guitar site in the future instead of referring there ? Questions from that site should fit here with a "guitars" tag.
    – Lilitu88
    Commented Apr 30, 2011 at 21:52
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    I'm not suggesting the original question be migrated. It certainly fits here. But since the OP is a guitarist, I just thought s/he might find the other site also interesting and/or informative. The point is to help people, no? Commented Apr 30, 2011 at 23:01
  • I agree with Alex here. Ultimately proficiency in your instrument (speaking about guitars here) is linked to your motor skills, but I believe that mental practice can be worth something. Similarly, every time I listen to a song I'm training my ear--which could translate to mental practice on my instrument if I begin to think through the scales and notes that I could be playing on top of the song I'm listening to. I believe that's worth something, but it doesn't build the necessary motor skills to be proficient at playing the instrument.
    – Jduv
    Commented May 4, 2011 at 2:51
  • @Lilitu88 : we can always edit the last sentence of Alex's answer once the sites are merged. It is fine if people go on asking good guitar questions on guitar.SE. They will be migrated here eventually.
    – ogerard
    Commented May 6, 2011 at 6:02
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    Based on my experience as a guitar teacher, I'd say that mental practice is fundamental to developing certain skills. Things like fretboard knowledge, transposing harmonic resolutions, learning scale/chord tones and their positions in standard patterns all require working with your brain rather than your fingers. Visualisation and paper serve us equally well here as the fingerboard - perhaps moreso, since we focus only on the task at hand. That said, mental practice is unlikely to count towards your practice limit, since it doesn't create any physiological stress.
    – user321
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 1:39

I'm a trombonist myself, and for brass players especially, the face time is extremely important in maintaining one's range on the instrument and stamina for playing orchestral music. So the answer is no, absolutely not. Any time I put in doing score study or aural skills practice has to be separate from what I count towards my instrumental practice, otherwise I would suffer in maintaining my playing ability.

I think this transfers appropriately to guitar—if you're practicing at a high level, you need to be consistent day-to-day in order to maintain your technique, dexterity, and conditioning. Obviously you don't want to over-practice through pain, but consistently putting in substantial time each day will help you break these barriers.

  • It is a lot harder to overpractise on a wind instrument - but if I say that it is a lot easier to get that fingertip oversensitivity with a guitar than it is to get a "strawberry lip" you might get the idea of why he has been told not to practice too much. Commented May 2, 2011 at 0:20
  • Hm, I'll bet there's less cross-over in terms of over-practicing--I've never experienced fingertip oversensitivity, but on trombone the fatigue will set in long before you risk hurting yourself. I've never heard of "strawberry lip." (and Google is entirely unhelpful, lol.)
    – NReilingh
    Commented May 2, 2011 at 2:57
  • I have overpracticed trumpet - without sufficient rest periods as you build up stamina you can damage your lips. Rule of thumb my teacher gave me: if it starts to hurt, STOP RIGHT NOW. Don't practice again until the next day. This should be differentiated from fatigue, though.
    – Michael
    Commented May 2, 2011 at 15:58

I see many people have answered that mental practice doesn't hold a candle to actual physical practice and I want to make sure the value of mental practice isn't dismissed.

When you are sight reading something for the first time you take care to observe details of the score: the clef, time signature, key signature, shape/contour/line, dynamics among many others. While many of us may take this moment for granted, I feel that this demonstrates the value of mental practice. Before you set up at the instrument you have an idea of what you're playing and you won't waste nearly as much time correcting mistakes because you've already caught some of them.

This is a very small example of something that has become second nature because of how we ingrained it as part of our routine when we were first learning how to play. We need to similarly ingrain other skills into our routine such as audiation or score study. Audiating an entire piece will not only help you catch errors on an individual piece, but will also develop your aural skills so that audiating becomes more natural and you are able to catch errors on pieces you've never heard.

Score study is also related and a completely necessary part of performance preparation. Knowing what another instrument or your accompanist is doing where is only one of the many benefits you'll enjoy putting work into this area. Being able to identify why a composer does something will allow you to bring true musicianship to a certain phrase.

That being said, I've only briefly mentioned a few very simple and widely practiced aspects of mental practice, but understanding their benefit is essential to answering your question. The goal of mental practice is to facilitate your musicianship and to maximize the efficiency of your rehearsal. When you play an instrument (especially a brass instrument), you need to make sure that you don't waste a single minute of time with your instrument. I should also mention that the goal of physical practice is to facilitate your musicianship so that you can perform without technical issues inhibiting your ability to play the piece you're working on.

In short, both of these types of practice are essential to be a true performer. You need to spend as much time as it takes doing mental practice to maximize your physical practice time and realize the musical interpretation that will make the piece yours. You need to spend as much time as it takes doing physical practice to maintain your present technical facility and to be able to execute the performance. Your teacher can probably access your level of skill to determine how long you need to spend on physical practice to maintain your skills and you may want to ask him what he expects from you.


There is one form of practice that can help guitar players develop more dexterity without putting stress on the fingertips - learn to touchtype and practice that (helps keyboard players too).

It develops the same dexterity and coordination in the fingers, but it does not stress the fingertips in the same way. However, the learning process works the same way - you must not look at your fingers to gain true command!

Overpractising guitar can lead to hypersensitivity in the finger tips. Everything seems normal until you pick up the guitar and hold down a string, then you get a pain in the fingertip that is like an electric shock! After that, you have to lay off playing for a week or so. Your teacher has set sensible limits to avoid this.

  • I am not convinced of the value of touch-typing to pianists. Many skills that are essential to pianists--the cross-overs and the ability to maintain constant volume over keys come to mind--are not at all trained by touch-typing. In typing, there's a lot more forward-backwards motion, and little lateral motion. My last major objection is that touch-typing trains associating words with motions, as opposed to associating notes/chords/scales with motions. Perhaps I'm being short-sighted, and please correct me if I am, but the only benefit I can see is training independence of finger motion.
    – Babu
    Commented May 1, 2011 at 22:17
  • I play both piano and guitar. I learned piano formally, and I am a self-taught guitarist (mostly by ear). I learned touch typing after learning to play, and noticed that it improved my dexterity and accuracy with either instrument. I don't have a piano, and before I learned to type I was called upon to play when I had not touched a piano for 2 years. It took me a couple of weeks to get the simple things I needed to play "up to scratch". While learning typing, I was placed in a similar situation, and it only took 3 days that time. Typing helps with precision finger placement without looking. Commented May 2, 2011 at 0:13
  • I'm pretty convinced of the skill crossover if only for the fact that my piano player friend has very incredibly defined finger movements when she touch-types--like it's the same kind of finger motion.
    – NReilingh
    Commented May 2, 2011 at 2:54
  • The book Musicophilia has much to say about the benefits of mental practice to musicians Commented May 6, 2011 at 20:01

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