Aphantasiacs Unite

This is probably a thread that will resonate for only a few people. During today’s Music Theory Live lesson, @JustinGuitar was talking about memorizing the fretboard, and visualizing the fretboard. Then he mentioned that he has aphantasia and can’t actually visualize the fretboard. This was a jaw dropping moment for me, as I also have aphantasia. As do at least 2 other people in the chat of the music theory live session.

I am really interested in how others who have this way of thinking have found ways to learn guitar, also to write songs.

For those that don’t know what it is, in a nutshell we don’t have a mind’s eye. If someone says imagine an apple. We can think of an apple but have no mental picture of it. In my case I recognize people I know, but can’t even visualize my wife across the room without looking at her. It is quite shocking when you first realize that when people talk about seeing pictures in their mind, that they actually do.

Counting sheep to go to sleep is just counting, there are no sheep, yet some people talk of sheep running out of the gate instead of jumping over.
It isn’t easy to describe how my mind does work for the guitar, but it is mainly remembering where patterns go. It is a very mechanical, mathematical process. I am currently trying to learn the root positions of notes in triads. When people talk about box patterns, it all sounds really visual to me.

My other thoughts are about songwriting. My wife has memories that she can recall sights, sounds, smells, what people were wearing etc. The most I can do when she does that is say oh yeah I can remember that now. To me my initial efforts are very mechanical and I feel I have less available material than others.

It would be great to discuss how others cope and things they have done to work through these issues.


It’s been becoming more clear that I also have aphantasia, so this is very interesting!

I think leaning on your theory, but also your proprioception: your body’s sense of where it is in space. The fretboard is like climbing a ladder in the dark, if you know where each rung is, it’s not a problem.


I also have this condition, Phil. I was telling somebody about this the other day and couldn’t remember the term, so thanks for reminding me.

It was a relief of sorts to discover that it is an acknowledged thing. I studied NLP many years ago and so many of the techniques are driven by visual images in the mind. I was always so frustrated that I saw nothing in my mind’s eye.

So much so, that I decided to dive into an evening art class. I thought maybe developing skills in the visual arts may help me develop that ability. Of course it didn’t. But I did enjoy the Monday night art classes for a few years (until I shifted focus to Toastmasters). And I have art works hanging up in the house to remember that time of my life.

But I do have a good memory and ability to recall. So have learned the fretboard (to a degree) through simple study and practice exercises. My approach was to picki a natural note, play it from lowest to highest, skip to the next note in the circle of fifths, play it highest to lowest. No open strings, so targetting frets 1 to 12.

Back to visualisation. I picked up chess as an activty, largely to keep the mind active and because my brother is a strong club-level player. Now I find if I am out on a walk, I can’t visualise a position in one of my games like the lady in the Queen’s Gambit Netflix show, but somehow I have a sense of where all the pieces are and have figured out moves, which proved sound when I looked again at the game.

The mind is a fascinating thing.

Thanks again for starting an interesting topic and look forward to reading of more people’s experiences and insights.


I only heard this term a few weeks ago for the first time and it fits me pretty well.
On practical level it means that if I decide to decorate my house then it’s pot luck what the outcome is. I can’t visualise what my house would like given with a different colour on the walls, different carpets etc.
The other place it comes up for me is in meditation. I often do classes where a teacher leads the session. Broadly speaking there’s 2 common types of meditation, sensing and visualising. Sensing might be something like moving your awareness up and down your spine as you breathe in and out. I can do this no problem. Visualisation is a different experience altogether and I just can’t do it. Occasionally I’ll get a brief faint glimmer of an image that lacks detail but that’s about it. I generally end up doing my own thing in these sessions because it’s not great sitting for an extended period trying and failing to follow along.
And now you mention it, the same is true with a guitar fretboard.
It’s interesting what you say about songwriting. I always thought I just lacked imagination but when you can’t visualise a memory that’s really not going to help. Fortunately I’m happy playing other people’s songs!


Yes, but the good news is that paint and carpet salesman love you. :smile:


Traits like these tend not to be black or white. We are all on a spectrum, finding some things easier and others more difficult. (There are of course always exceptions). It’s good to know our strengths and weaknesses but there’s a danger of pigeon-holing ourselves using labels like ‘I can’t do maths/ I am not musical/ I can’t draw etc.’ resulting in avoiding the process entirely when most people just find it difficult but can improve to some degree with practice.
I’m a visual learner and find it much more difficult to process verbal instructions (or so the missus says :laughing:)
Just out of curiosity- if you close your eyes, are you able to imagine anything at all or just not what something/one in particular looks like. Have you ever had a dream?
I’m forever amazed at how similar and unique we are and how we perceive the same ‘reality’ in so many different ways :smiley:


That question came to my mind as well… Though I guess that there could be dreams with just vague shaped and more defined sounds?

1 Like

We (I can’t remember with who…Edit: it was with you I… see link below :smiley:)
we’ve talked about this before… When I spoke to Justin for an hour a while ago, he told me this and I said “gosh, that’s certainly very strange not to see images with dreams” but he do see in his dreams (there are people even don`t have that)…
At the end of the conversation after the computer was closed, my wife said… Well, I didn’t want to say it, like YES, I have that too… but what do you see, Rogier? " uhhh well when I close my eyes it is pitch black … and then I understood why I found it so difficult to picture my favorite guitar in bed and do exercises on it…just like the concept of counting sheep and many, many more things in life like picturing figures, numbers, etc…

It explained a lot of conversations/explanations that I never understood and at the same time nothing changed at all…I still use the term…yes I see that in my mind sometimes…while it is always a very vague description of words (no don`t think that "some"people :face_with_raised_eyebrow: ). that describe the situation…or something like that :upside_down_face:

It doesn’t teach me (do things )differently because I don’t know what “that different” is

Hope this is a little clear :roll_eyes:… very busy now and maybe edit later



I never have clear images of acquaintances in dreams ( I shortly know) only vague faces form, but they are acquaintances so I do recognize them (Brian 2 night ago on the coffee with drums :grimacing: ), the rest of things are often not black but not clear… most people dream completely with normal images…
My wife, for example, only now finds it logical why she can never paint from memory…but either paints very well…from photos or existing paintings or parts and adjusts them a little…

Edit:For me there is a difference in…Imagining something (in images) because you have not seen/known it - that is impossible for me…Recalling something in your brain (describing) what you have once (or very little) seen and described is difficult, but can be done depending on the situation … and for example describing my wife is very easy, but with what clothes she left this morning I have no idea (while I am an attentive and observant man) and only the color yes, I know… there is a big difference between knowing and seeing… I don’t know if I can make it clearer this way, but since there are many forms of “seeing”

I have to say that I didn’t search for this for long and I’m not at all knowledgeable about this other than what I just wrote down…because I had no problems so I didn’t need a solution. :sweat_smile:


I recognize that from my teens when I used to play checkers …and the last years with the fretboard

Too bad it bothered you, but it’s good to read that the search for a solution has brought something beautiful as fun with art :sunglasses:


I do dream and they seem real enough but I never remember any details in the morning so I’m not sure how visual they are.

About this time last year I had flu, really bad, in bed for 2 weeks level bad. During that time I had a 6 day spell where I didn’t sleep a minute because of all of the various symptoms I had. I was definitely seeing images then, proper hallucinations, like movies playing out in front of me, but I don’t think that really counts if you have to go 100+ hours with no sleep to get there!

1 Like

This thread is phasinating

I must have the opposite, I actually NEED a graphical hook to remember something.
Everything that is said or shown to me, renders imagery in my mind. Same for sounds and songs.
I can’t sing lyrics without seeing something in front of me; a visual story(board).
I needed to draw caricature heads of philosophers to study my histoy lesson so I could link their theories to how they look.

When somebody needs something designed and starts talking to me, I see something in front of me right away.

It is very UN-intuitive to me to imagine NOT doing that and I often forget people don’t imagine stuff that way. I should take it into account a lot more when explaining something to an audience.

Thanks for sharing, I learn every day!


Me too :blush:

Certainly, but without any form of “guilt” because there are so many adjustments/deviations/rarities etc etc that it is impossible and not fun to always have to think about this… but that reminder is certainly also for me applicable … :upside_down_face:

1 Like

This thread puts me in a reflective mood…
I’m very much with @brianlarsen on this subject

I’m not a real fan of those “labels” as there are so many nuances.

Basically, in real life, I ask myself, if other people really “see” imaginary pictures in their imagination? Do they SEE the rose elephants in their imagination as a PICTURE? I always had problems within my very few meditation or relaxation sessions, when I was told to “imagine being on a beautiful beach”. For me, it’s more like TELLING myself: OK, there should be sand/rocks/water/waves/sun/warm air, etc., but I don’t SEE that as a colored picture in my mind. It’s rather putting the criteria of a certain image together in my brain to get an imagination, than seeing a coloured picture. My imagination of sounds (waves) or smells is much more present than a “picture”.
Transferred to guitar related subjects, I assume I’m not so much of a visual learner. Translating chord diagrams into grips or reading tabs is sometimes harder for me than a simple description like put finger x on string y at fret z. Or others are watching videos and instantly can see what the player is doing with his fretting hand and are able to imediatelly transfer that into their own playing. I’m no pro in visualisation of the fretboard either. Orientation is more about seeing dots and counting frets, than having a picture of notes.
I don’t know, if that’s aphantasia or not, I see it as a certain predisposition. No black and white
It’s interesting how different people are :blush:.


There is a web site devoted to the topic if anyone is interested here

It does mention that there’s a whole spectrum of people ranging from those who see nothing through to people see considerably more than average


A representation of how people with differing visualization abilities might picture an apple in their mind. The first image is bright and photographic, levels 2 through 4 show increasingly simpler and more faded images, and the last - representing complete aphantasia - shows no image at all.

I`m a 5 and happy :smile:


What happened, if we’d replace that apple with a guitar :guitar:? :joy:

1 Like

:see_no_evil: … I already said that way above…but I believe there will eventually be a guitar that I can see, just buy some more…at least that’s what I tell my wife :roll_eyes:


Andrea, on that subject, people talk about looking for a specific shape, color etc of guitar. Often linked to something one of your idols plays. Maybe the shape is all I would remember vaguely.

For me all guitars are equal visually, I know I own a gloss black Les Paul, and a single cut out acoustic, but it would take me a while to say much more. I see nice looking guitars on people’s threads, but it doesn’t translate to me saying oh I want one of those in a particular color.

In fact when people say what’s your favourite colour?. I don’t have one - so I just pick a color. But that would be an awful choice for a security question on a website as I never pick the same one :rofl:


I do remember that we had that conversation, I never realized that Justin has the same memory traits. It actually gives me a lot of hope that this isn’t a lost cause. My memorization the the fretboard and note positions feels very mechanical and brain heavy. Sometimes I wonder whether it will speed up enough to do things like improvisation well. Justin provides the demonstration that you can, so I need to keep calm and carry on.


Too bad cause counting sheeps can be fun

1 Like