A Review of Practice Techiniques

A practice technique is a method for practicing short sections. Some of the most difficult passages in pieces we play require us to practice them in all sort of ways. Aside from the usual, “go really slow,” here’s a few other ways to work on that difficult section.

Slow/Fast Alternation is just what you would thing: play it slow, then play it fast. Why play fast? After a movement is programmed in (the slow portion), it’s essential to try it at concert tempo. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t take months of work to play at concert tempo. Anyone can do it for a short time after very little practice. Sometimes those movements that work slow don’t work at tempo. This method will let you know if that’s the case right away.

Changing the Rhythm is a good way to step outside the usual. Playing something a, “swing,” rhythm automatically building in speed bursts, and is a great way to work on a passage. It doesn’t stop there, however. Try arranging passages into many different rhythms for a lot variety.

Practicing with a variety of Dynamics is a great way to nail down right hand patterns. Playing loudly feels different from playing softly. We can harness those differences to make a passage more secure and fluent.

Thunk Practice is when the left hand is just held over the strings muting all of them. This is a great way to hear evenness in right hand patterns. However, thunk practice can also be done where the left hand is used as normal, but never actually presses down — the fingers just lightly touch the string at the fret. The result of practicing this second way is a very light feeling left hand. Worth a try!

Are you away from a guitar on a regular basis? Try Mental Practice. Just as the name suggests, this form of practice does not involve the instrument. It’s all about visualizing and analyzing.

Stop/Go Practice is best utilized on difficult left hand shifts or events. Play up until the shift, STOP, move, hover, then place and play and go. This give you time to think and analyze the movement; it allows you practice it the same way each time, speeding up learning through correct repetition.

Chaining is stringing together short passages by connecting downbeats. It’s a very effective way to get something up to tempo quickly.

Not every difficult passage will require all of these techniques. Pick and choose what works best. I use a lot of stop/go and slow/fast practice. However, with big scales, I tend to change the rhythm. Try a few for each passage, and see if it works. Write it down in your practice log and go from there.

Posted on in Best of the Classical Guitar Blog


  • Edward Cox

    Hi Christopher,

    I recently joined up on the Delcamp Guitar Forum, from which I discovered you.
    What you’re doing here looks really good, so I’ll have to visit often for my dose of upliftment and inspiration.

    Thanks so much – you are obviously having a wonderful studying and pursuing your dreams and goals. I wish you well.


    Ed Cox

  • Mike

    Can someone comment on when it’s time to stop working on a piece and move on to learn something new? Assuming, like me, you have only an hour or two a day on average to practice, only a certain number of pieces can be worked on. Another question that comes to mind is how many pieces to work on at a time? Dedicate all practice to one piece for a week or month? Work a little on four or five?

  • Ronjazz

    Mike, when time is limited, it might be good to break your repertoire practicing into a three-day cycle, so that you work on each piece at least twice a week. In fact, this is just a good overall approach, since guitar-playing is somewhat accumulative (scales help arpeggios, slurs help scales, etc.). I do a Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 schedule, with the 7th day being a free-form, do whatever is fun or focus on one thing for the whole session.