Top Tips for practicing Guitar
There’s no better feeling than nailing a part of a song that you have been trying to do for months, but what about the practice time beforehand? This is one of the most difficult challenges we face as musicians, long repetitive sessions replaying the same parts to get the perfect, but what if there was a way to make your practice routine shorter, more effective, and more enjoyable? Hopefully these tips will help guide you in those directions!
1. Be clear on what you want to learn
This might sound obvious, but is something that a lot of people over look what their final goal is. Are you trying to perfect that tricky run in a solo? Is there a string you often accidentally catch when playing? Are there some chords you just can’t seem to hit every time? This is always the best place to be as you have a clear idea of the issue and can create a clear way to improve and overcome the obstacle.
2. Create a plan of action
So you know where you want to improve, now we just need to pave the pathway to improvement. Exercises that target the technique/passage directly are super important and directly influence techniques and motions that are used. Have a look at exercises or other musicians who are proficient in their craft. Why are they so good? Are they placing their fingers in a specific way? Are they using a motion that you have not seen before?
A little bit of research can go a long way!
3. Act upon the plan, slowly…
Once you have found some interesting exercises and musicians, try it yourself but always start out slow. The key to learning new things is to master the motion/skill in a slow motion you your muscle memory can adjust to the new technique and have a good starting point. A great piece of advice one of my tutors told me:
“Play what you feel is slow, then play it at half THAT speed.” – Jon Bishop
Not only does this make sure you have complete control over your movements, it also encourages you to think about your playing rather than relying on muscle memory. This is the best way to avoid bad habits!
This is one of the most important pieces of advice I can give if you want to improve you overall playing and musicianship. A metronome will take your playing from 0 to 11! You can find them for free on every App Store on your phone, or even use Google’s built in metronome here. If you can get a metronome that has a speed builder that would be an added bonus, as it increases speed over a length of time you you can improve your speed without worrying about stopping to change the tempo!
Once you have the technique/run in your fingers confidently, gradually increase the tempo on the metronome by about 5/10 bpm each time. I’d say a good way to progress is to increase the tempo speed when you can play the part 3 times in a row without any mistakes.
5. Treat yourself to breaks
This is something that is always overlooked by musicians, but I believe that it is so important to have breaks throughout your practice routine. I swear by the Pomodoro Technique, which is where you practice for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break and repeat. I feel this is important because of a few things.
Firstly, your mind needs time to recover. It needs a few minutes to take in the information that you have been feeding it for the past 25 minutes, and a short break will accelerate the process of learning, it also give you a little more time to reflect on what areas you’re excelling at and areas of improvement. After the break you will feel much more engaged than if you were to have a 2 hour long practice session, as you’ll be itching to get back on that guitar!
Secondly, your hands need time to recover. As nimble and fluid they may be, they need time to relax. The short break will be hugely beneficial in the long run. Rather than playing for an hour and burning out, with a short break in between you will be able to play much better with less strain, and your stamina will improve (a bit like practicing for a marathon), and most important you lower the risk of straining your hands.
Lastly, your muscle memory will develop quicker. Having a break lets the muscles in your arm relax and not overwork. With them working in relatively short bursts, this also improves retention. When you want to play super fast runs where you don’t always have the time to recognise all the notes, muscle memory is very important!
There are numerous Pomodoro timers online, however my favourite is Plato Timer. It looks great, very easy to use and customise (if you prefer a shorter/longer practice session/break) and I can’t recommend it enough!
6. Consistency over length
If you can, practice regularly, even if its for a short amount of time. Practicing for 30 minutes a day will always be better than practicing for 3 hours once a week. Your brain recognises repetition much more than an intensive one-off session. Visiting passages of music or techniques over the course of a few days will help your brain understand and retain more information as it is being refreshed on the idea daily.
Imagine your brain is like a water bucket you fill up every week. If you fill it up to the top with water and take it around with you every where, it’s going to be heavier, and more work, and overall tiring because you have made such a big jump from having an empty bucket to having a bucket full to the brim.
But lets say you top up the bucket every day, but only by a little bit. When you start out, you will find it difficult to carry an almost empty bucket around, but you will get used to it much quicker than if you had a full bucket. The next day, you add a little bit more. This doesn’t seem too difficult because you’re used to the small amount of water yesterday. By time you get to the full bucket, you’re much more comfortable because you have adjusted to it throughout the week and know how the bucket works.