Guide to Effective Guitar Practicing

  • 11/30/2016
  • JamPlay, LLC
Have a Plan
I find it very easy to just spend time playing what I already know and enjoy my time with the instrument. That's a good thing to do, but not very effective when it comes to practice. Practicing should be a time when you develop your strengths, learn new things and eventually become a better player.

Because there are so many elements involved in practicing, it's always a good idea to have a plan. First of all, determine how much time you have to practice. Try to be consistent by including your practice time in your schedule. Find a place that is free from distractions and comfortable for you. Unplug your phone and keep the TV off. In other words you should find a place that is suitable for learning. In the right conditions, one hour of serious practice is more effective than four hours playing in front of the TV. Keep that in mind!

Planning ahead of time what you will work on is a powerful thing. A good way to do this is to prepare your next practice session at the end of your actual practice. That way you will be able to pick up right where you left and just continue to build your skills in an effective manner.

Following is an example of how a one hour practice session can look like:
Warm up exercises: 10 minutes
Learning new scales: 20 minutes
Technique: 20 minutes
Improvisation and writing: 10 minutes
This is only an example. Your practice session will most likely look a little different than this one. Each individual should prepare their work session according to their own skills and needs.

Be Honest With Yourself
Practicing your instrument is much more efficient when you know what you need to work on. Honesty is the key. It can be quite easy to fake your way out of a hard solo while playing in a band. But when you are alone with your guitar, you should be honest with yourself and be aware of your weaknesses.

For example, some of your friends might say that you pick very fast and they always complement you on that particular technique. It makes you feel great, but you know that if you were to play the same thing in front of some better players, you wold be embarrassed. That's something you would want to focus on while practicing.

Don't Burn Steps
Don't try to speed up your learning progress. This is especially true while working on developing speed. Playing fast is very easy to do, but takes a long time. Speed is something that takes time. Your job is to work on training your fingers to play with precision. That should be your main focus. If your fingers are precise and know where to go, speed will follow naturally. Don't burn any steps! The same goes for any technique or musical concept you are working on. You should be patient and confident that serious practice will eventually pay off.

Everything that you learn should be played at a speed that feels very comfortable to you. Don't worry about trying to impress yourself with speed while practicing. Working at an easy tempo with a metronome is the best way to ensure a solid technique and serious progress.

Don't Overdo It
Guitar virtuosity is often compared to high level sportsmanship. Both require much work while avoiding injuries. Preparing your practice sessions can help you prevent muscle tension and unnecessary pain. You should make sure that you spend enough time warming up. Spend a fair amount of time with very basic exercises. Following are a few examples that you can use and develop new ones from there.

Exercise 1

Exercise 2

Massages and Stretching
Massaging your muscles is also a very efficient way to warm up while avoiding injuries. You should try to keep that in mind while practicing. Take time massaging your wrists and fingertips before working out on your guitar. I find it extremely effective to spend the 1/4th of the time you worked on a specific technique massaging. If you consistently use that ratio of workout/relaxation, your technique will improve faster.

It is also important to spend time stretching. Your palm opposing your body, gently pull your fingers of your left hand towards you. Doing so on a regular basis will help you reach larger intervals on your fretboard.

Take Breaks
If you practice everyday seriously, you should try to take a break from your instrument for a day. Just like an athlete, you need to rest. Your muscles need to relax and your technique will actually benefit from that time off. Breaks also keep you from losing interest. I always find it extremely gratifying to pick up the guitar after a few days of rest.

During a long practice session, make a point to take regular small breaks. Get up and stretch your back. Take a small walk and drink plenty of water. You will be able to last longer in your work session and avoid frustration during your study.

Be Open Minded
There is always something new to learn. Don't pass the opportunity to learn something new. We all have our own musical tastes and no one is asked to be passionate about all styles of music. But keep an open mind when it comes time to learning. All musical styles as different as they are from each other have this in common: they use notes and rhythm. There is always something to get out of a musical idea.

A great idea is to take a song, no matter the style, and try to find something that you like about it. It can be anything: a sound, the feeling it gives you, a rhythm... Isolate that element and try to understand why you like that part. Once you determined what makes that section appealing to you write a little musical idea using that element. Working like that is a wonderful way to develop new techniques and reach new heights.

Analyze Your Technique
This is one of my favorite aspects of practicing because it really pays off. When you are working on a specific technique, be attentive to all the movements you are making to achieve what you are doing. Once you are aware of these movements, analyze them and eliminate all the unnecessary ones.

When playing at high speed, you can't afford to lose time with the superfluous movements. Eliminating them is preserving time and energy. Once you spotted these movements that don't need to be there, work on eliminating them and think about ways to achieve the same effect without any wasted energy. This can be quite a difficult task, but the pay off is amazing. The correction must be done at very slow speed.

Keep Track of Your Progress
Keep track of the metronome speed you are comfortable playing at and raise the bar very gradually. Raising the speed by two beats per minute every three days is a fair progression. If you find that you are struggling at a certain speed, slow it down. You need to be comfortable at the tempo you are working with.

If at all possible, record yourself playing. At the end of the week, listen to what you have and take notes. Write down anything you you hear that you don't like and take that into consideration when you prepare your next practice session.

Vary Your Sounds
Try to remember practicing with both lead and clean sounds. The reason is that if you practice with distortion all the time, you will feel that your playing sounds terrible in clean sound and vice versa. Your technique should sound good no matter what sound you are using. Clean sounds and lead sounds both have their advantages and inconveniences. Force yourself to get to playing with all kinds of sounds.

Have a Dedicated Practice Space
If you are serious about practicing and improving your skills in a consistent way, you might consider setting up a design practice room. Find somewhere that you will use only for that purpose. If you can have a room where everything is already set up for you, you won't waste superfluous time arranging your space.

Unplugging your phone is also a good idea. The last thing you want is to be disturbed during your session. Have all the study material you need in the same room (practice program, tabs, recorder, blank paper, pencil...)

Get Some Sleep
A serious musician is like an athlete, your body needs to be as healthy as possible to retain all the information you will learn in your daily practice sessions, make sure you get enough sleep. Not only will your hand and arm muscles be able to accomplish more technical difficulties, but also you will be able to retain more information.

Drink plenty of water. Water helps the blood circulate which will help you stretch more. Last but not least, stay away from drugs and alcohol. Virtuosity and drugs never went well together.

Play in Front of Others
Playing in front of others is a good way to see how good or bad your guitar skills are. The goal is get creative feedback from others. You should be asking the audience what you can improve. Do not look for praises only, but take feedback as an opportunity to focus on your weaknesses.

When asking someone to listen to you play, ask him to pay attention to what doesn't sound good. Its better to play in front of someone who is more experienced than you are. Playing in front of someone who doesn't know much about music might not be the best thing to do when you are trying to improve and push your limits higher.

Take note of the feedback given to you and prepare your practice sessions accordingly. Once you've worked on your weaknesses, ask for more feedback.

Be creative to avoid frustration and boredom, and try to come up with new exercises. When practicing a specific technique, try to write a song using that technique. Not only will your practice be more enjoyable, but your creativity will also be strengthened. The more ideas you come up with, the easier your practice session will be.

There are a lot of ways to come up with new ideas. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Listen to different instruments in a different style of music and try to reproduce what you heard on your guitar.
2. Create a musical theme in your head and reproduce it on the instrument.
3.Watch a movie with the sound turned off and play along to what you see.
4. Ask other musicians what they are practicing and try it on your own.
5. Practice a scale using only one string.
These are only suggestions. Try to vary your sessions and come up with your own ideas. Have fun and practice well!