Everyone knows that to get good at guitar, or anything, it's practice practice practice. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.
However, the saying "work smart, not hard" also has some validity, though I would argue that it is important to work smart AND hard. But how do we make the QUALITY of our practice the best it can possibly be? How do we ensure we're practicing efficiently? Because, after all, however much you're willing to put INTO it, you want to get the maximum results OUT of it.
In this week's blog I'm going to outline 10 important tips for ensuring that you're practicing as efficiently as possible
1. Set Clear Goals
Having goals before you do ANY task is extremely helpful, why would guitar be any different. Its always worth investing the time to establish what your goals are. It's important to have long and short term goals. Your guitar goals may be anything from being able to play a few songs to total mastery of the guitar, in both cases, knowing these goals is very important.
It's important not only for then taking the right steps towards those goals, but also for providing that constant motivation required to put in the hard yards.
It's also important to have goals and aims for each individual practice session, knowing how much time you want to spend on certain aspects and what you want to get through before picking up the guitar.
2. Keep a Practice Log
This goes along well with the clear goals and should really reflect them.
A guitar log is a great way to hold yourself accountable. It's great for knowing how much you practice in a day/week/month and so whether you're regularly hitting your practice targets or not.
It's also great for seeing a breakdown of how much time you are spending practicing all the different aspects of your playing and is a great resource to regularly revisit and reassess as to what can be done differently to see greater improvement.
3. Do the technical aspects at the start
Most, if not all, practice sessions will consist of elements that you aren't the most thrilled to do, the most common examples would be scales, finger exercises, learning new chords etc. mainly the technical side of playing guitar.
In order to get the best effect, practice these elements at the start of your practice session, leaving the more easily enjoyable elements for the latter part of practice.
The reasons for this are quite simple:
a) motivation - after already practicing for a period of time there is naturally going to be some mental resistance to keep going, this resistance will be much easier to conquer if you've already done the more arduous work in your practice session, or much easier to give in to if the arduous work is still to come.
b) efficiency and focus
We will touch on efficiency later but essentially it is better to tackle the technical aspects at the start when your brain is at its freshest, as this is your best chance of mentally engaging with the more technical side of your playing.
c) warming up
The technical exercises are generally the best ways to warm up your fingers, meaning that when you practice your songs, improvisation and anything else you may do, your fingers are already warmed up and ready to go with the best technique and expression your fingers have to offer.
(A recent visit to one of my practice rooms from when I was in Japan, it's a bit different now)
4. Keep the joy of guitar
Figure out what you love about guitar and ensure that it is regularly in your practice. For me it's composing. While this wasn't always the best thing to push me technically, it was what made me want to practice for hours a day. It was also what made me want to push myself technically to get better.
Without the aspects that make guitar a joy, you run the risk of having a very short lived love and passion for the guitar.
5. Practice your weaknesses
This may seem contrary to point number 4, but it's not, you simply need to do both. One of my guitar teachers once told me that it's actually our weaknesses that need the most attention and it has stuck with me ever since. This is where improvement happens, if you only focus on what you're already good at, there won't be much growth.
6. Quality over quantity
To master the guitar the quantity of hours required is great, there is no denying that. However, when practicing, 1 hour of solid focused time is better than 2 hours of poorly focused time.
Ok, but how does this look practically?
If you are able to have 2 hours plus of solid focused time and can just fly through, that's awesome! Keep it up! There's no need to take a break if your mind is still fully engaged. For example, this happens for me most often when I'm either composing, recording or transposing a solo.
However, in a lot of cases if you do the same thing for a long time you are no longer engaged and therefore, are no longer receiving much benefit. In these cases, it is best to practice 45 minutes at a time and rest for 15 minutes (and by rest I mean walk around the block or something).
It also may mean that you need to change the activity. For example, if your scales practice takes 20 minutes but after 10 minutes you're no longer engaged, split your scales practice into 2 x 10 minute sessions.
Tone is everything as a guitarist, and the guitar is so diverse with the different tones it can produce.
Therefore, whenever you're practicing, work on your tone simultaneously. Practice plugged in, through your pedals, take note of the different sounds you're producing and constantly be trying out different sounds. Knowing your gear and what it can do is an extremely important part of being a competent guitarist.
(A bit of eye candy for you all, for originals, click on the sexy sexy picture)
There are a few things that are "everything" as a guitarist, and timing is another one of them. This affects your groove, feel, phrasing and many aspects of your playing.
Using a metronome for as much as possible during practice is really going to internalise that sense of timing. The more you are used to playing with a constant, steady beat, the better your feel will be and the better you will be at keeping that time when you're performing.
9. Kill multiple birds with one stone
Focus on practicing things that work multiple skills of your playing. Or maybe more importantly, focus on the different aspects of each exercise or song that you practice.
For example, scales are great because they work your knowledge of the fretboard and your finger technique (among other things, see The Importance of Learning Scales). At the same time, these multiple benefits won't be automatic without your focus. You need to focus on the notes your practicing up and down the fretboard, AND your finger technique, AND your tone and expression, AND your timing with the metronome etc. etc.
10. Be engaged away from the guitar.
This is a bit of a bonus one as it doesn't relate necessarily to your devoted practice time with a guitar but I've included it because it absolutely relates to efficiency over time with improving.
It is important to be engaging with guitar and music outside of your bedroom. There is so much to be done here; listen to music whenever you can, listen for the guitar tones, the melodic lines, the timing. Replace a lazy night watching movies with a lazy night watching music DVDs. Tap out rhythms on your steering wheel as you drive. The list goes on...
This engagement with music outside of your standard practice time goes a long way to improve your practice time and speed up your overall improvement.
Initially I was thinking I would outline what I thought was the best actual activities to practice but since this post is already pretty long, that will be my next edition in which the link will appear HERE when it is up.
Thank you all for reading, you make my day. Don't forget to comment and/or subscribe and/or contact me for lessons or just to say hi.