Guitar Practice Techniques

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

Slow/Fast Alternation is just what you would think: 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 with one of three visualization methods. 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.

Remember that you should always think and look ahead of your hands. Turn this into a practice technique for big shifts: watch where you’re going, and don’t follow your hand through the shift.

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.

Slow Guitar Practice

Slow practice is one of the things that gets suggested to almost every guitar student. But is it worth it?

In rethinking slow practice I suggested that, as a practice technique, there are better options than slow practice. Most guitarists don’t know their technique well enough to know what they do slowly will work first.

Nick Cutroneo dropped by to share his own perspective on slow practice. The conclusion? It has its benefits.