Blurred Ideas of Guitar Practice
Posted: October 3rd, 2013 by Ashley Saunders
This is a question that baffles almost all and enables all of us (me included!) to waste time.
I often see people ask on forums, things like
“I have some time next month when I’m working away and so I’ll be taking a guitar. I’ve got lots of ideas of what I want to work on but don’t know where to start”
Or things like this:
“I want to crank up my guitar practice and so I’ve set aside an hour a day to practice. I’m thinking of breaking it up into a few chunks and try to blast through everything – sight reading, scales, chord knowledge, learning some blues and other styles and learn some songs so I can make some money on the side doing gigs”
At the heart of all of these is the desire to get better, to grow or to use time better – more effectively.
While, I’ve spoken about this before, I wanted to answer these questions head on and give you some steps you can take today in order to speed up progress, motivate you when you’re down and help you to use your time more effectively.
You see to me, it’s comes back to this. What are my goals? How much time do I have available on a weekly basis? What is my motivation? How can I get prepared to work hard?
Simply put: Goals, Commitment, Motivation
It’s crazy to work on things that do not relate to your goals or are not a step between where you are now and where you’re hoping to get to.
Believe me, I have wasted more time than you chasing after dumb things that weren’t going to add anything to my playing (in the grand scheme of things) or help me achieve the targets, which I have set for myself.
Let’s dive into how you can learn directly from the mistakes that I made. It’s easy to look out for someone else’s mistake and make a few of your own, than repeat mine as you travel through your journey.
#1: Blurred Ideas of Goals
I had the overall goal of wanting to be a session guy. Not in a band, but a gun for hire. I didn’t understand how to get there, what I need in terms of skills or even, if there was an industry left! Sure, I read books and talked to some high profiled session cats before I got started. However, I didn’t define exactly what I was going after and what I want to achieve in the long run.
Most people make this mistake, they want to get better at the guitar or at a skill but that’s where they stop. Little or no thought is given to how to get there or what it really looks like.
Once you’re clear on what it is you’re trying to achieve in broad terms, think about you could break it down into 10 or so key goal. Then try to break these of these 10 goals into 10 further goals.
Write it down – I know I know that is “wasting practicing time” but you want to achieve something right?
With all of this, the devil is in the detail. Start by trying to get a rough idea and then try to fill in as much details as you can. Keep coming back to it and filling in more details as and when you can.
You might want to re-order the goals, into a more logical step by step plan and even move them around as you go. But it’s certainly better to have a rough plan at the start.
Being able to tick a goal as complete is another feeling altogether!
#2: Does Matter vs. Doesn’t Matter
Most people who are unsure about what to practice spend time working on things that, plain and simple – don’t matter. I wasted hours trying to learn how to sight read. Yet I can count on one hand, the amount of times I was asked to sight read (it’s only once or twice).
I can read music (slowly) and can write music (a little faster!) due to the amount of transcription I did. And not the hours I spent trying to read Bach, although it was very pretty and pleasing music to play. I could have used that time to improve my timing or work on learning songs for gigs.
Having clear goals will help you to define what matters and therefore what doesn’t is just as clear!
#3: Scheduling Guitar Practice
I mean the whole thing here. From the length of practice time, the frequency, to what you actually do in the time.
The hardest thing in life is sticking to a schedule. You’ll always have a day when you don’t want to, feel ill, too tired, too cold, fill in the blank! You will have to learn some resolve in order to stick to it. This is a great skill for life.
Try to schedule some practice time every day or at least five days a week. Make sure everyone who might be around you that this time is precious and that you should be leave alone (unless there is an emergency). Once you are committed and have a set time for practicing guitar. By doing so, you’re creating the right environment for you to succeed. 70% of success is turning up regularly and giving it all you’ve got.
When you have clear goals, it’s easy to know what to practice and what not. Therefore you can make your practice time work for you and not against you.
#4: Difference Practice Types
It’s simple enough to realise that you will need to use your time in different ways for the range of situations you find yourself in.
For example you might spend a large chunk of your year working toward a single goal, yet when you are presented with gig you’ll use your time differently.
You might spend a few weeks only working on technique or a getting a lick from a solo under your hands – that’s one type of practice. When the licks already to go, spend time working them into your vocabulary. Firstly by playing it over and over and over in time with a range songs at different tempos. And then by trying to use in the middle of a solo or at start/end/some other place during the solo.
Whereas learning songs for a gig will probably start with you writing out on music stave, all the songs that need to be learn. Then the process of learning the chord charts, then each and every guitar part you will need to cover. When you have a basic grasp of the songs, then you’ll spend time dialling in guitar tones. Try different guitars and gear in order to get close to the sounds on the record. You’ll probably spend time working on the next section. Getting certain part really tight and sounding like you’ve being playing them for years. See, it’s different to regular practice as you have a set goal within a time limit both of which can’t be changed.
#5: Not Starting With Public Humiliation
I don’t mean to be cruel or nasty here, but one of the best ways to learn is to play in front of others. Get into the habit of going to jams and just ignoring your fear for a moment or two and let rip. If you’ve never been to a jam, here’s a list of dos and don’ts.
I would have progressed fasted if I had just got over my fear of meeting people and took every gig offered to me. Regardless of whether I could play that musical style or not.
Remove Your Blurred Ideas of Guitar Pracitce!
Again, it’s comes back to this: What are your goals? What time do you have available on a weekly basis? What is your motivation?
When you plan who you want to be, do and the type of player you wish to become. What doesn’t matter becomes clear and therefore you can easily avoid it. Time to grab a piece of paper and get thinking.