Guitarists of all levels talk of the same problems with making progress: Stuck in a rut, lack of improvement, slow progress, no time to practice, strains and injuries, lack of inspiration. It’s all too predictable. So, I’ve put together the Top 10 practice tips for Guitarists. In there are plenty of new ideas to bring you inspiration and progress, plus a few old favourites that we Guitar teachers seem to endlessly repeat. Hint: There’s a reason for that!
So Follow these tips and you’ll notice a big difference. Happy playing!
The Practice Tips
1) Be Your Own Roadie!
Have your gear set up in a designated guitar practice area. However small the area, however basic the gear, it must be ready to play. If practicing begins with 10 minutes of cable-untangling, plug-swapping and capo-finding, it’s a chore. Nothing dampens sudden inspiration like testing 6 different patch leads to discover which is broken. If you can’t get playing in under 30 seconds, refine your practice set up.
2) Warm Up or Seize Up!
OK, this one sounds a bit boring, but not as boring as being unable to play for 2 months due to an injury. It doesn’t have to be a 20 minute Shredder’s Yoga session, just a few scales and picking exercises and you’re good to go. Younger players may not feel the benefit now, but you will in 20 years time when you can still play! Your valve amp and Recording Software need time to warm up, and so do your fingers!
3) No Time Wasters!
Ok, your amp’s on, your fingers are warm, now you have to separate “Practice” from “Playing” – “Practice” means working on new or difficult things, in short bursts, with focus, concentration and regular breaks. “Playing” means playing your existing repertoire for fun and jamming through things you’ve already nailed for as long as you want (within reason!) – If you spend all your “Practice” time “Playing” then you’re not going to improve very much.
4) Slow Down!
How many times do we guitarists need to be told?! If you’re still in denial over this one, then now’s the time to sort it out. It’s easier to speed up something that’s correct, than it is to correct something at speed. Many many times easier. This one’s a cliché for a reason. Get your metronome at 60 and get going!
5) Stay in the Loop!
Looping, layering and recording are essential for developing your harmony & theory, timekeeping, creativity, music technology skills and having great fun. Whether you use a loop pedal, a smartphone app, recording software, or your Dad’s/Hipster friend’s old/new cassette tape deck, you’ll have so much fun layering multiple guitar parts and learning about harmony, texture and timing. This one doesn’t even feel like work. Enjoy!
6) Get Real!
Put yourself in realistic situations when you practice. This helps you to live the Rock Star fantasy, but also ensures that when a band/performance/recording situation comes around, you’re ready. So this means playing with songs or backing tracks, doing the looping/layering ideas above, jamming with friends, whatever it may be, make practice something that moves you on towards active musicianship. Which brings us neatly onto tip no.7
7) Join a Band!
Be it a one man band, an Acoustic duo, a Jazz trio, a Led Zeppelin tribute band, or a 32-piece Death Metal orchestra that only plays on Tuesdays in towns beginning with ‘P’, it doesn’t really matter. The point is – Play with other people. It accelerates your progress due to performing with the pressure, expectation, adrenaline, motivation. You’ll see the reasons you’ve been practicing so hard and you’ll see all this hard work pay off. Plus, the support, musical possibilities and camaraderie are fantastic things. It’s brilliant fun. Do it now!
8) Challenge Yourself!
To make faster improvements and to keep things interesting, set yourself challenges to make a game of your warm-ups or your picking exercises. So, for example, don’t just practice A minor pentatonic scale, but instead practice B minor pentatonic scale, crescendo on the way up, palm-muted on the way down, standing up, without looking at the neck. You’ve got things done 4 times as fast, and made a game of it to ensure you stayed focused. Nice job!
9) Record Yourself!
Once a month, record a practice session and a fun playing session and listen back. There are 2 main reasons for this:
- Objectivity – You’ll be able to hear yourself play without having to also focus on playing. As well as hopefully noticing how well you’re doing, you’ll also notice little nuances and technical issues you may not have known needed work.
- To Hear Your Progress – Once you’ve been doing this for a while, you can compare month 1 with month 8, and the bigger amount of progress will give you a huge confidence boost and spur you on for the next 8 months!
10) Break the Rules!
DO practise in front of the TV/while on the phone/ while there’s music on etc. A key component of Guitar progress at every level is making many aspects of your playing natural/“second nature”. This is a great way to develop those skills, while also strengthening your fingers and annoying everyone you live with. Brilliant! But DO NOT play Guitar while driving or operating heavy machinery!
Special thanks for a great guest post from Alex Bruce. Alex is a guitarist, guitar teacher and writer with 15 years experience. This experience has provided Alex with some excellent perspective on what makes for good, long-term practice habits.
Alex runs Bruce Music – A London-based guitar and piano school. They are a community of young, active working musicians who visit students all over the city to provide expert Guitar and Piano tuition.
If you’re in London area and looking for instruction, make sure to look them up. If you’re not in London, try out their Skype/Facetime lessons!