In these tough economic times we’re all looking for a bargain. Our guitar playing can benefit greatly from such an attitude. In this article I’ll cover some ideas with regard to practice, lessons and performing that will help you get more for your efforts!
Here are some general concepts that help shape effective practice sessions. If you follow these concepts you’ll definitely get more from your practice.
Daily practice is important when it comes to developing your guitar playing skills. Consistent practice equals consistent playing. If time is short, practice scales and arpeggios, and maybe a few studies. A short session is better than no session. Ideally, you should get five 30- to 60-minute practice sessions per week. Take two days a week off (or use them as ‘free days’). And don’t think that a couple of marathon sessions on the weekend will make up for consistent practice throughout the week.
A regular practice time is a good idea, especially for those with very little time. The prime practice time is in the morning. A short morning practice time will be more effective than a longer evening practice session. If you need to, you can split your practice times between morning and evening. A morning session should include technique and your more cerebral work like memorization and detail. The evening session can be filled with more of your performance pieces or better-learned works. But, if you can, practice first thing in the morning – you’ll feel great all day!
Trying to find your music, nail paper, or other essentials wastes time. Practicing in one space saves time and helps alleviate inertia. Ideally, your space is situated where it won’t disturb anyone. Your space should include a comfortable chair, a solid music stand, your footstool, and guitar support, as well as easy access to your music, nail-care equipment, metronome, capo, and pencil. Equally important is a mirror where you can watch your full body or at least your hands. Another great tool is an easy-to-use recording device kept handy for immediate feedback.
One of the surest ways to not succeed is to not have a plan. Do you sometimes sit down to practice without any real idea of what you’ll be doing, staring at your music stand? You will most likely work on your favorites, leaving the important works lying on the floor. We’ve all heard that you should “have a plan and work your plan.” I keep a detailed practice log listing which pieces, technique, or passages I need to practice and how I want to practice them. I only focus on one idea at a time for each piece. Also, I place a time limit on each. I change my practice plan every two weeks. I find that I need about 10 sessions practicing the same drills on specific repertoire or technique to move forward. I don’t change how I practice a particular piece until the two weeks are up. Trust me on this – I’ve learned my lesson here.
When setting your time, go for shorter times – this will encourage more concentrated practice. You’re also less likely to develop bad habits with a shorter, more focused practice. For example, if I detail a passage from my repertoire, I’ll assign a specific exercise (I call these practice directives), and play that passage for up to one minute each day. Most people spend 5-10 minutes of undirected practice on the same passage and seldom eliminate the problem. A shorter practice, in which you focus on a single directive, will deliver powerful results if you do it consistently.
Having a practice plan, and the discipline to follow it, is priceless. Your mind is free to concentrate on the work at hand without trying to manage the details. As you’re learning to set your practice plan, try not to change the practice directive, even if it seems appropriate. Give yourself a few months to learn this process
[Note: My online course Phase VI – Practice Plans will be available this summer.]
Lessons from a qualified instructor can move your playing forward much quicker than if study on your own. But private lessons cost some serious scratch. Below you’ll find a few ways to get more bang for your buck.
When you step into your teacher’s studio, your nails should be buffed, your guitar tuned, and your check already made out! A student who hands me a check BEFORE the lesson gets a little more of the ‘velvet glove’ treatment where the instruction is delivered in a kindler and gentler manner. I don’t know how your teacher will react but it certainly can’t hurt.
Notes and Questions
You should have some questions or notes on your practice for the last few weeks. Bring these to your lesson.
Recording your lessons (with teacher permission), is the an important money and time saving tool! You hear about 60% of what your teacher says and retain about 40% of that. Recording your lesson is a simple way of retaining 100% of your lesson.
Be sure and find a simple device: one with which you can easily record, replay, and manage the sound clips (you may want to save some of the files on your computer). Some of my students who drive a long distance to their lesson review it on the way home. I used to listen to mine while I feel asleep.
Here’s another benefit: recording your lesson keeps your teacher on his or her toes! (C’mon, we’re only human!)
If you’d like to see what some of my students are using for recording devices, go to my forum where you’ll find a thread on Recording Devices under Lessons with Scott.
One of the best tools for self assessment, besides recording, is performing for others. Find a safe group to try out what you’ve been practicing. Write out your goals for your performance weeks ahead. Practice towards those goals and review your performance to see if you reached them. Don’t be discouraged if you didn’t. Just reload and try again next time.
Here’s a bonus idea: carry a notebook with you to your lessons, master classes and concerts. You’ll be able to jot down especially good ideas from your teacher. Taking notes at a master class is a great way to not only help assimilate the information, but to retain it for later review. Also, have you ever had an idea while attending a performance, only to forget it when you get home? Take your notebook along to concerts to record these ideas.
Thanks for reading along. I hope you found some ideas that will help you reach your guitar playing goals! If you have any questions feel free to write me at email@example.com.