By: J. Dale Lucas
I’ve heard people who are extremely efficient and organized referred to as “Type A.” If that’s the case, I am most certainly Type B, C, or even D (whatever any of that means). When it came to practice, I just did whatever felt right or whatever I needed to for a piece of music I was working on.
It sounds great, and it worked for a while–until I reached a plateau. When I practiced without any structure, I would just rip through those plateaus and pretend that they didn’t exist. Eventually, though, we get to a point where we say to ourselves, ”Why am I practicing but not getting better?”
Some folks are fine with their current skill level, but if you’re not and if you’re stuck–chances are you’re going to need to refine your practice routine.
I’ve given a very simple 5 step process that I’ve used since my last plateau–and I haven’t hit one since. Why?
I structure my practice routine based on aspects of guitar and music that are meaningful to me. These are as follows:
- Studying Composers or Songwriters and their Compositions
- Creating Compositions
- Free Experimentation With My Instrument
- Alternate Picking
- Hybrid Picking
- Learning New Scales
- Analyzing Chord/Scale Relationships
- Learning Songs
This is just my list–your list might have something different. You’ll want to make a list of your own goals and necessities before you go any further. Once you have, let’s get to the practice tips.
5. Set a Timer for the length of time you would like to practice.
This is the best way to get the most out of whatever it is you’re practicing. At first, you’ll need to think about how long you have to practice in total, and how much time you want to spend on whatever you’ve chosen to focus on today. Balance your wants and needs. You may want to get faster, but you may need to learn something for a gig or jam session. Stick to the schedule you make.
4. Turn your phone, TV, or any distractions OFF for that amount of time.
Life will 100% get in the way from time to time. It’s unavoidable. Don’t become discouraged when your practice routines get interrupted–but don’t welch on your practice time, either. Do your best to eliminate any distractions from your practice session–especially if you’re doing metronome work.
The only time I allow distractions into my practice space is when I’m composing–which also may not work for other people. But I do like to catch the vibe of a movie, book, piece of art, or a news story, and wrap that up in my music for inspiration. But again, for metronome work, or anything technical, it is such nuanced work that you will not make progress with any amount of distractions. I promise.
3. Focus on only one aspect of the guitar or music for a specific amount of time.
Whatever you’re working on, don’t let your mind wander. I mean, realistically it’s bound to happen–but rein it in, and get your focus back.
Sometimes when I’m in the middle of one part of my practice session, I’ll think to myself, “Gee, you know, I really should write that song,” or maybe even think about something outside of music totally–
–but it’s important to ignore that voice just for a little bit–that little voice is really just a touch of anxiety, a little bit of worry that we might not be able to do what we need to do. Ignore that voice, trust the process, and trust that whatever you’re currently practicing is the most important thing in the world until the timer goes off.
2. When your timer goes off, no matter what–stop.
This helps with that last part. When you’re practicing, set up strict boundaries and rules, and stick to them. The hardest lesson I’ve had to learn with the guitar, is that it’s not important that you learn something perfectly in one day. Some things come more naturally than others, but for most of our practice with the guitar is chipping away at it a little bit at a time.
The timer helps us to focus and play hard, because we know that we only have a set amount of time to work on something. At the same time, it allows us relief at the end of a practice session to know that it’s finished–think of it like a workout session. You need to push yourself as hard as you can, but you need to rest after a given amount of time to avoid burnout.
1. Make note of what is easy and what is difficult during your practice session.
This also helps to quell that feeling that, “I didn’t nail it perfectly today,” because it reassures us that we’re going to get another good practice session tomorrow. And no matter what, it’s going to be easier at the beginning of tomorrow’s practice session than it was today.