...We are talking about practice, man...talking about practice.
- Allen Iverson
(2-time NBA Most Valuable Player)
A few personal experiences regarding practice. I will tell you that I too have found it challenging to practice at times. Especially, when there is no apparent evidence of progress in your playing. Making matters worse, you find it increasingly more challenging to pick-up the guitar to start playing those same old scales from yesteryear one after another with no sense or purpose. Trust me I've been there. So, some time ago I decided that if I really wanted to see progress in my guitar playing ability, I needed to change the way I practiced. I hope you find my tips on how to practice more effectively helpful.
1. Use a Metronome or a Drum Machine to help you keep track of Tempo:
Every guitar player should practice with either a metronome or drum machine. If you have the
budget to do so, go ahead and buy a drum machine, they tend to make keeping track of tempo much more interesting. Nevertheless, at a minimum you should use a metronome to force you to play within tempo. When I first started to practice with a metronome, I noticed that my playing skills were not as sharp or as tight as I thought they were. I kept changing tempo unknowingly to acommodate some of my deficiencies. In short, my playing was somewhat sloppy.
Once I let the metronome keep track of the beats I concentrated on playing the notes as perfect as possible and at the right time. It did not take long before I noticed improvements. I started to play crisper, sharper and with much more consistency. Larry Baione, Guitar Department Chair and faculty member at Berklee College of Music, does not allow students come to class without a metronome. Which reinforces the importance of playing within tempo in your musicianship skills.
2. Dare to Explore into the Unknown One Step at a Time:
Why is it so difficult to practice anyway? Although there could be many reasons or excuses to not practice, the truth may boil down to simply being bored with what you have been practicing lately. Sure the latest hit in iTunes or YouTube may seem like a tempting proposal to try to emulate; but, are you setting yourself up for failure when you realize you lack the skills to play that song? Thus, reverting to the old-faithful songs you've been playing since grammar school.
A trick I do to keep practice time interesting is to continually practice something different every time I set-up to practice. I use what I already master as a baseline to discover new skills. Take for example when I first learnt to play the major scale in one position, I did not move to learn the same scale at a different location or position in the fretboard. Instead, I learnt to play the natural minor scale on the same position as the major scale. I used the major scale as a baseline to learn a new scale, thus helping me see progress much quicker. I could quickly count the number of scales I've learnt to play instead of playing the same scale over and over in different positions.
3. Focus your Practice Time:
I found throughout the years that I would increase my practice frequency whenever I had an event coming up in my planner or was invited to play at a gig. If none of these were on my radar, I would revert to seldomly practicing. This type of practice regimen turned out to be very unfavorable. For instance, I became a one-dimensional player. Meaning that I could easily play one style of music and struggled with other styles. As a result, I was not receiving many invitations to play at gigs because of my one dimensional play.
Fortunately, I started to focus my practice time. What this means is if I had a gig or event on the planner, I knew that I needed to practice the songs we were playing. Simple, right? I'd go over the parts of the song I had some difficulties with until I could play them flawlessly. That made practice easy.
Now the challenge was to find motivation to practice when I did not have a gig or event in the planner. What I ended up doing was creating a practice plan. The practice plan revolved around the notion that I always wanted to practice something different every time. Once I developed the practice plan for the next couple of weeks I made sure to have the necessary discipline to follow it. Before I could notice it, got more and more invitations to casually jam with other musicians, and consequently more gigs and events to play at.
4. Have a Practice Plan Ready:
Obviously, one cannot start to practice if there isn't a practice plan in place. Furthermore, not just any practice plan will work for you. The practice plan needs to be realistic, and address areas of weakness in your playing in order to be effective.
So what is a realistic plan? In my situation I found that I can easily set aside 45 mins 3-days a week. Each practice day I concentrate on practicing something different from the day before. As a result, I practiced a little more than the 45mins I set aside for that day, because I immersed myself in something new. Hence, giving me a sense of accomplishment and motivating me to continue to practice more.
What does an unrealistic practice plan look like? If you say that you'll practice 4hrs seven days a week, then most likely than not, you'll find it harder and harder to commit to it. Thus, you find it easier and easier to delay practice; before you know it, you're not practicing at all.
I have posted a Blank General practice plan in our Music Sheet section for you to download, print or save. This blank general practice plan should be able to give you a head start on maximizing your practice time. In the coming weeks I'll be posting a several Practice Plan routines that should provide you with simple weekly routines that you can use to keep practice time interesting.
I hope you found these tips useful.