Boulder has always been a glowing area on the magical music map of the world.  It is a smaller town with a huge musical glow. Whether it is John Sebastian calling Boulder home,  or walking down the Boulder Mall, looking up, and seeing “JACK BRUCE” on the marquee with $6.00 admission.  While the focus of this article is playing guitar, the methods described apply to any instrument, and to much more. We’re learning to play the guitar, and also learning to learn.

Photo by Lenny Lensworth Frieling

The deservedly famous Red Rocks Amphitheater has hosted some of the world’s best music

In this abbreviated version of learning guitar using visualization and “sound visualization” we make some assumptions. First, I believe that a fabulous path to learning play a song, is to hear the song in your head. Your fingers learn and know more than is readily apparent. By exposing your mind to the  song, by imagining the song playing in your head, hearing it with your “inner ear,” your brain/hands/voice automatically apply what you already know about playing to the new song. While not always obvious, you may well “hear” what chords are being played. Your fingers and ears understand what they are hearing. Your fingers know what to do just by listening to the song if you choose to notice!

If you can’t imagine hearing it, having the song play in your head, an unnecessary hurdle is put in place. The song can still be learned. The version learned when we cannot “hear” the song in our heads first can place obstacles to learning the song easily and quickly, and may impact the musicality of the song when you play it. It may well lack emotion, and generally lack that je ne sais which makes it music and not just a sequence of notes playing like a drum machine. This approach is similar to that Maltz describes in his famous book, Psycho cybernetics. What we’re learning is only new if we had not previously learned it. I am not inventing these approaches to learning. I am hopefully putting this out there in a form that is more understandable and more useful to many.

Photo by Lenny Lensworth Frieling

Something to Think About

Once you can generally hear it in your mind, take it to the next level. See and hear yourself SLOWLY playing the song in your mind’s eye, in your visualized image, doing the strum and the left hand chording. If you find that parts need individual attention, do that. To play it musically and to learn it far more easily on a real guitar, learn to play it in your head first. You do that until you can play the entire song, both hands, in your mind. Of course you can also learn the song a note at a time, a measure at a time, a verse at a time, or broken into whatever pieces are manageable.

When I teach guitar, one of these early steps is to play the song myself, just as I am teaching it. My students listen and “play along” in their imaging. See yourself and hear yourself playing the song on guitar before even picking up the instrument.

Using this approach has multiple benefits. You can learn the song more easily, faster, and with a better sounding song as you learn.

THEN pick up the guitar. OR, you can hold the guitar while doing the meditation portion of the song learning. Either way, now is the time to play the song on a real guitar. You will be astonished. I have taught guitar with this approach, and had my beginning class, new to guitar and not new to “mind control” playing a song with a Carter/Travis style finger picking, with ONE two hour lesson. That was over 45 years ago, so if it was really two classes of two hours each, I would not be surprised. In any event, it was startlingly fast. Impossible except that we did it. Remember that so many rock and folk songs, and country too, rely upon three chords, or perhaps 5. NOT 20 or 50, but five. For those with some musical study in their background, the I, ii min, IV, and V chords in any key. That the One chord, the two chord, minor, the four chord, and the five chord with a 7th  added. Add a three minor and a six minor, and you have the chords to play probably 70% or more of rock and roll, and the same for country and folk. And most important, while it is quite helpful to understand what this “music language” means, it is NOT necessary to know any of this to be able to learn and play the song.

Photo Lenny Lensworth Frieling

SO, in the key of C major, the C, eminor, aminor F and G7. (major chords are in caps, minor in lower case). To “hear” that in your mind, run through the song [fill in a song name that is in the basic progression]

That means you can play guitar by learning three or five chords, with the three-chord version being I,IV,and V7 chord. In C, that is C, F, and G7. The order can change. The tempo can change. The time signature can change. That gives the flexibility to play such a wide variety of songs.  And then we have the Beatles, who changed key signatures and time signatures frequently within songs, and who, while sounding simple, actually used quite a number of chords that were/are anything but ordinary, and anything but being in the basic 3 or 5 chord progression. Play “THAT BOY,” Beatles, in your head. That is all C, a minor, F, and G7. after a while, you’ll be able to hear what chords are being played, in your head as the song plays. Then you can pick up the guitar and play the song decently, “out of the box.”

Second assumption. If you can play a song very slowly and smoothly, you can then play it at almost any tempo you choose. Learning it fast is an exercise in futility, and perhaps useful as a learning tool. It is also unnecessarily difficult and frustrating. Additionally, when you are working on a particularly challenging part of the song, and are playing it on its own, you are likely slowing it down and learning the section slowly. What a shock! By learning it by playing it slowly, you don’t have to slow up more to work on particular sections. It all stays consistent and is far better for learning a song. I will be sharing this method in the class I’ll be teaching in March, at the haunted Patterson Inn. We’ll cover the methods which work for guitar, and which mirror the method which works with learning so many things.

Play on! Sing On! Playing and singing as a meditation has much in common with other forms of meditation, with prayer, and more. It involves breathing and breath control. The benefits of “chanting” whether it is a mantra or singing a song are similar. There is more that is similar than is different with this and the myriad techniques that are used and that work for achieving the state of mind which is being sought with any of these approaches.


Lenny Lensworth Frieling

  • Senior Counsel Emeritus to the Boulder Law firm Dolan + Zimmerman LLP : (720)-610-0951
  • Former Judge
  • First Chair and Originator of the Colorado Bar Association’s Cannabis Law Committee, a National first.
  • Previous Chair, Boulder Criminal Defense Bar (8 years)
  • Twice chair Executive Counsel, Colorado Bar Association Criminal Law Section
  • NORML Distinguished Counsel Circle
  • Life Member, NORML Legal Committee
  • Life Member, Colorado Criminal Defense Bar
  • Board Member Emeritus, Colorado NORML
  • Chair, Colorado NORML, 7 years including during the successful effort to legalize recreational pot in Colorado
  • Media work, including episodes of Fox’s Power of Attorney, well in excess of many hundreds media interviews, appearances, articles, and podcasts, including co-hosting Time For Hemp for two years.
  • Board member, Author, and Editor for Criminal Law Articles for the Colorado Lawyer, primary publication of the Colorado Bar Assoc. 7 Years, in addition to having 2 Colorado Lawyer cover photos, and numerous articles for the Colorado Lawyer monthly publication.
  • LEAP Speaker, multi-published author, University lectures Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, Denver University Law School, Univ. of New Mexico, Las Vegas NM, and many other schools at all levels.