Mirror, Mirror

Mirrors are a great, underused tool.

While playing we often contort our bodies into strange positions – or worse: tension creeps into our limbs and causes awkward movements and posture. Most times the fix for this sort of problem is as simple as observing it.

Because we can’t often focus on our entire bodies at once, we remain very unaware of what’s going on. Enter the mirror. A mirror can be a great way to notice odd things our body does. Have a tendency to throw your left elbow out a weird angles? That’s a hard thing to just feel, but the problem is very obvious when you watch yourself play in the mirror.

I used a mirror quite a bit during undergrad. Most practice rooms comes equipped with full body mirrors – I assumed the mirrors were just for singers to admire themselves. Because singers do that?

The more I practiced, I started observing myself in the mirror. It got to the point where I felt strange practicing with out it. I fixed a lot of things (including a specific thing I’ll talk about below): a strange tendency to lean to the left all the time, my left arm’s strange habits when shifting along the neck and some very odd right hand things. I also had the experience of changing my right hand technique a few times using the mirror. I went from a whatever-I’m-a-freshmen-style to a Segovia/Tarrega bent right to 90 degrees style until I settled on a more modern, stright-wrist style. I used the mirror to check myself with each switch.

A Specific Incident

I had (and still have to a small degree) a terrible tendency to hunch my right shoulder up when playing repeated arpeggio patterns. While practicing the second movement of El Decameron Negro, I had a lot of trouble with this during the “echoes” section, which is just a bunch of fast, repeated p m i arpeggios. Tension would creep into my shoulder, then down my arm into my fingers. I would get fatigued quickly and couldn’t play the section as musically or technically clean as I wanted.

When a teacher in a masterclass pointed out that I hunched my shoulder up, it was news to me. I had been practicing with out a mirror.

And when i went back to using it, just by observing I was able to better keep control of my errant shoulder.

The mirror is a powerful tool. A simple fully body mirror would work. Barring that, try practicing in front of your bathroom mirror for a while.

Have you ever used a mirror? Let me know in the comments!

Posted on in Classical Guitar Practice Tips


  • Dmitry Rubinstein
    Dmitry Rubinstein

    Yes, my teacher suggested I practice in front of a mirror, and I went out and dutifully bought one. I haven’t used it as much as I should ever since though.

  • infinite_monkey

    Good advice, a mirror can indeed make you aware of yourself as others see you. At school we also had the mirrors in the practice rooms, I distinctly remember thinking to myself on one occasion, “I never realized how stiff I look when I play!”

    it can also be good for your self esteem, though. When you get something really fluid and natural, you can see it and be proud of yourself for a job well done.

  • Jim Hodgson
    Jim Hodgson

    I have used the mirror and have found it beneficial, as long as you know what you are looking for or trying to attain.

  • Jeff

    Yes…. I started practicing with a mirror one day and noticed the benefits almost immediately. Specifically my posture and relaxation/correct movement of the right hand. I’d reccomed it to anyone.

  • Ann Andrews
    Ann Andrews

    The mirror is very helpful during practice. I rigged up a mirror in a wooden frame and used bungee cords to lash the mirror to the front of a 4 foot CD rack (tag sale). It works great! I practice in our great room and put the rack/mirror in the corner. I am quite amazed how much I notice about my hand and arm positions. My teacher, Judy, suggested the mirror when I first began playing. Great advice.