In our efforts to learn classical guitar, we read books, watch videos, join online programs and take lessons with teachers. Many of the concepts surrounding classical guitar are easy enough to learn, but more difficult to actually implement consistently. So what to do?
What’s the Role of a Teacher?
Teachers have the ability to see us perform from an outside perspective, and offer suggestions based on their experience and knowledge. And very often, the points of which they remind us we already know.
For instance, you may know full well that it’s not efficient to “bicycle” with your right hand fingers. But when you play something complex, you temporarily ignore your right hand technique to focus on something else (such as the notes).
There is a gap between “knowing” something, and fully integrating that knowledge so it becomes consistently and readily available.
A teacher can keep an eye on all the little points that you may miss, and bring them to your attention.
Bridging the Gap
What if you could both play (and/or practice) and be on the outside watching and making recommendations? This way, you could effectively become your own teacher. Or at the least, your own teacher’s aid.
And you can! With the aid of the modern marvel known as….. a mirror.
How to Use a Mirror in Guitar Practice
You can use a mirror to change your perspective and to increase your bodily awareness and reliability. For issues large and small, the mirror can be a useful tool.
A Small Mirror on Your Music Stand
You can use a small mirror on your music stand to keep an eye on your right or left hand. You can pinpoint your attention and make sure that you’re actually doing what you think you’re doing.
For the left hand, you can confirm your
- finger placement,
- finger height above the frets,
- shifting technique,
- anything else you’re working on.
A Large Mirror in Your Practice Space
You can also practice in front of a larger mirror to check your body position and your general poise.
You can practice with your head upright, instead of craning it over to look at the guitar neck. You can notice when excess tension enters your face (or anywhere else), and subsequently release it.
The Mirror as a Simple Reminder
And if you have the space in your practice area, having a mirror visible can act as a simple reminder to be on your toes, use good form, and stay focused.
“Quit staring at me!”
Here’s a tip: If you can’t help ogling at yourself whenever the mirror is present, you may want to adjust the angle so your face is out of view.
This way, you can keep an eye on your body and hands, but not get distracted by your overwhelming beauty.
Use Constructive Questions
One way to actively critique what you see in the mirror is to ask questions.
Some positive questions (the answer is ideally “yes”) for the mirror are….
- Are both my feet flat on the ground?
- Are my shoulders released?
- Are my wrists at appropriate angles?
- Do I maintain this good form as I play more complex music or exercises?
- Is my face soft?
- Are my left hand fingers staying close to the strings?
- Am I making this look easy?
Some examples of negative questions (things to avoid) are…
- Am I arching my back?
- Am I craning my neck?
- Am I bicycling my right hand fingers (hooking the strings)?
- Are my fingers lifting too high off the strings?
- Am I creating excess tension anywhere?
- Do I look like I’m struggling?
- Is my body moving around too much?
For anything you happen to be studying right now, you can craft a near endless list of questions and variations to quiz the man (or woman) in the mirror.
Question: Why not just feel whether or not things are going well?
Unfortunately, our sensory information is not reliable.
If you see a very crooked person, and straighten them out, they won’t feel straight. They’ll feel absurdly bent out of shape. Even if it’s obvious to everyone around that they are straighter.
Likewise, we often have no idea we’re overly tensing a muscle or moving in a suboptimal way until it progresses to the point of pain or injury. It’s very common for new skills or movements to “not feel natural”, because “natural” is what we’re already used to. Anything new is weird.
Sad but true: Left to our own devices, we are not to be trusted. When we’re paying attention, we may get things right. But as soon as the parent gets distracted, the kids run wild.
Also Use Video for a Detached Perspective
While mirrors allow for a low-tech method of instant feedback, you can also use video to critique yourself.
Video offers a different set of advantages and disadvantages than a mirror. But is an equally beneficial and useful tool. Using video allows you to fully focus on your playing, and then go back later to critique. The mirror demands present-moment attention.
Make It Easy, and You’re More Likely to Use It
If you have to rummage through the closet to get at your guitar, you probably won’t be practicing much. And if you have to go somewhere else in your house or jump through extra hoops, you probably won’t use a mirror very often in your guitar practice.
Instead, make it easy by practicing in an area with a mirror, or keeping a mirror in your practice space.
Often the hardest part of using a tool is simply remembering to use it.