In this article, I am going to share with you a very simple visualization exercise for guitar. It’s so easy that anyone can do it, even if you’ve never played the guitar before in your life. (If you’ve always wanted to play the guitar, this is your chance! The Cloud exercise is a wonderful way to begin your relationship with the guitar.)
As you practice Cloud, you will be developing a clear and powerful understanding of the guitar neck that even most professional guitarists do not have. This understanding will lead to very exciting abilities in the future. But there is nothing difficult about practicing it. You just need to relax, give your full attention to what you’re doing, and enjoy each step as you move through the Cloud.
One finger per fret
The trick to visualizing anything the guitar is use your left hand to “control” the territory. Your left hand is not just for fretting the notes so you can play them. It’s also a powerful reference point that helps you keep track of where the notes are. To take advantage of this, you need to line up your fingers properly with exactly one finger per fret. No matter where your left hand happens to be playing on the guitar neck, your fingers should always be aligned in the following way:
The key to developing your visualization skills is to always use this exact fingering, at least in the beginning. If you find it uncomfortable to keep your hand stretched open the whole time, then just relax your hand after each new note that you play. But make sure you play each note with the finger shown in the drawing above. This way your fingers can just drop down like pistons, and you don’t need to even look at the guitar neck in order to feel complete confidence.
Visualizing the Cloud
No matter where you place your left hand on the neck of the guitar, the entire set of notes available to you at any time (or what I call “The Cloud”) takes the following form:
Don’t be overwhelmed by all the numbers inside the circles. I just put them there to show you the order of the notes in pitch from lowest to highest. Imagine yourself playing these notes one at a time, starting with circle 1 and ending with circle 29. This is how we visualize the entire range of notes available to you on the guitar.
The finger indication is very important. No matter where you are on the guitar neck, for now you must always use the exact fingering indicated above. Notice that your little finger or pinky has the “double duty” of covering all the notes on two different frets. If you found it difficult to align one finger per fret as I showed you in the first drawing, then you may be wondering how the heck you are supposed to pull off this new stretch! But don’t worry. In the future we won’t even play the guitar in this way, so don’t worry if you don’t feel agile.This is only a visualization exercise. It teaches you to see the neck of the guitar in a particular way, and this vision is the foundation for a complete mastery of the instrument. So just play slowly, take your time and feel free to be as clumsy as you need to be.
Later on, once you have mastered moving around within the Cloud, you can move on to the second part of the exercise, which is called Mobility. In Mobility, you will see how to apply what you learned in Cloud in a much more abstract way, allowing for complete freedom of movement all over the guitar. So just take comfort knowing that soon you will learn a much easier way to move all over the guitar neck and play any note that you can imagine. Take your time to learn the Cloud concept deeply. It is here in the Cloud exercise that you will build the visualization skills you need for Mobility.
How to practice
The important thing about the above drawing is that this “cloud” of notes always looks the exact same no matter where your left hand is on the guitar. If you are playing way down low on the guitar then your index finger might correspond to the 1st fret. If you are playing way up high then your index finger might be at the 9th fret. But in both cases the notes available to you take on the exact same form, the one represented in the above drawing. So just place your left hand anywhere you want on the neck of the guitar, align your fingers to have one finger per fret (or as close as you can come) and do the following exercise in a calm and meditative way:
Step 1: Pick a note, any note.
We start every exercise this way. You shouldn’t always pick the same note. But don’t think too much about it either. Just pick a note completely at random. This is a great way to practice one of the most essential skills of the improviser, which is the ability to orient oneself instantly with a single note. You never know where you are going to be when you will want to paint a particular musical shape on your instrument. So it’s important that each exercise begin with a moment of complete disorientation. Just place your left hand anywhere on the guitar neck and align your fingers properly so that each finger corresponds to a specific fret. Choose any string at random and play any note on that string, using the appropriate finger.
Step 2: Enjoy this note for a moment.
With your eyes closed, can you also visualize all of the rest of the notes in the cloud drawing above?
Step 3: Move to the note exactly one half step below.
A “half step” is the smallest interval in our musical system, and it corresponds to exactly one fret on the guitar. For example if you started on circle number 22 (played with your ring finger) then the new note would be circle number 21 (played with your middle finger). Try to keep your hand perfectly aligned with one finger per fret, if you are able to. Keep your eyes closed for this and all remaining steps.
Step 4: Continue moving down in half steps as far as you want to.
(In our example, this would mean moving down to circle number 20, then 19, then 18, and so on…)
Step 5: Whenever you decide, change direction and begin to move upward.
Step 6: Continue playing as long as you like, changing direction whenever you feel like it. Keep your eyes closed the entire time, and visualize the Cloud in your mind.
This is just one of many ways to practice “Cloud” but it’s the most important, and it is the foundation for everything else I teach in my method. So don’t rush. Stay with this simple exercise until you can do it in your sleep. Even after you understand the exercise, keep practicing it at least once every day so that you continue to reinforce the concept. You might “get” the idea intellectually right from the very beginning. But your subconscious mind needs time to reprogram itself to imagine this cloud of notes as your “musical universe.” So take a few minutes each day to perform this simple relaxing exercise.