The key to guitar playing is practice–there are no shortcuts. You will get to where you want to be with your playing one day, but you must enjoy the process today. If you keep this mindset you will free yourself up to enjoy your playing in the present, and not just grow in physical ability, but in your mental and spiritual as well. The keys to effective practice are as follows:
-Focus and listening
In all stages of guitar playing it is important to develop and follow a practice regiment. Your guitar heroes did not get to where they are now by playing once a week for a few hours on a Saturday—they play several hours a day, every day. Now, I’m not implying you quit your day job and hold up in the garage ordering pizza, forgoing methods of modern hygiene for the next 5 years to learn your axe, but every little bit of playing time helps. If you are a beginner then being consistent is essential because your fingers need exposure daily to learn the ropes. It’s MUCH more effective to play for 30min a day, 5x a week than that same time divided a few times a week. Find a consistent time of day to practice (before breakfast, after dinner etc) that works for you every day, then commit to at least 4 days a week to get yourself going–every day of practice you add above that you will grow exponentially. If you are a beginner try doing at least a 30min practice session, but no less than that.
I love the ambition that comes with learning to play a musical instrument. This same ambition can burn you out fast if you are not careful though. With the following advice I hope to keep you from putting down your guitar in total frustration.
It is important to know your limits and push them only when you are ready and experienced enough to know how to do so effectively. If you are in the beginning stages of playing then everything is new, everything is pretty hard and you need to celebrate the little things. Know your limits, but know where you want to be. If your fingers have never been on a fretboard before then give them as little to chew on as possible. Keep the amount of information that you’re working on small and repeat it A LOT. Do not try and play through a whole song—just do one chord at a time until your fingers learn it, then two chords together, then three and so on. Once you’ve learned one piece of information and have a feel for it then learn the next one—do not jump to the third—go back to the first and see if you can play those first two in order. Learning music is just connecting pieces of information, but you have to learn that information before you can do so, and that takes repetition.
-Practice small pieces.
-Repeat them A LOT.
-Be patient and focused. You will see faster, cleaner, more enjoyable results in your playing this way.
A large part of playing guitar is physical coordination and it’s essential to optimize the time you spend practicing by doing various exercises, each developed to address a certain area that needs improvement or maintenance. If you’re a beginner then it is crucial to supplement your routine with a few exercises that will get your basic coordination going as soon as possible. Playing exercises may not be fun, but playing guitar is, and to do that requires skill, and that requires doing practice exercises. Be patient–you can do it!
Focus & Listening:
Without proper focus your time spent practicing will be ineffective, so make sure you have a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Turn off your phone, TV, computer, etc. Eliminate all distractions before you begin and give the guitar your full attention. Getting this routine doesn’t start out easy, but it gets that way. In fact it will become one of the best things about your day! Get yourself an egg timer or some other device to track your time and go for it (I use the timer on my phone.) Listen to your playing—don’t get to wrapped up in trying to make “progress.” Stay focused on the task at hand and trust your ear; are you strumming all the strings correctly? Is everything sounding the way it should? Does playing feel good or awkward? The guitar is a musical instrument after-all and the objective is to create music with it, and to do that requires a well-trained ear and a focused mind.
There is no easy path in learning a musical instrument and it certainly isn’t for everybody. Stay committed to it takes dedication, and staying dedicated requires a balanced life, practice and playing schedule. To keep your practice regiment balanced you need to know your limits, your personal goals, and how your practice applies directly to them, and this takes time and experience to control. If you are an intermediate/advanced player you have probably figured out something that works well for you thus far, if not then you can use this article for some ideas. For beginners I recommend balancing your practice time like this:
2 min break
1/3 chords, riffs, etc
2 min break
1/3 personal exploration
Begin by tuning your guitar—the guitar is constantly changing pitch based on environment, wood characteristics, string tension etc and you want to make sure everything you play is in tune so you know what you’re doing right and what needs improvement. Divide your practice time into thirds with small breaks in-between them and do not take long breaks—doing so will make you loose focus and momentum. Spend the first third of your total practice time on technique (10min if you’re doing 30min routine etc.) Spend the next third on learning chords and simple melodies, and the final third on rewarding yourself by just enjoying the guitar and seeing what you can make up. This final third is the most important part because you get to apply what you have learned creatively! Try moving that D chord up the neck and see what happens, or playing that melody you’re working on in a new place or on a different string! The creative potential is limitless.
I hope this article has given you some direction and confidence for your practicing.
All content © Coire Walker 2009 - 2013