Why I Practice Guitar In Different Ways

guitar strings

My musical work load consists of teaching, gigs, sessions and writing books. Plus I try to make time to practice. Sounds like a lot, it is!


One thing I have realised is that in all of these situations the type of guitar practice I do change. All the practice I do does help me become a better musician but some of it’s different from the usually type that you probably do.


I’m going to outline why I practice guitar in different ways for each of those situations and how exactly I practice. Plus I’ll try to give you some tips you can use right now to improve your guitar playing and make your practice time work hard for you. Don’t work harder – work smarter!



My Private Guitar Practice Time

Firstly, let’s deal with the easiest of them all: Practicing for me. This is a real selfish experience as I work on whatever I darn want to!


Mostly, I work on transcribing, usually it’s something that I’ve been listening to rather than something I’m going to be using for a gig. Hey, the more I learn the better I’ll get!


If I’m not near a computer, then I might take a chord and try to find a few different voicings. I won’t remember some of these but I try to find and remember one or two that sound really cool and that I feel I could use.


The other thing I do in this time is practice some simple finger style tunes. I’m no master but it’s fun to do! I don’t have a big repertoire or even a fancy one but it’s just nice to be able to a play a few Stevie Wonder tunes all by myself.



Guitar Students!

Next up, teaching students. Now I spent most of this time working on songs, worksheets, examples etc. to give to the student. I do for certain students; spend a lot of time in the lesson writing examples and ideas out. This is one of the reasons I like teaching, it stretches me just as much as the student!


If we’re working on songs, I’ll work out the song and then play it on repeat while I write it up. This way when I come to teach it I have it in my head and can confidently help the student discover, learn and master the song. It’s a real joy to see students improve and learn songs they’ve always wanted to be able to play.



Books, Blogs and More Books

For both, I try to write down ideas, as and when they come to me. They don’t have to be good or viable, just an idea.


For blog posts, most of my ideas come from either things I’ve read online or common problems I see when teaching. So I generally don’t need to do some practice in order to write articles that will help you and you’re playing.


For other posts, I’ve tried to give you a mini lesson, like you would get if you talked to me for a few minutes or I’ve tried to give you a snap shot of one of my book.


For books, it’s either something I’m working on in my private practice time and wanted to share. That’s how the partial chords book happened, it’s something I heard a few guitarists use and so I started to explore it in my practice time. When I found a few cool ideas, I decided to write them up, so that you could buy the book and learn a really neat style. It took some time to write all the ideas down and more time to find them, but it’s a great book (even if it’s advanced!)


Whereas the Latin Guitar Styles book came about as I could see that people could do with an introduction to the style. So I spent a large amount of time working on learning the basics of a few different Latin styles in order to be able to pass that on.



For Session Work, I Change Completely!

This is where the real fun starts. I will often, switch on the radio and join in on the spot. It could be a funky song, so I’ll try as fast as possible to find the key. Once,  I have the key, I’ll play something funky over the top! However, it might be a ballad, so I might chose to play an easy finger picking pattern. Most of the time, I’m just trying to find a part that works for that song! This is a large part of session work is, you have to be able to think fast and your feet! Give this a go!


Other times, I might mess with gear and try to find new sounds. I might take a simple chord pattern and try to find four parts with different sounds and have a go at recording them down. When I’m done, I’ll analyse it and try to find better sounds, different part that really complement each other more than the ones I’ve used. I’m always trying to refine how I work, play and create. Give it a go yourself!



There’s No Business Like Show Business!

This is a complex situation. I’ll practicing completely differently depending on the type of gig I’m doing, how many gig’s I’ve done with that artist – etc.!


If it’s an acoustic show with just me and the artist, then I’ll work on getting the songs written out. Then I’ll break songs into section and I’ll workshop some ideas for each section. Then I’ll pick one and work on the whole song. My aim is to get the song sounding great so that it provides the artist with a firm base in which to do their thing! I’ll also come up with a few different arrangement ideas, mostly because you want to do something a little different and also some times the songs won’t work in an acoustic setting in the same way they do with a band and so they need a few tweaks!


If I’m working towards a band gig, I’ll be learning the basic chord chart just in case the artist doesn’t like the guitar part on the album – so I can always go back to just simple chords. I try to lock down the song sections, form and the shape of the song (i.e. are we getting real loud for the choruses and then pulling back for the verses).


Next, I learn the parts and try to dial in the tones, trying to get as close to the CD as possible. If there’s space for a solo, I’ll use some time to come up with some ideas.


If I’ve been playing that artist for a few months or years, I’ll review the material a few days before ensuring I have enough time to practice the songs up to a high standard. There’s always room for improvement, and that’s why I keep practicing.



The different types of practice

I hope you’ve learnt about the different types of practice and why I do it. I’m sure you’ve picked up some tips, now it’s time to practice. How are you practicing?


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