By Chad Crawford, Guitar Instructor, Greenville Guitar Lessons
Practicing guitar and playing guitar are not the same thing, and it is important to understand the difference if you want to maximize your progress. While playing guitar is the end game of practicing, and we need to spend plenty of time playing, practicing is the means to the end of playing. It is essential to practice well and not allow playing to take over during what should be practice time. Although this may seem obvious on the surface, it is very easy to fall over into playing while trying to practice. Here we will look at the differences and consider how to avoid this pitfall.
So let us consider the differences between the two and how to avoid mixing them up. Playing guitar is the broad application of all our knowledge and technique skills into making music. Practicing guitar is deliberate focus on a narrow range of knowledge and technique skills with the specific goal of cultivating improvement in those specific areas. While playing, we focus on all that we can do. While practicing we focus on what we can not yet do, or do as well as we would prefer.
Here are some steps you can take to ensure that you are practicing instead of getting stuck in a rut by playing through your practice time:
1. Consider where you are, where you need to be, and how to get there – if you have no master plan for reaching your musical goals then you can be sure that your practice time will consist of merely playing what you already know rather than making specific improvements in those things that will allow you access to the next musical level. To devise a master plan you should look to the music you wish to play and find out what kinds of chords, rhythms, and scales/arpeggios arise in that music. You need to master those things to play that kind of music.
2. Define goals for every practice session – if you practice with no particular goal in mind then you will get exactly where you planned to get – nowhere. In every practice session you should have a plan to work on improving specific aspects of knowledge and technique according to your overall master plan. Committing your plan to paper will aid you greatly in keeping it in view as you practice.
3. Focus on specific aspects of knowledge and technique during practice – when you are for instance practicing the scales you need for your preferred musical style, focus specifically on timing, note articulation, resolving notes, technique (relaxed fingers!), two hand synchronization, and eventually speed. You may have to break these goals down across several practice sessions per week so that you can devote adequate time and attention to each. Playing licks that you already know, or mindlessly wandering up and down through scales, is not practice. That is playing and it will not help you improve nearly as much as practicing.
4. Push yourself to do better than yesterday – profitable practice does not come from merely repeating what you did yesterday. It comes from making it a point to do better than you did yesterday. Doing better than you did yesterday does not come from merely accepting the vague proposition that you will try do better today then you did yesterday. It comes from focused attention to the minute details of your playing, such as striving for better note articulation of scales, faster chord changes, or deliberately playing with less overall muscular tension than yesterday.
5. Maintain your attention on the details – it is very easy to allow your mind to wander off when you are doing repetitive aspects of your practice routine. Focus yields much greater results, and focus is an ongoing choice because the mind tends strongly toward wandering off from one thing to another. Choose to keep your mind focused on the details of what you are working on.
6. Include some playing time in your musical endeavors – it is pointless to pursue music if it is going to mean nothing but practice. Allow yourself some time within each practice session, or a few times a week if that works better for you, to just play without being overly concerned about the perfection of the details. Perfect the details during practice, and then relax and let your hands do their thing when you play. During playing time, do whatever is the best you can do and don’t allow mistakes to rob your enjoyment of it. Just play and enjoy what comes out well. As you progress through diligent practice, you will find that your playing includes increasingly fewer mistakes and more enjoyment. It is a process. Give it time.
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