Now You See Me…

In this age, where the internet is dominated by easily digestible guitar videos, if you are actually going to put out the effort to read this guitar blog, I should do my best to keep things interesting. One sure way I know to keep things interesting is to just tell you some of my weirdest stuff. So here goes…

I’ve been practicing guitar in the dark lately. When I say “dark” I mean DUUHHARK, for 2 hours everyday. I started doing this last month and I’ve kept it up for the past 30 days straight. Each day I repeat this 2 hour virtuosic technical training routine that I’ve been revising for the past 2 years. Usually I start about 5:30AM which is right before sunrise. I don’t turn on the lights and, even though the room is essentially pitch black, I keep my eyes closed and head tilted slightly upward to avoid the compromising posture of looking down at my hands. I always practice standing and I try to keep my knees slightly bend with weight even distributed over both feet. Though sometimes I pace or jump around. 2 hours is a long time.

At first this seemed like kind of a crazy thing to do. But I’m really glad I gave it a try and stuck with it because there are
some fantastic benefits to practicing in the dark. In fact I am seriously considering wearing a blindfold when I try to recreate these intense dark session during the day. Does that sound pretentious? Stop judging me! This is my blog and I said up top that I was going to get weird in this one.

The Daredevil Effect

It seems at first that wearing a blindfold would be some sort of trick that a show-off would do. “I can play this then EVEN WITH MY EYES CLOSED!” But the truth is that eliminating the visual sense is not at all a handicap when it comes to playing guitar, if anything it is a huge advantage. In our daily lives most of us rely on sight more than any other sense. But the sheer ergonomics of playing the guitar (let alone the purely sonic purpose), make a players visual feedback a net-negative. If we are holding the guitar and our posture in the best way possible, we can’t really see what is going on when we play. The extent to which we persist in trying to see our hands work over the guitar is the extent to which poor visual data drowns out two other senses which are infinitely more important to playing guitar: sound and touch.

Unlike sight, sonic and tactile feedback are inextricable linked to the action of playing guitar. It took about 10 minutes to get over the initial disorientation of playing in the dark. As soon as that temporary anxiety lifted, my sensitivity to sound of my guitar and the feeling in my hands was noticeably amplified. This is sometimes referred to as the Daredevil effect. The name comes from a superhero comic whose super sensitive hearing and physical agility manifested as a result of him becoming blind. I had heard of this effect before trying these dark sessions, but I was surprised to see how quickly and sharply I noticed the effect.

This Must Be the Place

Another interesting effect of these Dark Sessions (ooh I think a phrase is coined!), is that when the visual sense is turned off the brain tends to go somewhere. I noticed this the first time I opened my eyes after having spent two waking hours in darkness. The sun had risen outside my window and I felt like I was returning back to the studio. But if I was returning, where had I been? I don’t know. I’m not like a mystical guy or anything. But I can tell you that when you close your eyes for more that a few minutes, you go somewhere. It’s a cool meditative place. I never realized how many thousands of micro-distractions come streaming in through the visual senses. In Dark Sessions my capacity for concentration seems so much greater. I can unify what I am working on with my hands and ears and tie it in with my breathing and postural muscles. Cool shit like that.

This nexus of physical and mental awareness is probably meant to be used for spiritual growth or some higher purpose like that. Right now I’m just using it to get better at guitar.

See Without Seeing

One of the most lasting effects of the Dark Sessions has been that they have improved my ability to visualize away from the guitar. I had read in a few books that a good way to practice is to visualize what you have to do to play something. The object of visualization practice is to imagine in great detail what you need to do to play a particular piece of music without the guitar in your hands. I have been trying to do this for a long time and never felt like I was getting anywhere with visualization. After a few weeks of Dark Sessions, I began to try to visualize WHILE I WAS STILL PLAYING. This was of course very easy. After all the guitar was still in my hands. I could still hear and feel it, so I just filled in the visuals from my imagination. This single trick has supercharged my ability to not only visualize but also audiolize and tactualize (coining terms like a mofo on this one!) a rich entirely imagined experience away from the guitar.

A Few Concessions

There are a few things that I had to put into place along the way to make the Dark Sessions work. I had to slow down some of the exercises I was doing. Most came back up to speed within a few sessions, and most with an added benefit of better accuracy due to an increased security in the tactile feedback. But exercises that involved significant position changes (for example playing inversions up and down the neck) are requiring me to develop new tactile schemes just to make them possible in the dark. So I am very slowly working on the ability to count frets and determine lateral intervals based solely on touch and sound. This is still slow going, but I am only at the one month mark. I will reassess in another month or so and I hope to report quick and accurate lateral awareness on the neck without visual reference. But you’ll have to stay tuned on that one!

If you are interested in knowing more about my virtuosic technical routines, hit me up for a Skype lesson and I’ll can tell you all about it. Or just stay tuned to this blog, I’ll probably get around to writing about sooner or later.

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