Let’s talk about THE MOST IMPORTANT thing that you can do to improve your guitar playing. PRACTICING! How you practice and your mindset on doing it altogether is, in my opinion, the most crucial thing to focus on when you want to excel at guitar playing or anything else for that matter.
Now I’ve worked with many students over the years and I have come to find that certain people have different needs when it comes to what and how they should practice. The biggest thing that you need to keep in mind here is that PRACTICING IS PLAYING!!!!!!!! I can’t emphasize this enough.
I’ve talked to a lot of people who are thinking about playing guitar or have started to learn and a lot of the time I hear something to the effect of “I really want to play guitar but I don’t like to practice”. If that’s your response, or anything similar, then in my opinion you are not practicing effectively nor are you looking at it in the right way.
To practice and play effectively you do not need to sit there and keep on playing some boring exercise over and over again to see great results. That has it’s place in guitar playing but for the most part you can make awesome practice/playing routines out of songs or techniques that you want to learn. This is always more fun than just practicing/playing some old exercise because it gets you learning something specific that you want to know how to play.
For example, if you are working on getting better at the Minor Pentatonic scale, then look for a song that you like that uses the scale and work towards playing a certain passage from it.
Now it is usually a good idea to make an exercise out of a small part of the passage and repeat that a lot. This gets you use to the general movement and feel of the lick. After you master the basic technique, you will find it much easier to learn the actual lick.
One of the biggest problems that I see students do when they want to learn a solo is that they will start out by learning the solo note for note without paying any attention to the techniques that are happening to make the solo sound good. Many times there are repeated patterns in solos that happen time and time again in other songs. If you can spot some of these cliché licks, then it will make playing that particular solo so much easier and more fun.
So now the number one question asked after the first guitar lesson… “How often and how long should I practice/play for”?
The answer to the first part, how often, is simple. EVERY DAY if you can make time for it. The answer to the second part, how long should I practice/play for, takes a little more thought to answer.
Here is the big factor: How focused are your practice/playing sessions? Are you sitting there in a quite room with a metronome and your cell phone turned off or are you noodling around while watching TV, eating French fries and texting your best friend about what your going to do this weekend.
I can make 15 minutes of practice enough time to excel at whatever I am working on at the moment if I sit down and plan out what I need to work on in that time. If you’re the organized and discipline type, then I highly suggest setting up a weekly routine where you plan out what your going to practice/play and set goals as to what you want to accomplish in that time.
If you’re not so organized and don’t feel like taking the time to plan things out, then at least make sure that when you practice/play you put all your attention on your instrument. No phone calls, no TV, no snacking, bickering or distractions. You will be amazed at what you can get done.
If you want to see an example of what you can accomplish if you focus, check out this You Tube video:
This is Jonathan Dretto, a ten-year-old student that I have been working with for only a couple years. I can tell you one thing for certain about Jonathan, he not only practices/plays a lot, but also he is very focused when he does it. He knows how to work with a metronome and always has it on during his practice/playing sessions.
Another really important element to practicing is to play along to the recordings of the songs that you are working on as soon as you can. This is, in my opinion, the next best thing to performing for other people because it’s fun and gives you the sense of what it feels like to play in a band.
The big pay off for me, when I spend time learning a new song, has always been to crank up the volume, hit play and act as if I’m playing with the band in front of thousands of people. Playing to recordings also gives you a steady beat to play to and it’s usually a lot more fun than using a metronome.
Something that I always tell my students when there working on a new song or technique is to not worry if it doesn’t sound good at first or if they can’t keep up with the tempo of a certain passage. The same is true if you are playing to a recording. One of the best things about practicing to recordings is that it lets you know how well you have the song down and where you need to improve.
One last thing that I wanted to mention about this topic for now is to make sure that you pick songs or parts of songs that you really want to learn. Don’t discard a song if you think it’s going to be too hard to learn and play. Although it’s best if you learn a song from start to finish, you can still get a lot of good from just learning a few riffs or licks from a song that you think is really cool.