Category Archives: James Rippingale Guitar Tips Blog

Visualisation for Guitarists Part 2 – Event Rehearsal

Visualisation for Guitarists Part 2 – Event Reherasal

In part 1 you learnt how visualisatuion can help develop greater technical mastery of the guitar but how does visualisation help us to deal with common problems like stage fright, nerves and the fears that often experienced by performing musicians? To answer this question we need to realise:

The Power of Association – The Word Game

Words are a great way to explain the power of association. I believe that the meanings and labels we apply to events often actually shape our experience of the event. Our words and labels form the lens through which we see the world – like tinted sunglasses! Some people choose dark glasses, some rosy spectacles! Bear with me I’ll show you what I mean.

I also believe there is a fine line between “nerves” and “excitement”. Two performers can experience the same physical symptoms eg faster breathing, a sense of energy, greater alertness, sweaty palms etc before going onstage yet one will label them “Fear” and one “Excitement”. Both have same physical experience but with completely different applied meanings – It is a word game!

Try this out for your self: Consider the words “Stage Fright”. Say it out loud, focus on it. How does your body react? Do you feel yourself tightening, the breath becoming shallower, the shoulders rising etc? What pictures does it portray on your inner screen? Now consider Stage Terror! A slight change of words creates a more intense emotional experience doesn’t it? Whats on your inner screen now?

Your Ability to Choose – Creating Positive Associations

We have the inate ability to choose. I like to encourage pupils to choose STAGE JOY! A new concept for most! How does that feel when you focus on it? For many it opens a new vista of delight with communication and the sharing of beauty being the core values of the performance. I don’t know about you but I find that my mind conjors up much more positive images for STAGE JOY! and I feel uplifted at the thought of connecting with people and sharing the music I love a much more useful and enjoyable mindset.

This is a massive subject, more than I can cover here for more details you could explore the writings of Anthony Robbins and his concept of Transformational Language and the work of Dr Richard Bandler.

The Power of Association

Whether it is words or images it all comes down to association. The more we associate positive words and experiences to our musical performance the more we will look forward to it and enjoy the process. The technique of Event Rehearsal helps us to achieve this by creating powerful positive associations, greater familiarity and comfort with the performing situation.

Much of our fear is fear of the unknown. Through Event Rehearsal we can experience the performance situation repeatedly in our minds and purposely create joyful, positive associations with it projecting a happy outcome. When we finally get to perform it is already a familiar, friendly situation and we have conditioned ourselves to succeed. On stage such positivity becomes contagious. You only need to watch a rock performer like Bruce Springsteen in action to see how subtle shifts in body language can affect massive crowds in positive, uplifting ways.

Olympic Gold! – A True Story

A story that really brought this home to me is featured in The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. It tells the tale of Peter Vidmar and Tim Dagged two American atheletes preparing preparing for the 1984 Olympics. Peter and Tim used Event Rehearsal by visualising their event in advance after every training session. After each training session their trainer would announce them to a pretend stadium, they would walk out in front of an imaginary crowd of 13 thousand people with another 200 million watching at home and then proceed and run though their routine. By the time they did their real event they had already completed it thousands of times in their imagination. The situation had become very familiar and they had built lots of positive associations. They went on to win the Gold Medal that year!

The Inner Stage for Guitarists

Most guitarists that I have met try to imagine that they are in their front room alone while on stage in order to reduce nervousness. I feel this is backwards, it is better to repeatedly imagine our selves on stage. Imagining you are alone is not going to help you connect with your audience and surely communication and the deep musical connection is what performing is all about?

How to use Event Rehearsal to Help Your Playing

1) When preparing for a concert get a good idea of how the hall will look from the performers perspective. You could seek out pictures on the internet or even visit and play in the venue. If you can’t do this just imagine your favorite hall from past concerts.

2) Now holding the guitar ready to play imagine the hall. Imagine the people in the audience. The colours, sounds and fragrances. Mentally thank them for being there. Visualize yourself smiling at them and them smiling back………. As you raise your hands to the guitar now feel the hall fall silent……. All eyes are on you and out of the silence grows the most beautiful music……..from your guitar…….look down at your fingers and watch them moving smoothly, effortlessly with the precision of a highly trained master musician……….. Mentally run through the piece enjoying the sounds and the flow of the music…… When the piece is finished stand and take your applause. Smile at the audience acknowledging their support and bow to thank them for listening.

3) Condition It. Repeat this many times until it becomes habitual, until the positive associations are well ingrained. You can have fun enhancing the visualisation by adding details that help you to achieve more of a joyful association. Remeber STAGE JOY? For example you can make the pictures bigger and brighter, enhance the colours, involve other senses etc. As you create more joyful positive associations you condition yourself to enjoy and succeed more and more and to look forward to the performance experience. Whatever we repeatedly give to our brain and nervous system becomes like a programme that can click into place when it is most needed. This sort of practice helps us to control our focus and our emotions and ultimately to really enjoy our work as musicians.

Over To You!

I hope that this has been of use to you. By combining the Visual Motor Rehearsal technique in Part 1 with Event Rehearsal you can get the best of both worlds, developing competance and confidence in ways that will greatly enhance your performance. I hope you enjoy these techniques and would love to know how you get on.

James Rippingale is an international classical guitar recitalist and specialist classical guitar tutor at Wells Cathedral School. He enjoys a busy schedule performing, composing and teaching and is based in the beautiful town of Glastonbury in Somerset. For more details, sound samples and videos please visit:

Visualisation for Guitarists Part 1 – Visual Motor Rehersal

Visualisation for Guitarists Part 1 – Visual Motor Rehersal

Visualisation – A Guitarist’s Power Tool

In my years of teaching and helping classical guitarists I have found the technique of visualisation or visual motor rehearsal to be of great benefit to developing players. I believe that in order to learn deeply we must approach our subject from many different angles and visualisation gives us one such angle. It is a powerful tool to aid our technical and musical development, cultivate greater security and overcome any stage fright. This article will focus on the technique as brain training revealing how to use visualisation as a powerful way to train the brain and nervous system and achieve better results in our guitar playing.

Part 1 will describe the technique of Visual Motor Rehearsal.

Dr Denis Waitly author of The Pyschology of Winning describes how he used this technique to help Olympic athletes:

I took the visualisation process from the Apollo Propgram, and instituted it during the 1980’s and ’90’s into the Olympic program. It was called Visual Motor Rehearsal. When you visualise you materialise. Here’s an interesting thing about the mind: we took olympic atheletes and had them run their event in their mind, and then hooked them up to sophisticated biofeedback equiptment. Incredibly, the same muscles fired in the same sequence when they were running the race in their mind as when they were running on the track. How could this be? Because the mind can’t distinguish wheather you’re really doing it or wheather it’s just a practice. If you’ve been there in the mind you’ll go there in the body – Denis Waitley

I find it fascinating that athletes use this and in many ways musicians are athletes of the hands so how can we apply this to guitar playing? Many famous guitarists use the technique in one way or another. My own teacher taught students to rehearse the finger movements of each hand away from the guitar and I have heard many great guitarists including Manuel Barrueco, David Russell, Simon Dinnigan and Benjamin Verdery all talk about visualisation in one way or another. The great guitarist Sharon Isbin has been known to learn pieces in her mind whilst traveling and I can speak from my own direct experience that I always play better in concert when I have used visualisation as part of my practice. With so much to suggest its effectiveness let us put it into practice. Here is a simple method:

Putting Visualisation into Practice

  • 1) Choose a short passage of music. It is best to start with somthing easy and familiar.
  • 2) Start with the left hand this is usually easier as it is more visual in nature.
  • 3) “Play” the passage of music slowly and accurately in your mind just using the left hand moving the fingers and seeing the fretboard in your mind. I like to rest my fingers on my opposite arm as this gives me more accurate feedback. Notice any mistakes, grey areas or uncertainty in the hand and go back and correct them homing in on the problem areas.
  • 4) Repeat this until you can play it without any mistakes in your mind. Remember Repetition is the Mother of Skill and repetition with the goal of continuing improvement cultivates the best results.
  • 5) Switch hands It is essential that guitarists know exactly what their right hand is doing at all times. Please see my article on this subject Cultivating Right Hand Technique. This can be trickier as our right hand patterns are less visual in nature, however with perseverence we can gain a clear idea of the patterns.
  • 6) Visualise hands together Once you have achieved confidence in both hands separately you are ready to bring them together. The process is the same, working away from the guitar run through the passage noticing and correcting and mistakes until you can play it correctly and confidently in your mind. Now add in dynamics, tone colours, voicing ruato etc Release your creativity and bring the music to life!
  • 7) Conditioning It. Once you have achieved this condition your desired result into your nervous system through repetition over several days. As we repeat the movements we are building stronger neuro connections and stronger habits and are more likely to retain the information.

Most people find that when they come to play the passage on a live instrument it is now much easier and much more secure. One of my own teachers encouraged us to go through the visualisation process before going to sleep at night believing that the mind continues to work on whatever we feed into it before we sleep – leading to more efficient results.

The above technique can help you to develop greater compitance on the instrument but we can also boost confidence and gain greater enjoyment with another application of visualisation; Event Rehearsal. To find out more follow the link below:

Visualisation of Guitarists Part 2 – Event Rehearsal

Cultivating Right Hand Technique – One Principle That Changes Everything

James Rippingale GuitaristI’ve been fascinated by the classical guitar, its technique, repertoire and players for most of my life, leading me to play and teach for a living and to study the greatest players on earth. As I have studied and played there are questions that have always intrigued me:

What is it that the world class players do that the rest of us don’t?

How do they think?

How do they practise?

What is their learning process?

What do they think, believe and do that puts them head and shoulders above the rest of the world and how can we do the same?

These questions have taken me on many adventures in search of answers and I have worked to refine the information down to some basic core principles. Principles that I share in my teaching practice and use to help my own playing.

As one studies the great masters of the guitar over time one starts to see patterns, the same guiding principles occurring again and again. I would like to suggest that if we apply the same principles we to will start to get similar results. If it works for them it will work for us. I am going to share one principle with you today and, although it is simple, I know that when applied it will greatly accelerate your progress and give you far greater technical control and certainty in performance.

Are you curious? Are you ready to revolutionise your own guitar playing? Here it is:

We must know exactly what the right hand is
doing at every point in a piece.

This one idea, if applied, will make a huge difference in your playing. Now you might think this is obvious but my experience is that 80% of players have absolutely no clue what their right hand is doing even in pieces they have played for years.

Here’s a true story to illustrate the point.

The Master and His Amigo – A Guitar Story

I recall sitting in on a masterclass where a talented young pupil had just flown through the third movement of Barrios’ The Cathedral.

Master Guitarist: “Great, Well done! Now please play me the right hand on its own”

Pupil: Huh? (A confused look passes over his face as he realises he has never done this before….)

The student tries to play the right hand on its own and realises that he has no idea how to do it. He is completely unaware of what his hand is doing!

The master explains that it is really important to know our right hand patterns. We tend to process the left hand in a very visual way, we see different positions on the neck, shapes and patterns etc. Around 60% of us are predominantly visual in the way we process information and therefore find it easy to learn the left hand patterns.

The right hand, however is harder to grasp, with more abstract combinations. It lacks clear visual shapes and it can seem harder to master. Sadly most players ignore it and just hope that it will serve them. The student had mastered the left hand but left the right hand movements to chance and instinct.

Master Guitarist: “How can you control something if you do not know what it is?”

The student, obviously rattled by the question started to argue back giving all sorts of excuses like “Oh I just go with the flow”, “I just use my instinct” etc etc.

The master guitarist looks him directly in the eye and said:

“Amigo, either you can do it this way or you can practise it 1000 times and then maybe eventually you might get it right”

What a valuable lesson for all of us!

Here is another way of understanding the importance of knowing exactly what the right hand is doing:

The General and His Troops

Imagine that you, the player, are a General overseeing a mission (the piece). Your fingers are your troops and you must give them very clear precise instructions if they are to carry out their duties successfully. Without clear instructions they will do their best but they will be falling over each other like a rabble, unsure who should be doing what.

It is so often like this for guitarists. Our fingers do their best but they fail due to the lack of clear instructions. This can cause great frustration for us! Thankfully by applying the above principle this problem is easy to solve.

Applying the Principle

Let’s apply this game changing principal with 7 simple steps. You will need to choose a small passage from one of your pieces and have a pencil to hand.

1) First work out an effective right hand fingering, take your time with this. The planning stages are so important and diligence in the early stages will pay dividends later on

2) Write it down! There is something magical about getting clear ideas onto the page. Remember the general and his troops. You must give your hands clear instructions

3) Practice this slowly with the right hand on it’s own, in small manageable chunks

4) Practise the pattern using the left hand to dampen the strings. This gives a percussive sound that helps us to develop really precise rhythmic control and accuracy

5) Join the Chunks Together

6)Visualise the patterns with and without the score away from the guitar

7) Test It! – Play the passage of music first with both hands and then just the right hand on its own. If it is not clear yet remember that the process of memorisation is a gradual one from short term memory to long term memory and we must make gradual steps and respect the process. Repeat the above steps until successful. Remember repetition is the mother of skill

Good luck and I hope that you enjoy applying this principal. I hope that you have found this article to be helpful and I know that you will find that applying this principle will greatly enhance your music and your enjoyment. I have seen it help many pupils over the years and although it may seem simple it can be revolutionary when applied consistently.

One of the great side benefits is that the left hand also seems to work more efficiently and to be more relaxed when you know what our right hand is doing. Please do write to me and let me know how you get on as feedback is always welcome. Good luck and happy playing! – James

James Rippingale is an international classical guitar recitalist and specialist classical guitar tutor at Wells Cathedral School. He enjoys a busy schedule performing, composing and teaching and is based in the beautiful town of Glastonbury in Somerset. For more details, sound samples and videos please visit