A quick search online will give you about 1,000 things to practice within the first couple of hits alone. So where do you start?
What should you practice? Should you practice finger strength exercises or dexterity exercises? Is it better to practice playing fast or slow? What about melodies or chord variants? Should you try for more advanced concepts or grill yourself over the basics? How should you be practicing??
What to Practice vs How to Practice: Get This One Right
Most guitarists don’t know that there is a difference between learning what to practice and learning HOW to practice their guitar.
Hundreds of thousands of guitarists all over the world practice daily. Some even practice several times a day. Yet they still can’t handle their guitar, melodies, harmonies or techniques with the kind of grace they would like. I know because I used to be one of them.
I used to practice daily, sometimes for as long as an hour each day, but my playing was in a rut. I had a hard time integrating any new concepts into what I was already doing and it was beyond frustrating! Until one day I did one thing that changed my guitar playing world upside down (in the good way).
I made one simple decision in my life that skyrocketed my playing ability by more than I ever dreamed was ever going to be possible in my entire LIFETIME!! Ready for it? Because here it is…
If you’re anything like me, you just read that heading about 3 or 4 times and are asking questions like, “What do you mean ‘practice what you intend to play’?!” You’re probably even screaming at me, telling me that the only reason you ever practice to begin with is so you can be ready to play whatever you want to play!
The problem is that most guitarists play what they intend to practice; but they never practice what they intend to actually play. They wear out all of their available practice time running through useless drills and exercises, which can help in small ways, but doesn’t light a candle to what I’m about to share with you. In other words, their practice sessions rarely apply to the songs they are preparing to play. There’s no real, tangible, practical application to what they’re doing.
I’ll tell you what worked for me and continues to work for my guitar students. If we’re working on any musical arrangement that’s not quite sounding like it should, we play the piece at its normal speed until we get to a point where we’re starting to struggle, then WE STOP!
When you’re struggling through a piece, you must be honest with yourself, or else your playing will never get any better. Even if you hit that note in perfect timing or bend that string just the right way, you KNOW yourself. You KNOW when you’re not hitting that note smoothly (even if nobody else notices)! Every note needs to be as easy to play as the rest of the song you’re playing or else it won’t be satisfying for you to play.
It’s fun, and easy to play what we already know how to play. So when you’re well versed in one area and want to get better in another, it doesn’t help you at all to practice what you can already play. This is why you need to learn to make your practice sessions zero in on the things you’re having trouble with.
When you isolate your problem areas and work on them like a masseuse works out a tight muscle, your playing skills will skyrocket, your overall playing will get better and you’ll be invited to more gigs! Well, that alone is definitely worth the practice!!
So what does training yourself to focus on the problem areas look like, exactly?
STEP 1: Find a Transition That’s Creating a Problem For You.
Take that challenging note, and play into it. For example, if you want to hit the E on the ‘B’ string, followed by G and then A on the high ‘E’ string, and are having trouble transitioning from one note to the next, strike the first note (E on the B string), then VERY SLOWLY move towards the G and **PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO WHAT YOUR FINGERS ARE DOING!!** If your fingers look like they’re taking their first walk on the moon as they move from note to note across the fretboard (making big jumps), you found your problem.
STEP 2: Batter That Transition Until It’s Silky Smooth
Go back and forth between the E and G, keeping your fingers closer to the strings, until that move smooths itself out and you don’t even have to think about it any more.
STEP 3: Mix It Up With The Rest of The Song
Once that finger movement is right where it needs to be, play the whole phrase you were working on, including those notes. You’re going to immediately find that if you take a step back at this point and play through the rest of the song, it will be infinitely easier to play.
That was just one example, and you’re already a better player!
If you just practiced playing that example on your guitar, then you just practiced in a way that 95% of guitarists around the world never do. So congratulations: By isolating your movements, you just conquered 95% of the guitar playing world!
In this simiple example, notice that we didn’t practice strength or dexterity exercises, we didn’t run through scales, we didn’t play a single abstract note, we practiced what we intended to PLAY.
Now, when you perform on stage and play that piece or similar pieces of music, the crowd will go INSANE because they feel you feeling extreme confidence! Feels good, doesn’t it?
One of the coolest things about this methodology is that it applies to anything you’re practicing at home AND anything your guitar instructor gives you to practice at home. The results you will get from this kind of practice WILL impress your instructor and melt the crowds – trust me!
And it saves you hours upon hours of unnecessary use of your valuable practice time:
Your muscles will remember what you played, precisely the way you practiced, so that by the time you reach go live, your fingers can easily and readily take over and you can finally focus on the reason you picked up the guitar in the first place – TO HAVE FUN!!
So follow the tips we just discussed, learn to practice right, and most importantly, have fun!
If you’re looking for more practice help, check out my articles on how to find the time to practice with a busy schedule and my favorite Android and iPhone apps to use while I practice!
Let me know how these tips work out for you and watch for the next installment!
Written by: Marcus L. Diaz
Owner, Mentor, Trainer, Coach
Master Your Guitar Music Academy
Here’s an extra tip:
The typical, average, logical approach to learning guitar that most instructors follow is NOT the best way to learn to play. My students come to me week after week because they learn faster with me than with any of their previous instructors! Why? Because there is madness in my method and a method to my madness! Learn how to prevent YEARS of frustration when you...
"Our guiding principle in teaching is to help EVERY student fall in love with their instrument – We pride ourselves on making EVERY new player good and EVERY good player great as fast as humanly possible – And seeing that happen during each and every lesson puts a huge smile on my face!" - Marcus Diaz
Great school; Marcus cares about students and their progress. Always easy to understand and answers all questions. Whether a goal is understanding advanced music theory or just playing a few chords, Marcus is very well equipped to help
you reach musical goals. Rates are well worth it. Overall, very solid music academy.
Marcus Diaz, the owner, is a great teacher. He's clear, focused and relaxed with a great knowledge of guitar. He's skillful in combining the teaching of theory with hands on learning. His classes are always fun and the time goes by
Marcus builds a great rapport with everyone, right out of the gate. He is a master of conditioning people who want to play the guitar, to WANT to play the guitar, and is really good at teaching beginners—making the dry and
not-so-engaging basics into engaging lessons.
Marcus is a fantastic teacher! After taking traditional guitar lessons elsewhere that were boring and stunted my growth, the approach taken by Marcus is fresh, progressive and fun! Marcus is always available for help and extremely
dedicated to putting us on the path to guitar masters! Heartily recommended!