How do people cultivate "the feel" of playing guitar - going beyond the mechanics to reach a higher level of skill?

Greetings, All. As I enter my 8th month of my Guitar Mission™, I’m ever more aware that - alongside the techniques, the chords, the fretting, strumming, picking, rhythm, the knowledge - there’s a “feel” to this practice that I am oh-so-slowly acquiring, and it is really powerful (and, I think, important).

It’s very difficult to identify, let alone describe. To me, it feels like a transition from the guitar being a piece of equipment to be “mastered” to it becoming a partner (as in a dance) or even an extension of myself. I’ve been an extreme gardener for 30+ years, and I can wield rakes, shovels, pitchforks, wheelbarrows with efficacy and possibly grace. I am just beginning to see that there’s a very similar component of this familiarity/feel with the guitar that serves as a kind of “accelerator” to learning to play.

To be sure, the exercises and learning to play songs all contribute to the development of this “feeling.” It’s not only in the hands; the ears are essential, too. More and more, I’ve watched myself play things and actively thought, “I genuinely don’t know how I’m doing this.” I occasionally make near-instantaneous adjustments either to compensate for a mistake or to add some flair (for better or worse). But I feel like this intangible, un-discussed quality is beginning to significantly enhance my practice of the other aspects that are part of the daily conditioning routine. It makes them a bit easier to do initially and then seems to ingrain them more quickly.

My questions are:

  • Do you experience this effect? If so, can you improve my description of it?

  • What do you do to cultivate it actively? I suspect the base answer is that it’s mostly about time spent with the guitar, but I’ve observed that I most often see it expand on days when I have an extended practice session. My guess is that that’s because I get the opportunity to complete my “must-do” activities and then devote time to more exploratory things. Sometimes those are revisiting past exercises with improved skills. Sometimes it’s breaking down a sequence to an excruciatingly slow and repetitive pace to see the effect of very minor tweaks.

I should be very clear: I’m not suggesting in any way that I’ve discovered a secret and have become a virtuoso. I play guitar exactly as you would expect from someone who’s been doing it for 7 months. I’m just very interested in this side of the learning process - in addition to the more obvious ones.

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Hi Bob!
I think I know the sensation that you’re experiencing… I’ve felt it too… kind of a intangible feeling that good things are happening without a lot of conscious thought or effort.
It seems that it’s mostly when I am sitting on our couch, very relaxed, literally strumming without thinking, random chords & variable strumming patterns.
My wife will come in and ask what I’m playing, and tells me that it’s beautiful (which doesn’t really happen when I’m playing actual songs!!!:sleepy:)… if I try to play whatever it was again, it doesn’t work.
My guess is that I’m in touch with my subconscious mind and that I know more about song structure & what works well within a song than I consciously realize.
Just my 2 cents…

Tod

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Bob, I relate to what you say. And like Tod I have had moments when I felt in the zone, playing with a relaxed freedom and flow that felt and sounded good to me. I’ve no secret to unlocking that other than to note that the more I play consistently the more such moments I enjoy.

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Now i wanna see someone weild a weelbarrow with grace :smiley:

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Play your guitar without distractions. Don’t practice, Play what you feel. If you don’t have someone to play with put on a slow backing track and just let you finger do what they feel is right. The more you actually play your guitar the more you can put yourself into what you play.

People get caught up in practicing technique and skills they will never use and forget to play.
You do need to practice to learn new skills but practicing and playing are two totally different things. Practicing is a focused process. Playing is what you do with emotion without focus. Just let it happen.

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Deborah, you definitely identified the clumsiest member of the troupe (after myself). On a spectacular day, I can coax a little twirl out of her after tipping, but more often a quick swerve to dodge a tree root is the best we can muster.

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Interesting question. Personally, I can’t put my finger on one specific aspect of playing that I could call “the feel” of playing the guitar. Over the past almost 5 years (jeez, that’s a long time) I’ve noticed my musicality, hearing and playing technique have improved considerably, but I’ve never felt that the guitar became an extension of myself in any way. I mean, I don’t feel the need to extend myself in any way, at least for now. It’s a great feeling to be able to understand the music I like to a degree and really see/hear myself improve, but I never tried to see more into me being a bedroom guitar player than there really is.

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I pictured you doing a little ballerina move when you tip your weelbarrow :rofl:

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The guitar is a musical instrument (among many others). But in a way, it’s not a musical instrument at all. It’s just a piece of wood and some wires. It can’t play anything on its own, it needs someone to pick it up to get even the smallest of squeaks out of it. Millions of us learn to play- some to a greater proficiency than others.
It’s not the guitar that’s the musical instrument. It’s us. Our minds are the musical instrument. The guitar is simply a way of turning the inner musician into sound.

Maybe the feeling you describe is the inner musician flowing from your mind, through your hands and fingers and the guitar strings, and coming out as sound. Music.

The better we become at playing guitar, the more of the inner musician we will hear.

Which reminds me….practice time! :guitar:

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Yes, Rick! Very much like what @CATMAN62 said above, too:

Yesterday, I happened upon one of Justin’s lessons that’s beyond my stage of the course: Mindful Listening For Guitar Players. At the beginning, he talks about forms of meditation where one focuses on breathing or (while running) the sensation of every footstep. I was very hopeful that he was going to apply something similar to guitar playing, but the rest was entirely about listening to music - which is also truly wonderful.

Watching that lesson helped me to realize that that’s probably the best way to describe and discuss what I was trying to convey. Maybe especially for those of us at the very beginning, so much is about mechanics and “working” to achieve an outcome. As Justin says in this lesson, it involves “monkey mind” and “busy-ness.” But if we allow ourselves even just a few minutes to set those goals aside and feel the strings, pick, frets and listen to all of the nuances of what happens when we make small changes, I think we develop a more intimate awareness of “how it all comes together” for lack of a better name.

We early beginners don’t have a lot of established repertoire (or proficiency or knowledge) to provide many options for playing what we feel. But that shouldn’t stop us from exploring. I’ve added a few minutes a day to close my eyes and strum, varying the pressure at the frets or the force of the strum, and listening deeply. I genuinely believe that it integrates the tactile and the auditory feedback in a way that helps to consolidate an overall “feeling” of the experience that complements technique, and I feel like it’s indescribably valuable.

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Well said, David. I completely agree.

I’ve never thought of myself as a creative person, so I’m kind of shocked to be experiencing being something beyond just an “operator” of a “machine” and more of a… musician? So I’m extremely interested in tapping into that side of the process.

I think there’s more to it than just “following the steps” (though they are critical).

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This is EXACTLY what I was trying to convey, Bob… Justin’s lesson on feeling the fretboard while playing without looking started me playing with my eyes closed… now I play that way often or at night with no lights on… it IS very meditative and therapeutic!!! It’s also a easy-going learning experience playing random chords and somewhere in the “monkey brain” remembering certain combinations that do or don’t work!!! So glad you got the gist of what I feel!!!

Tod

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That’s right Bob,
definitely more to it than just following the steps. We have to follow the steps though in order to learn how to ’operate’ the guitar and then, hopefully, we can turn it into an art and the music will flow.

I’ve never considered myself creative either - certainly not in an artistic way. If I am going to be, it will be with guitar and music.

In an entirely different field…someone once told me that you can teach the method but you can’t teach the art. The art comes from within.

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I beg to differ David - farming is an Art… a bit dirty maybe, but from what I’ve seen when visiting my family in the farmland of Northern Colorado… the fields, the barns, the farmhouses etc. are artistic!!! If I were a painter, Rural country & farmland is all I would paint!

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For me, I’ve been playing for years just bumbling around trying to play covers and not really done that well at it, maybe at parts of songs where I’ve messed around with a solo and extended it but not really something from scratch. So a few months ago I decided “No more covers” only play what I feel and don’t restrict myself to any particular genre - I don’t sing so in a way I suppose it’s easier for me, but not really because words can portray an ambience - doing that with instrumental music isn’t as easy.
I have found it quite empowering and it’s renewed my interest in playing again and renewed the passion I once had. Obviously to do it you need to be able to play reasonably well and know how to structure music but if you have those basics then the world is your oyster!

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After 30+ years of piano, I can say that it’s not all that often that I feel what you’re describing with that instrument. I’ll admit, I do feel like I’ve merged with the piano when I get really, really into the zone playing a piece that I’ve memorized, but it isn’t common, because most of the time the piece I’m working on is a work in progress. For me to get lost entirely in the dance with the instrument, I’ve got to have the song memorized so well and so deeply that I go entirely automatic- forget my fingers altogether, and they just take over and know where to go. That means not making mistakes. As soon as I hit a wrong key, its over and I am zapped back into reality. When my fingers just know where to go so much so that I can’t believe it, I amaze myself. And some pieces I have memorized can be be quite complex, and sometimes five minutes in length.

To answer your question about becoming a dance partner with an instrument, in my experience, it has to do with completely immersing in the playing (not so much the music itself although the sounds are usually the first stage of immersion), and for me, it involves so much time and memorization that it just rarely happens.

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I have now few very simple songs where I can fully enjoy and relax/sometimes jump around. :slight_smile: I also play every Sunday with other people, which at times can be incredibly good. I would sometimes just play bass notes or simplest version possible, just to be able to fully enjoy a song.

But that feeling for me is not only about playing, it is wider related to guitar. I do feel such joy whenever I am not work stressed and have proper time to sit and practice. The whole experience of getting into the room, taking the guitar, setting what I want to play/practice. Hard to describe…

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Hi Bob, I’ve found your interisting thread just now. I much agree with David on the following

To this I would only add that we’re all Music as well…In the hands of who we are is for sure a individual point of view; I feel like I’m in the hands of my own self and the quality of my playing (that being able to express my feelings) depends much on how able I am to connect with myself.

I practice with a daily routine that makes me feel good…to that I also add some time for exploring and experimenting. Practice Routine is that special time of the day when I kind of train myself to connect with myself…my goal is first of all enjoying the process, then to keep on working on my Rhythm skills and on my ear.

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That’s the feeling! While quite busy at the moment I find myself neglecting my Classical Guitar…but today I finally found the time and mental space to do a complete 40minutes practice routine…and just the thought of it made me the happiest creature of this world! …before, during and after practicing!

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