By Chad Crawford, Guitar Instructor Greenville Guitar Lessons by PMI
If you have been playing guitar for any length of time then you know by now that the one supreme key to results is this: practice! However, it is possible to practice routinely and still get poor results. How is this? It is by practicing the wrong things, in the wrong order, and in the wrong way. So how can you know what to practice, what order to practice it in, and how to practice for maximum results? Follow the recommendations below to make the most of your practice time.
What to practice:
Playing guitar is a complex combination of mental and physical skills. In order to master the subject we need to break it down into manageable pieces. What specifically to practice is too big of a subject for a short article. However, what we can do here is narrow down the possibilities. The most important thing you need to consider is your goals. If your goal is too generalized it will not help you nail down what you need to practice. For instance, if you set an overly broad goal such as, “I just want to be able to play guitar,” this is not going to help you identify what information you need to learn and what techniques you need to master. If you are not sure about your goals then you should give some thought to what kind of music you like to listen to. Then you must identify what you must learn to do to mimic this kind of music. Those are the things that you need to practice. Make a list of those things and then go to work on them every time you practice. Do not get bogged down in practicing one technique or one song. Practice a variety of things pertinent to your goals.
A common problem I see among aspiring guitarists is the tendency to want to know and master everything about guitar. While the idea is not a bad one in theory, the reality is that music has been under development for several thousand years. It is a huge subject. Some universities offer doctorate level programs in music. As a hobbyist you do not have time to master “everything” about guitar. You are going to have enough on your hands just to master one style and play fluently in two or three related styles. So don’t waste your time learning exotic scales and chords if your intent is to play popular radio songs. Learning obscure modes is not going to make you a better player if you are still struggling with applying the pentatonic scales. Master the basic chords, scales, and techniques and then work on applying them effectively. Once you have reached a level that you can enjoy playing the basics then it is time to work on the more complicated stuff, and then only if it is applicable to your goals at that point.
At the other extreme is the tendency to want to learn only bare minimum requirements for playing specific songs. There is a bit of controversy in the music teaching community as to whether learning specific songs is a good approach to musical mastery. I think learning songs can be very helpful to mastering knowledge and techniques on the condition that the songs are incorporated into a balanced program of learning music in general rather than just learning the bare minimum information and techniques to play the specific songs. Taken by itself, learning songs is a dead end that leaves many aspiring guitarists frustrated and burned out. Don’t let this happen to you!
How to practice:
One of the recurring problems I see with students of guitar is the tendency to get into a self-defeating routine with practice. It is not that a practice routine itself is problematic. Practice certainly does need to be a routine undertaking. The problem develops in that practicing specific exercises becomes a matter of mindlessly running through the same material with no specific mental focus on improvement. Practice becomes an exercise in repeating the same stuff from yesterday in the same way. This is the number one issue I see that impedes progress. When you practice any skill, it is important that you focus on doing it better today than yesterday. Whether it be memorizing some chord, scale, or song, or improving the speed or finesse of chord changes or scales, it is important to push yourself to make an increment of progress every time you practice something!
Another common problem is the tendency to rush through practice. While speed is essential in executing chord changes and phrases, you must balance speed with accuracy. Rushing through every exercise as fast as possible will only delay your progress. Make the effort to ensure that your execution is accurate as well as fast. This often means that you will have to slow something down to a tempo that may be completely unrealistic for actual playing and then practice at that speed until you can execute the technique fairly well. Then gradually increase speed as you are able.
Finally, be sure to practice as often as possible! Learning guitar is all about memory in terms of both mental recall and physical muscle control. Every day that you do not practice you lose a bit of recall and muscle memory. That is just the way the human machine functions and there is not much we can do about it. Therefore, it would be best to practice every single day. However, this is not feasible for many hobbyists. In this case, make it a point to practice more days than not … at least five days a week.
Follow these guidelines to ensure that your practice routine is leading to progress rather than frustration!
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