Three Visualization Techniques

Visualization, otherwise known as mental practice, is a powerful tool. Used correctly it can enhance knowledge of your repertoire and add a valuable layer of security to your performance.

I used three types of visualization. The first two are reserved for closer to performance time, the third is something I try to do every day because I feel it makes me more accurate.

Visualize the Piece

This is the most basic of visualization techniques. Simply find a quiet place and visualize the piece your wish to mentally rehearse. See your fingers moving and hear the piece in your mind’s ear. At first it’s okay to move your fingers a bit while visualizing, but try to ween yourself off of that habit as soon as possible.

I find this sort of mental rehearsal extremely challenging when the goal is visualize the entire piece. It divorces the muscle memory of a piece from the sounds and other memory types. That is, we can’t allow our fingers to go on auto pilot and finish the piece for us. Using this sort of visualization can greatly enhance memorization. It should be noted, however, that even when we mentally rehearse the portions of the brain involved with movement are active.

A variation of this is visualization accompanied by score study. Sit with the score, hear the piece in your mind ear, and visualize the finger movements.

A few other words of advice:

  • Never pick up your guitar to get through a spot where the visualization failed (where you had a mental memory slip). Look at the score if needed, but avoid the guitar. Remember that we’re trying to avoid muscle memory by using visualization.
  • Things like memory posts and other performance fall backs can be practiced with visualization. Just start from the memory post for a visualization session.
  • This is, simply put, extremely challenging to do. It takes a lot of focus. Start with small sessions and small sections of pieces, work up to entire pieces.

Visualize the Performance

Ever imagine what it will feel like on stage? For those of us don’t play a concert every week, stepping on stage can be terrifying. Another mental rehearsal technique is to imagine yourself on stage. More importantly, imagine yourself after the performance. Imagine the feeling of success. See yourself walking on confidently and walking off after the successful performance.

Capturing these feelings of success before the concert can play a critical roll in building your confidence before even setting foot on stage. I first stumbled upon this concept when a friend gave me a book called Mind Power. When I started doing some short visualizations of successful performance, my attitude towards performance and my attitude after performances greatly improved. This method is worth serious consideration.

Think Ahead of Your Hands

The final method is so effective you wonder if you accidentally sold your soul for more guitar skills. This method should be done while playing or practicing, and is essentially thinking and looking ahead of your hands.

After your left hand plays a note, your eyes should shift to the location(s) where the finger(s) will be placed next. Imagine your left hand in this new position–see it there with your mind’s eye.

This method of mental rehearsal deals with preparation of the left hand. Unlike the physical preparation outlined sequencing the left hand, this practice method deals with mental preparation. It’s been my experience as a teacher and in my own practice that our hands don’t often need to be watched while moving. We’re much better off to look and think ahead to where they will be after the movements have finished. When I have students look at the fret/position where they’re moving to their accuracy immediately improves.

Incorporating this method into your practice time does take some work. It’s all to easy to go on auto pilot. Force your mind back into the game by thinking ahead.

Posted on in Guitar Practice Techniques


  • Adam

    Nice entry! I am a big fan of mental training for musicians. I read several books on mental training while in music school, and found this one to be the best.

    Peak Performance: Mental Training Techniques of the World’s Greatest Athletes. ( It documents and explains the mental training techniques used by Russian athletes who dominated the Olympics in the 1970s.

    Keep up the great blogging! I am a noob classical guitarist and read your site daily.

  • John Lancaster
    John Lancaster

    This is a great post! As a 60 plus classical guitar beginner, who can read music, but has always had difficulty memorising words as well as notes, I rely on having my head in the score. This leads to all kinds of fingering errors, since I cannot check the fretboard with my eyes glued to the music. To break this bad habit of a life time takes a monumental effort, and up to now I am only partially successful. I find each time I revisit a piece, it takes two or three attempts before I am at the same level as I left it the last time. Your visualising comments are very helpful, and your blog has provided me with much insight. Many thanks for this.

  • Hakan Akbas

    Came across your post by chance. It was interesting how you applied visualization principle with improving guitar playing skills.
    Another great method to improving & enhancing visaulization is through creating a mind movies. Short 3 to 6 minutes videos of images of your the outcome you want, with music & affirmations. Kind of like a vision board on seriods.
    There’s a few products out there to help you create your own mind movie, simply & effectly. Worth investigating.