So you want to learn guitar while you are in the comfort of your bed at night? Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up and sit down with a guitar and start shredding the licks you were dreaming about?
Unfortunately, no such method exists—yet. Perhaps in the future we can download different skills to our brains like in The Matrix, but until then we are stuck with the blood, sweat and tears of learning guitar while awake…
Or are we?
Fortunately, although we can’t learn guitar in our sleep, we can learn the guitar while being in a passive mode.
This means that you can be watching TV, talking on the phone, and really just not paying any attention to your guitar.
This method is not for learning the entirety of guitar—in order to understand music theory or learn songs you need to be attentive to your guitar.
But if the goal, in the beginning, is to just develop some technique so that it is easier to play when you want to sit down and give the guitar your full attention, this is definitely possible.
First, if you have never touched a guitar you are going to want to familiarize yourself with the right-hand movements (if you are left-handed on a left-handed guitar then this will apply to that hand).
Take your thumb and pluck the low E string. Then take your ring finger and pluck the high E string.
Now do this back and forth. Low E, high E, low E, high E.
This is something you could be doing in your sleep or while talking to your spouse or while listening to a podcast. Try these exercises on an electric guitar and the sound will be even less intrusive and you can be watching TV, plucking along and not even realize your learning guitar!
If you keep playing these notes, in an evenly spaced manner, you are already learning the finger dexterity technique on the guitar. Speed it up, slow it down but maintain them even.
Let’s take this another step further.
Take your thumb and pluck the low E string, then your ring finger the high E string, now with your thumb play the second string down (this is the A string, which is second-lowest string on the guitar), then back to the high E with your ring finger.
So we have: Low E, high E, low A, low E
If you can manage to get this on autopilot you have done a lot!
This mimics the pattern of a bass line (the low E and A) with a melody line (the high E), similar to the two hands on a piano.
Now let’s continue this same pattern but instead of only playing the ring finger, we are going to flick the last three strings.
To flick the strings we are going to curl up our middle finger, ring finger, and pinky finger, and open rapidly it in a flicking manner.
We should aim to hit the last three stings with our fingers hitting them downward. Your fingernails should be mostly hitting the strings.
Remember we aren’t trying to pluck each individual string with our fingers, we are just using a fanning motion to flick the strings in a downward stroke.
So now let’s review the exercise: low E, flick the last 3 strings, low A, flick the last three strings.
The objective of this exercise is to play every note with the same tone and volume. If you desire a challenge, play the lower notes louder than the higher notes (or vice versa).
Just by watching your cat play with its tail you can be learning finger independence.
Spreading your practice routine over a week is a great idea, it is a great way to use consistency to build skills over time.
Remember though, these sessions are supposed to be short and designed to just get the technique in order. So watch an episode of a series you love try out these passive techniques.
At the beginning of the week say, you will want to learn some new chords, and then use the method of ‘learning in your sleep’ to reinforce these techniques.
The beauty of this technique is that it takes the ‘sting’ out of practice. You only need to have specific sessions of learning the guitar and then you can utilize these passive practicing methods to hone in what you’ve learned.
In the end, a lot of this is muscle memory, so we are simply training our muscles.
These steady, short, sessions produce big results gradually, specifically compared to not practicing for several days and then cramming a few times each week.
If time is actually brief, you can change the 30-minute regular to work with 15-minute sections each day.
So now that you’ve been practicing the fingerpicking exercise, you will want to change the chord around.
Let’s learn a basic C chord.
You now break up that C chord with the fingerpicking pattern we learned before. Except this time you will want to alternate your thumb between the A string and the D string (the third lowest string).
So we have this fingerpicking pattern: A string, flicking last three strings, D string, flicking last three strings.
As we said there is no magic solution to learning guitar. It would be amazing to learn everything you need to know while you sleep.
Fortunately, being in a passive mode is a state we find ourselves in throughout most of the day. So we can take advantage of it by moving our fingers along the guitar in a useful way and gaining competency.
Use this fingerpicking method on more basic chords and before you know it you will sound like a pro.
Check out our article on Basic Guitar Chords with their Finger Placement and learn to apply the same technique to different chords.
Also check out 6 Amazing Apps to Learn Acoustic Guitar if you want to jump start your practice in the waking world.
Ben Heckler is a multi-instrumentalist and musician from Portland, Oregon. Currently Ben lives in Barcelona where he teaches drum lessons, writes and records original music for his band Sea Fuzz as well as playing drums for one of the biggest Beatles tribute bands in Europe, The Flaming Shakers.
Ben is constantly creating and composing various types of music, video, and artwork for a multitude of projects that come his way. He hopes to use his platforms to share, help and inspire others to create in their own ways.