Practicing Guitar Like a Pro
By Tennyson Williams, Author of The Essential Guide To Guitar Virtuosity
The practice routine has always been on the minds of beginning to moderately advancing guitarists, and its always been a question of how should I practice, and how much should I practice?
In this article I would like to help you establish what you need to do to meet your guitar goals. Although I can’t spell out the perfect practice routine for every type of musician, I can certainly help you to define, create and refine a practice routine that you can expand upon.
There is a big myth that has traveled far and wide, and I think it puts a lot of fear into the minds of beginning guitarists. That myth is that you must practice something like eight hours a day to progress even remotely on the guitar. This is not true, itself, even remotely.
If you can practice for even twenty minutes a day, you will make progress and you will see that progress. That is fact, but along with it is another fact. The more you practice, the faster you will see your goals come to life. In other words, like with anything, you get back what you are willing to put in.
If you have been practicing twenty minutes a day, every day, for three months now, and you are not satisfied with the results, then you need to cut that three months in half. When I say cut those three months in half, I mean that literally. Increase your practicing routine to forty minutes and you should see new progress within in six weeks. Don’t like that? start practicing for eighty minutes a day and you should see even greater progress in three weeks.
How you practice
This is where I need to talk about how you practice. Practicing more is not the trick to progress. Don’t get me wrong – it is certainly a huge part of it, but you should use your time well.
1. The process of elimination
Developing correctly on the guitar is all about being aware of your mistakes and bad habits. This often times requires that you be a little scrutinizing of yourself. You don’t have to be hard on yourself, but you have to listen to what’s really going on. If you can learn to do this, then you will be able to recognize bad habits that you are developing.
2. Correcting bad habits
Once you recognize a bad habit, your goal now should be to slow things down and focus on creating a new habit that has a positive impact on your playing. Bad habits are very hard to fix, and the more that you practice with them, the harder it becomes to correct them.
3. Time management
As I had mentioned earlier – the more you practice the faster the results come to you. A lot of people struggle with their amount of time, and really in a moment like this, all that I can say is that if you want it bad enough, then you’ll make time.
However, their is a solution to this problem. I would advise any guitarist to practice just a little bit, and to make sure that they practice at the same time every day or night.
Eventually this should be a synch, and when this happens you can start assessing your day, and figure out what you can correct in the day to further accommodate more practicing.
4. Consistency matters
More importantly than the time that you spend practicing guitar is the fact that you practice the same amount of time everyday. Skipping a day creates quite the reversal effect. If this is too pressuring for you to handle, then just practice for twenty minutes every day. There’s a good chance that no matter how busy you, that you can do at least that.
5. Building up and working in doubles
If you start out with a twenty minute practice routine, and decide that its time to tack on some extra minutes, do it by doubling your current practice routine. This should now be forty minutes of practicing guitar. Eventually you can take that forty minutes and turn it into eighty minutes. Eighty minutes becomes two and a half hours, and so on..
The key is not to get yourself into a state of overwhelmed. If this happens then it naturally takes the joy out of practicing or even worse, wanting to practice.
6. Assessing your practice routine
Its very important to have a good understanding of what style of music you want to focus on. This isn’t hard at all because everyone is attracted to a particular form of music, but further more, you need to investigate and figure out what techniques and approaches to playing your style of music requires. Its always a good idea to make a list of these techniques.
7. Setting goals
After you’ve done this you need to decide what your exact goals are, but don’t think small – think big. Those who think big have a greater advantage, because they tend to create a deeper level of self inspiration. Making a list of these goals is even more important than making a list of what you need to be practicing.
Once you have done this you can start setting sub goals. These sub goals, with the correct mindset and approach to practicing, should always be changing in a positive manner. If speed is the game that you want to play, then start small and keep track of your speed progress on a daily basis. Write down any kind of progress by keeping a small practice journal. When you look back at all of the progress that you have made up to a current date, it will inspire you to go even further.
8. Breaking down the time in your practice routine
All aspects of the guitar should be evenly practiced. Lets say that you are working with a one hour practice routine, and that this one hour practice routine is spent focusing on muscle memory development, technique building, and theory. It should look something like this.
10 minutes practicing alternate picking
10 minutes practicing legato
10 minutes practicing tapping
10 minutes practicing sweep picking
10 minutes working with chords
10 minutes studying musical theory
Believe it or not, but that little one hour practice routine would be excellent for any guitarist to take on, and its not so much time that its not doable. It is just consistent enough that it will promote a great deal of progress. If you started with this, then you could eventually take on a two hour practice routine, which would look like this.
20 minutes practicing alternate picking
20 minutes practicing legato
20 minutes practicing tapping
20 minutes practicing sweep picking
20 minutes working with chords
20 minutes studying musical theory
This will do wonders for your playing and bring your goals to you much faster, and if this is so, then a three hour practice routine…
30 minutes practicing alternate picking
30 minutes practicing legato
30 minutes practicing tapping
30 minutes practicing sweep picking
30 minutes working with chords
30 minutes studying musical theory
…Will truly take your playing to the next level.
Now the examples of what is being studied in all of those routines are very standard for someone studying to become an electric guitar virtuoso, but once you establish what you need to learn – you can substitute where you see fit.
9. Number of exercises
This is very important if you are working on mastering a particular technique. My suggestion is to work with just three exercises per technique, and to get those exercises to a point where you feel that you have truly mastered them, before moving on to other exercises.
By doing this you will make the best of your practice time, and you won’t stress yourself out. Also, any time that you take on another exercise, it takes time away from your other exercises. If you want to get some of those riffs down, you’ve got to give them your all. Using the three hour practice routine above, it would translate like this.
30 minutes practicing alternate picking with 3 exercises = ten minutes per exercise
30 minutes practicing legato 3 exercises = ten minutes per exercise
30 minutes practicing tapping 3 exercises = ten minutes per exercise
30 minutes practicing sweep picking 3 exercises = ten minutes per exercise
30 minutes working with chords
30 minutes studying musical theory = ten minutes for scales and modes – ten
minutes for musical terminology – ten minutes for ear training.
10. Dividing your time up
Some guitarists may disagree, but I have never had any problems with practicing here and there. If you choose to use the three hour routine, then you could practice for an hour in the morning, an hour in the evening, and then an hour later at night. I actually feel that this works better, and regardless, if you are working with a long practice routine – you must take breaks.
11. Getting the best out of your hands
If you are too hard on your hands you will definitely pay the price. Be aware of any discomfort that should arise, but also understand that you have to push your hands a little when they are being lazy. Its typical to have sweaty hands after working with some exercises, after all, the name of the game is to give them a work out. You want to be able to take them out of their current comfort zone, and show them a new comfort zone.
Another key thing is the time spent on an exercise. There is a certain and undefined muscle barrier that has to be broken if you are striving for any kind of speed. In order to do this you have to work with exercises for a good one to three minutes straight. You shouldn’t do this with speeds that you are not capable of playing yet. This will definitely do damage to your hands. However, you can start doing this at a speed that is a breeze for you and then work up from their.
Developing speed in particular is like training for a marathon. You want to wear your hands out, take a good break, and then come back to wear them out some more. You have to build some muscle in your hands alongside of the dexterity.
Regardless of the amount of time that you spend practicing guitar, if you want to make true progress, then you will need to organize that time to get the most out of it. If you can take the first steps to utilize your time well, set small goals, and see the whole picture, then you’ll really go far in your playing. Here’s to your playing!
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