10 Surprising Psychology Facts That'll Make You Play Guitar Better

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You feel you've hit a brick wall with your playing.

You need some inspiration. And not just the same old, "here's how to play a barre chord" business either.

They say knowledge is power...and if you want to learn how to use the power of your own psychology to play guitar better than everyone else, you're gonna love this guide.

So if you're ready to find out some fascinating facts about yourself, read on.

Because I'm not only about to reveal 10 surprising facts. I'm going to talk you through exactly how you can use these quirky psychology findings to smash it on guitar.

1. Just watching someone perform a task triggers your brain to act as if you were doing it yourself

The Facts:

Back in the 1990’s, scientists discovered curious little guys called Mirror Neurons. These are types of brain cells and are believed to explain why we learn skills by watching others.

The long and short of it is; 'monkey see, monkey do'.

Here is a fascinating experiment to try where you can see mirror neurons working up close and personal with yourself and a friend as the guinea pigs:

Action Exercise

Pick something you know more about than one of your friends.

Take how you hold a plectrum and pick a guitar for example. Pick on an air guitar as you explain to them how you do it. Really go for it.


Guitar face is optional.

air-guitar-guitar-face

via Wikipedia

Watch your friends body language. As you strut your teacher stuff.

Chance is without knowing they are doing it, they will start to copy your hand movements.

Say hello to those Mirror Neurons.

Make This Work For You:

It's proved that when you play guitar you use multiple regions in your brain. From the motor cortex, to the visual cortex, to the audio. It's busier than an elf on Christmas eve.

Well it's now time to let your premotor cortex take centre stage. Because this area of the brain is where your mirror neurons live.

How do you do this? It's a piece of cake...

Mimic the actions of any skilled guitar player around you. Doing this will help your guitar playing progress tenfold.

Food for thought: All great guitar players have both excellent listening and observation skills. The choice is yours.

Join the elite club and start watching and copying. If you do, your playing gains will be huge.

2. Multi-tasking is Impossible

The Facts:

Picture this. You’re driving and your phone starts to ring. You pick up through your Bluetooth and discover it’s an old friend you haven’t spoken to for months calling to chew the fat.

After 30 minutes of chatting, you end the conversation agreeing to meet up for a beer soon. Suddenly, you’re surprised to see you’re only a few streets away from home.

This happened because you can only think of one thing at a time. It’s impossible for your brain to focus on more than one task.

Yes, multi-tasking is a myth.

You are capable of switching between multiple tasks quickly. But this is only your brain kidding you that you’re ‘multi-tasking’ in the traditional sense.

According to productivity expert David Crenshaw, there are:

Three Main Downsides of Multi-Tasking:

  • Tasks take longer
  • Mistakes increase
  • Stress levels increase
stress-anxiety-man
Make This Work For You:

You will become better and more productive on your guitar if you stop trying to multi-task. Yes, you heard me right. Stop trying to cram in everything you’re learning into a single practise session.

How do you do this?

Simple.

Step one is to start using a custom made Practice Planner. This will help you to concentrate on a few chosen select skill areas per practice. You will see your playing ability excel faster than ever by using this smart tool.

Did you know that a whopping 95% of people learning to play the guitar who admitted they've hit a painful playing plateau said they've never used a practice planner? Or even thought of how crucial one is to their playing progression?

It's not hard to connect the dots is it?...

A Guitar Practice Planner is your secret weapon to making sure you don't cram too many things into your practice session.

3. The More You Do Something, The More You Like it

The Facts:

It’s that annoying song on the radio again. You start off hating it.

By day 4 it doesn’t bother you as much. On day 7 you make a guilty confession to yourself: for some crazy reason you actually now like it!

What?! How can this be?

Welcome to the effects of Mere Exposure Theory.

This psychological phenomenon explains why you like things you are more familiar with. Be this another person, an activity, or that once grating song on the radio.

And according to psychologists, how much you like something will only increase with repetition.

Make This Work For You:

You’ve obviously heard the phrase ‘practice makes perfect right’? Well adding to this idea, I’ve always taught my students the ethos: ‘perfect and repeated practice makes perfect’. This has helped them learn to play guitar radically better.

Give this a crack..

Next time you pick up your guitar, say to yourself:

The more I practice my guitar, the more i’ll want to practice my guitar. The More I want to practice, the more impressive i'll sound.

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Yeah it can be hard learning the guitar, but like any amazing skill, it gets easier the more you do it. What more reason could you need to get stuck in?

4. Closing Your Eyes Helps You Remember Things Better

The Facts:

You’ve been there.

You’re out with friends and you bump into that guy from work you barely know.

A bit of small talk later, you both go on your merry way. One of your friends turns and asks you, “who was that?” You go to answer her, but your mind goes totally blank.

Without knowing it, you close your eyes. Magically, his name suddenly pops into your head. “Oh it’s just John from work.”

It was no accident you shut your eyes then remembered you know.

This is why...

In an experiment at the University of Surrey, researchers observed 178 participants recalling various details after watching a short film and Crimewatch.

The findings were intriguing. The people taking part in the study were able to answer 23% more questions when they closed their eyes as opposed to keeping them open.

Closing your peepers it seems is a powerful memory-boosting tool.

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Make This Work For You:

At the end of the day, learning any skill is about your ability to remember newly gained information that characterises that skill. And the more you remember, the quicker that skill can progress.

Fair warning: frustration is the enemy of progress.

So next time you’re trying to remember something you're learning on guitar such as the arrangement of a song, try this:

Stop getting all wound up with yourself because you keep forgetting the order of those verse chords. Instead, close your eyes.

Take a few seconds. Breathe.

Just like a name you've forgotten pops back into your head when you shut your eyes for a moment, you'll find that you'll remember those chords. You'll realise that they were there all along.

5. When You Own Something, You Value and Cherish It More

The Facts:

We all think our guitars are a better choice than the one the other fella went for.

Makes sense though. That’s why we brought that particular guitar over any other in the same price range right?

Psychologists attribute your preference to something you own to the Endowment Effect.

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A study by Thaler, Kahneman and Knetsch found that people given a mug perceived it's value to be $10, compared to people who didn’t own the mug who rated the mugs value at just $5.

Psychologists further explain why you see things you own as being more valuable with the Mere Ownership Effect.

Basically, if you brought it, it’s special. Psychologically you see the object or thing as being not only just more valuable, but more useful too.

Make This Work For You:

Ok, those of you who know me, you know I’m a guitar teacher so I may be a little biased here... But I’m honest and upfront when I say this…

When you invest a little money into learning your guitar, you will take yourself more seriously. This fact is guaranteed to make your ability progress quicker.

Whether it's guitar lessons or any other learning material. Your self-belief will rocket when you dip your hand into your wallet.

You’ll progress quicker than all those other guys. The ones still sifting through that mountain of free (and often contradictory) stuff out there.

I was self-taught for my first 4 years of learning guitar. And I know it was like rocket-fuel to my playing gains as soon as I invested in a few guitar lessons. It was truly one of the best little investments I've ever made.

6. You Can Read The Mind of a Person You Have a Bond With

The Facts:

We’ve all had those freaky moments.

You’re thinking of a song when your other half comes into the room a few minutes later humming it... You guess the mood your best friend is in just from the way they’re walking towards your front door... You go to drop your sister a text when one flashes up on the screen from her.

Scientists are fascinated by how your brain works when it comes to this kind of behaviour. They’ve even wired up us guitar players to EEG scanners in their quest for more insight.

A study at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development involved studying 12 guitar players. The specific aim was to see how the guitarists brains behaved when they jammed together.

Get a load of what they discovered.

Amazingly, the guitar players brains synced together not only as they played, but right before they played.

And here’s the kicker…

The stronger the relationship between the musicians was, the stronger their brain connection was. You’ll never listen to AC/DC again in the same light.

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Make This Work For You:

If you’re in a band, the benefits of this insight are clear. The more you make an effort to get on with your fellow band mates, the better the bond you’ll form. And as you’ve just discovered, this makes for sweet, sweet music making.

Not in a band? Learning guitar from somebody you build a rapport and trusting relationship with will have the same positive results. The right teacher will make you feel comfortable, confident, and inspired to learn.

Be this a friend who is already amazing on the guitar showing you the ropes, or a qualified and experienced guitar tutor.

And believe me when I say it's amazing the buzz you’ll get when you have your first one-on-one jam.

7. You Are Designed To Want To Stay Consistent With Anything You Think, Say, or Do

The Facts:

A popular psychological theory called The Consistency Principle states that all of us humans yearn to keep consistent with what we think, say, and do.

Think about any sports team you may follow. Despite how rubbish they may be doing this season, you made a pledge to stick by them. Be it a spoken or unspoken vow, you ain't going to change your allegiance for hell or high water.

By the same tack, you generally feel like a jerk if you make a promise to somebody, and you have to break it. It's because you're designed to want to commit to anything you decide to do.

Make This Work For You:

So it's clear. You're designed to feel like you must stick by what you say and do. The great news? It turns out that this natural trait of yours can be dynamite to your guitar playing progression when you know how to use it.

Action Exercise

Take a clean sheet of paper.

Think about 5 playing goals you have.

Write them down.

Yes, write them down, with a real life pen, remember them? Some ideas of goals for you might write down:

  • Getting better at fingerpicking
  • Learning the whole of the Oasis song I’m working on
  • Improving my strumming
  • Getting rid of the buzzes and mutes on the G major chord.

Your brain will strive to stay consistent with those stated goals.

Be sure to have a quick scan of your goals before every practice session until you have achieved each stated goal.

You'll be making life easier for yourself when you guide your brain down the right path to follow.


8. You Think You Want More Choice, But Your Brain Can't Actually Handle It

The Facts:

In a famous experiment dubbed the ‘Jam Study’ (no, not that type of jam. Switch your guitar player brain off for one sec...) scientists set out to see how we respond to choice.

In the experiment that followed the scientists set up two tables. One had 6 jars of jam on it, the other had 24 jars.

What the study revealed surprised everyone:

Even though more people stopped by the table of 24 jams to have a taste, nearly 6 times more people ending up actually buying from the table with less jams on.

What does this mean? Referred to as The Paradox of Choice it seems that there really is such a thing as too much choice.

Your brain doesn’t care for complication. It craves a straightforward, hassle-free life.

Make This Work For You:

We’ve all been there. Seduced in by those never ending shiny promises to help you learn to play guitar like Slash in 4 days...Learn 10 songs in 10 hours. Learn this way of playing ‘cus it’s much better than that other way...

Blah, blah, blah.

So much choice. You feel like you have to devourer it all in case you’re missing out.

Stop right now.

Because It’s been proven:

Too much choice is harmful to your progression.

This is never more true when it comes to you learning to play guitar.

The take home point is this: You’ll struggle less when you find 1 or 2 trusted resources to guide you in your guitar learning journey. Faffing about trying too many things is damaging your playing gains.

So practise, get a great teacher structure and direction.

No dramas. No fuss.

Remember my fellow guitar player, less is most defiantly more.

9. On Average it Takes You 66 Days To Form a Habit

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The Facts:

Spoiler Alert:

Those ridiculous promises you’ll be “playing guitar like a pro in 10 hours” are just that: Ridiculous. Untruthful. Impossible.

Got that off my chest. Now to the science.

From walking the dog, to your morning coffee, to what you watch on tv. Be them good, bad or ugly, you are a creature of habit. A famous study by researchers at University College London set out to discover just how long it takes us to form a habit.

And what they found made them more excited than a kitten on a mattress made out of catnip...

The study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology was carried out over 12 weeks. 96 people were observed as they formed new habits. Some of the habits were run-of-the-mill, some were physical activity such as jogging for 15 minutes before dinner.

The outcome was clear.

66 days was the average time it took people to adapt to their new habit.

66 days. That’s 2.1 months. 95,040 minutes. 5,702,400 seconds.

Now that’s food for thought.

Make This Work For You:

Whether it takes you 66 days or 166 days to form the habit of practicing your guitar, always remember these epic words from Aristotle:

"We are what we repeatedly do. Greatness then, is not an act, but a habit." Aristotle

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So no more mucking about.

It’s in your hands if you want to improve on the guitar and sound the best you can be. All you have to do is follow the correct advice follow a proven practise schedule and keep at it.

This will then lead to the positive habit of practice forming. This habit of practice will make you become that impressive guitar player you've always wanted to be.

10. Writing Down a Positive Thought Will Make You Play Guitar Better, and Also Help You Get Sick Less

writing-pen-hand
The Facts:

We all want to be happy.

That’s a given. And psychologists have carried out many studies into the connection between positive and negative thinking on how happy we feel.

Barbara Fredrickson is one these such psychologists. One of the most interesting results from her research showed how positive thinking can give you superior ability to develop skills and develop resources for use in later life.

Compare that with the damaging effects of negative thinking:

Fredricksons also found that when you have negative thoughts and emotions your brain hits a roadblock. You see nothing but fear, stress, and anxiety. You feel like you've run out of choices.

road-block-closed

The answer to spicing up those positive vibes? Write happy thoughts down.

A study into the health benefits of writing positive thoughts down split a group of students into two.

Group one were told to write down a positive experience for 3 days in a row. Group two were asked to write something general.

Here’s the fantastic bit for you…

“Three months later, measures of health centre visits for illness were obtained. Writing about IPEs (Intensely Positive Experiences) was associated with enhanced positive mood.”

Yes. Writing happy thoughts for just 3 days makes you not only happier but healthier… and for months to come!

Make This Work For You:

If you take one action from this article (though hopefully you'll take more to benefit your guitar playing the most) let it be this one.

Here’s what I want you to do.

Action Exercise

1. Get a clean sheet of paper and grab a pen. Go on. I mean right now…I’ll wait whilst you find one.

Got them? Good.

2. Now think about 1 positive experience you’ve had today.

Big, or small. Guitar playing related or not. Ask yourself,  what mini fist pump moment have I had since I woke up?

3. Now, write it down.

Tomorrow do exactly the same thing. Then the day after tomorrow, rinse and repeat.


Congratulations. By taking this one simple step, you've just put the wheels in motion towards a happier, healthier, and ultimately better you on guitar.

Summing it Up

So now you're in the loop.

12 little-known and surprising psychology facts that you can use to change the way you play guitar forever. That you can use to hot-wire your playing progression, and become a happier, smarter guitarist.

You're armed with the facts and actions exercises to make this work for you.

No wonder they say knowldge is power...

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