Hello ladies and gentlemen! Tony G here with another lesson from Guitar with Tony G. This week I want to give you some advice to help save one of the most precious resources you have! That’s right, I am talking about time. I’m going to give you some great tips on how to make more of your practice time so you can spend less time making more progress.
What Do I Need to Practice?
It’s very important to start out with a rough idea of what it is you actually want to practice. However, I don’t mean that you should think, “I want to practice the guitar.” I want you to really think about what it is that needs work. In order to do that, let’s take a quick look into how to really dive deep into what it is we actually need to practice.
Everything you learn on guitar is cumulative which means once you’ve learned something, it will be with you forever on guitar. That means that you need to truly master each fundamental technique to become better and more consistent guitar players.
This is a double edged sword because once you learn a technique, you need to incorporate that technique from here on out even if it doesn’t feel as fast or as comfortable. However, once you’ve got a technique down, learning licks or songs that include that technique will become infinitely easier.
How do we find out what we need to work on? How do we truly take a look at our problem spots and focus on them? The answer is to be honest with ourselves. Let’s check it out.
Breaking Things Down
Here’s a quick example for you involving a major scale. I’m going to play a simple two-octave major scale and show you how to break it down into elements I need to practice. When I play this major scale, I notice that I don’t always end with the same pick stroke. Sometimes I end with a down stroke, sometimes I end with an upstroke. What does this tell me?
This tells me that I am not alternate picking consistently as I play this scale. If I walk through the scale slowly and pay attention to my alternate picking, if I start with a down stroke on the 6th string, I should end with a down stroke on the 1st string. Coming back down the scale, if I start with a downstroke on the 1st string, I should end with a down stroke on the 6th string.
So, if I take a closer look, I notice that I falter on the transition between 4th and 5th strings because I do a double upstroke. Let’s see how to really focus on this mechanic and get it clean.
Now that I’ve found my problem spot, does it help to run the entire scale over and over to focus on that one mechanical mistake? It might surprise you to know the answer to that question is “no.” It’s quite difficult to find the discipline to only practice the problem spots but this is where we get the hard work done. This is where the technique of Isolated Practice really helps you make more of your practice time.
What I’m going to do is focus on the transition from 4th string to 5th string just like I would if I was playing the whole scale. That means that I start with an upstroke on the 4th string and then transition to the 5th string on a down stroke. I will repeatedly play this pattern until I can get it clean and consistent.
Only once I have that isolated problem spot feeling good will I play through the entire scale and see if I’ve fixed it.
When we practice like this, it saves you SO much time because we don’t play the entire scale to work on the smaller issue. Again, this takes more discipline because we like playing things we’re good at and there’s nothing wrong with that! However, if you really want to focus on making more of your practice time, try hard to find that discipline and isolate your problem spots. The reward will be huge when you throw all the pieces back together!
Leave a comment in my Youtube video with your biggest problem spots!
Now let’s take a look at how to get your head in the game when you are practicing!
Playing Through Mistakes
When you are not doing isolated practice, I strongly recommend that you try to play through your mistakes. I personally think that if you stop every time you make a mistake, you are building muscle memory that will set you up to fail.
What I mean by this is that if you always prepare yourself to make a mistake, you will make a mistake. For example, when you’re learning something new, you’re bound to make consistent mistakes. There’s nothing wrong with that, we all need to make mistakes to learn. However, if you convince your brain you’re always going to make that mistake, then you are training your brain to accept the fact that you’ll never play it correctly.
This is why I recommend playing through your mistakes. This will help train your brain to move on as if you didn’t make a mistake. That way you can play without interruption or hesitation and that problem spot will get better with time. Of course I would recommend that you isolate that problem spot but in the meantime, play through the mistake if it happens.
The bottom line is that every musician makes mistakes but the good musicians know how to get past them. Train your brain to be able to move past the mistake instead of setting yourself up for it.
Now let’s take a look at how to structure your practice to make more of your practice time.
Now that you’ve isolated your practice spots, let’s take a look at how to make more of your practice time by breaking your practice time into manageable chunks.
When you first start practicing, I think it’s important to work on some finger exercises or maybe even just stretch out your fingers, wrists and arms. Consistency is key here so try to start every practice session the same. Do something that you know you can do comfortably to boost confidence and to get into a rhythm.
Now it’s time to really start hacking away at your isolated problem spots. Whether it’s some alternate picking, a chord transition, getting rid of unwanted fret buzz, etc, really dive into it here. You don’t need to set a specific amount of time to practice, but work on it until you either fix it, or you need a break.
Taking a break can be just what the doctor ordered! I find that sometimes when I’m practicing I’ll just turn my bad technique into muscle memory which doesn’t help. When that is the case, I take a break then come back at it slower than before to correct it. Remember my motto about practicing? “Slow and clean is better than fast and messy”! I know it’s not as fun to play slowly but again, if you approach your mistakes more constructively, you will make more of your practice time.
After you’ve really put some time into your problem spots, throw them back into the full lick or song you’re working on. See if they are fixed or if you are more consistent. If not, you know what to focus on next time you do some isolated practice!
This next part is very important! To make more of your practice time, make sure to reward yourself for working hard and play something you really enjoy. Work on that new song you’ve been writing, or play that lick you mastered long ago that fills you with confidence. Show yourself that you have indeed made progress and you will continue to do so!
It really boils down to you being honest with yourself. If you know that certain aspects of your playing need work, then focus on them! I know it’s way more fun to play things that you enjoy the sound of or that you are good at. But this isn’t going to help you make more of your practice time. I know I sound like my therapist here but, we have to be honest with ourselves if we want to improve.
If you have questions about how to practice certain techniques, please leave a comment on my Youtube video!
How Do I Know if I’m Getting Better?
As a guitar teacher, I have sessions with my students once a week so it’s easy for me to see progress on a weekly basis. As a guitar player, I see every second of my progress which can make it seem like I’m not making any progress at all. This leads to a huge existential crisis! How do I know if I’m getting better if all I do is see what I’m doing in the moment?!
To get perspective on this, I like to make more of my practice time by going back over something I was working on previously. Sometimes it’s something I worked on the week before or maybe even the month or the year before. I take a look at what used to give me problems and see how it has progressed. A good way to see tangible evidence of this is to record yourself on video when practicing something so you can go back and watch it later on. This will give you the perspective to see whether or not you have truly made progress.
I’ll admit that sometimes I cringe when I see videos of my playing in the past, but that only further cements the idea that I’ve progressed. As Keith Richards said, “you’re always learning about this thing everytime you pick it up.” You will NEVER stop making progress on the guitar so make sure that you are focusing on what’s important to you.
What is your definition of progress? Leave me a comment on my Youtube video and let me know!
Progress in any aspect of your life takes honesty, discipline and a willingness to try. Learning guitar is no different. Thus, if you truly want to make more of your practice time, be diligent about what it really is that you need to practice. Like I mentioned before, every time that you master a technique, a chord transition, a finger exercise, etc, it will add another tool into your guitar playing tool box. These tools can all be used any time you need them in the future.
Think about it this way – just because you can play your favorite lick really well doesn’t mean that you can play every other lick so easily. However, mastering the technique and fundamentals of your favorite lick will ensure that every lick containing those same techniques and fundamentals will come to you much easier.
You can do this! I believe in you and I’m here if you need any help. It’s what I love to do.