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July 09, 2009

How To Practice Guitar

As a guitar teacher, I have found that students are not sure how they should practice. As a result, they often don't improve as fast as they could, because they are not using their time playing guitar effectively. I think this applies to many players, regardless of ability. Many feel they are just not getting any better, and frustration comes easy as a result. I have to admit, it happens to me too!

So what can be done about this? Are there any "secrets to practicing guitar"? Not really, no. However, what we all need to do sometimes it to take a step back and take a look at where we are now, and where we want to be. This is different for everyone, depending on their level of skill, but what most of us have in common is the need for a practice plan. I believe that in order accomplish things effectively in life, regardless of what it is, having a plan in place is essential.

Are you noodling around for hours and hours, playing the same stuff you already know over and over? If so, why? Probably because you never stopped and thought about it for very long. There is a big difference between practicing and noodling. Practicing is learning new material, gaining new knowledge or skill, and refining and improving upon what you already know. Noodling is not necessarily bad, not at all, but we should look at developing a plan that also includes other essential parts of playing guitar.

So what does a practice plan look like then? The first thing I recommend is to work with a metronome. If you have access to a drum machine, even better. Metronomes can be quite boring to play, so playing to a drum track is way more fun. They both will do the job though, which is forcing you to play well by keeping good time. Whatever you are working on, play it slow with a metronome/drum machine first. Make sure it is accurate and clearly executed. For example, you may be playing 1/4 notes - one note per beat of the metronome - so play it over and over and make sure you are keeping time with the ticking of the metronome. Practicing with a metronome early on in your career is so important. Your timing will become great as a result, and you will sound great when you play. This is especially true when you play in a band. Just be patient, and practice at slow tempos at first, and only speed up the metronome when you are able to play it perfectly at the current tempo.

If you are having problems learning a particular part of a song or lick, etc - narrow down the problem area and tackle that problem separately. It might be a bend, a strumming pattern, a chord, etc. Play that part slowly until you are able to play it well. Then move on to the next parts. Some things take more time to get down, so be patient and repeatedly work on difficult parts - it will get easier over time, I promise.

Here's another thing to try. Use a timer and set it to 10 minutes per each subject of study. Keep practicing the same thing until the timer goes off. Good job! Feel free to noodle around for a few minutes, before you move on to the next subject of study.

Suggested Guitar Practice Schedule (80 minutes)

One Four Five

Here is recommended, basic theory course - OneFourFive. I-IV-V (that's 1, 4, 5 in English) refers to the root note (I), or tonic, and the two notes in perfect relation to it (IV and V). Because it is a numbering system, it is universal, and applies to every single key.

Other than #1, feel free to practice these things in any order! You don't have to do them all in one setting either. Do a few at a time, and next time you practice, do the other items in the list you didn't do the first time, etc. Also, feel free to change the number of minutes for each to suit your own needs. Maybe you want to practice for 2 hours, maybe just 50 minutes - it is completely up to you. You can view this schedule as a skeleton or blueprint which you can modify to fit into your own situation.

  1. Warm-up - 5 minutes. First of all - tune your guitar! Then, play anything you like, but don't do anything that is really hard on the muscles in your hands. Let them get warmed up first.
  2. Scales - 10 minutes . Work on scales you don't yet know well. You probably have scales tabbed out and printed. Take your time and play these slowly with the metronome. Play the notes of the scale in question in any order, random, sequential, etc. As you do this, try to visualize in your head the patterns this scale creates on the fretboard. Over time, you will be able to "see" the scale on the fretboard without thinking much about it.
  3. Arpeggios - 10 minutes. Do the same as with the scales mentioned above. An arpeggio is a group of notes which are played one after the other, either going up or going down, where the notes belong to one chord. Again, visualize and try to remember the patterns you play.
  4. Chords - 10 minutes. Learn new voicings of chords. Learn new chords. Practice chord progressions with some of the new chords you are learning.
  5. Theory - 5 minutes. Get a good book about music theory. There are many out there. This one is great - Alfred Essentials of Music Theory: Complete Self-Study Course (Book/2-CD)
  6. Technique - 10 minutes. Work on things that need improvement or that may be new to you, for example - hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends, strumming, alternate picking, sweep technique, tapping, etc.
  7. Fretboard training - 10 minutes. Set the metronome at a low BPM. Start with any note you want. Find and play that note for every click of the metronome on every string, but start with 2 strings at a time. Once you have that down, move to 2 more strings, then practice finding that note on those 4 strings. Continue with the last 2 strings and finally do all 6 strings. Play the notes in any order and direction. The purpose here is to find the note in question as quickly as you can. It will become "transparent" with enough training - you will be able to find any note anywhere on the fretboard without having to think
  8. Work on a song - 10 minutes. Work on a song which has something challenging in it, something that gives you an opportunity to practice something new.
  9. Reading music - 10 minutes. Work on reading TAB and music notation. Practice reading rhythms, notes and sight reading.
  10. Transcribe something - ANY minutes. This is the best way to teach yourself, and it's fantastic ear training. Listen to a few seconds of a song, over and over. Imitate best you can, try to figure out one note at a time. This means replaying the same sequence many times. After a while, you will be able to do this quicker, as well as picking out more than one note at a time.
  11. Play anything - ANY minutes. Noodle around and play whatever you want - playing should first and foremost be FUN!

Important things to remember

Hope you find these tips useful. Remember, a focused practice routine will lead to improvements faster.

Last thing - don't forget to the most important part - to have fun!

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By Robert Renman - www.dolphinstreet.com


Posted by Robert Renman on July 09, 2009

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