Working in My Sleep

19/10/2015 21:46 BST | Updated 19/10/2016 10:12 BST

In the beginning, I had no idea what it was I was doing. I would lie in bed, going over and over everything that I was convinced I didn't know. I agonised over scales, guitar parts and techniques, berating my imaginary fingers for their frequent mistakes and deeply regretting not starting playing as early as everyone else in my class. However, when I woke up, whatever it was I was worrying about not knowing, was miraculously there waiting for me in my fingers in the morning. To be honest, it felt a little bit dishonest. It felt like I was somehow taking advantage of a loop hole in my own brain. I felt I was getting to the right destination, but wasn't working as hard as other people to get there - I still do a bit.

As my playing progressed I started writing things that I couldn't actually physically play, but I could see in my mind how all the melodies and movements should fit together. Again, going over the parts in my head, usually just before falling asleep. Until eventually they worked their way from my brain to my fingers. I survived music college (most improved guitarist of the year 2001), then I started playing live. I'd get nervous the night before a gig and go over the tricky bits in bed with a guitar, or without. Luckily, or unluckily, I didn't have a girlfriend to annoy at this point in time. The gigs got bigger, festivals and television performances started cropping up.

Nearly ten years and five albums later, I'm still doing pretty much the same thing. Going over precisely on which beats to press effects pedals with my feet, guitar changes, plus the talking in-between songs, every single aspect of my ridiculous job. You can take this concept too far.

Some mornings on tour I woke up feeling completely exhausted and slightly confused, and not for the usual reasons. In my memories of the night before were two whole gigs, no details missing from either the fictional or the non-fictional version of events. I was re-running the whole set in my sleep, the whole two hour set. If you have a large, repeated task, doubling the amount of times you perceive yourself to have done it isn't always in your best interests. Working in your sleep is useful, but it does have it's dangers.

It took me a long time to realise that by just thinking through what I was supposed be working on, I was somehow, vicariously, actually doing the work that I thought I wasn't. Counterintuitive, yes. Lazy, possibly, but it definitely works. It's usually associated with sport - something I have almost no experience in or inclination towards.

Unfortunately this doesn't work for everything, for instance, I still can't do a backflip or speak fluent French, but for physical patterns, like guitar parts and memorising recording software shortcuts, it's been pretty much invaluable to me. So, if it works for you, go ahead, cheat a little.

If you found any of this potentially useful give 'visualisation' a cheeky google.


Taken from Newton's new album 'Human Love' out 20th November. Pre-order now on: