How To Practice Guitar (Or Any Instrument)

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What This Article Covers

Rather than doing like so many other guides and telling you whatto practice, this article is more about howto practice.  Just a quick search in Google, or any search engine of your choice, will give you a wealth of articles on techniques, theory, chords, and so on.  While many articles pertain to certain levels of experience and ability, this article can help guitarists of all levels.

Defining “Practice”

To get the most out of anything, the first approach is to understand what it is.  Practice is not performance, and vice versa.  In performance, a song or musical piece is performed start to finish, and any mistakes that are made you must live with.  Practice is where you go about correcting those mistakes and learning new things.  Rather than performing a piece from start to finish, you can take this time to isolate troublesome sections and fix them

Thinking Like A Computer Programmer

Learning anything new is like programming a computer.  You are simply connecting the intention of doing the particular act in your mind to the muscles in your body in order to perform the action.  Like a computer program, you can achieve the same results using different methods, however the best methods are the most efficient ones.  The best guitarists have taken the time to program their hands to be more efficient in executing the precise actions involved in their playing.

Think about when you first began to learn chords.  It took you a moment to place your fingers correctly didn’t it?  Of course, the more you played the chord, the faster and easier it became to place your fingers appropriately.  You became more efficient through repetition.  I know some of you are moaning at this point about how repetitive equals boring.  Don’t worry!  I’m going to explain how to keep things interesting while still focusing on repetition.

Seeing The Future

No, I’m not talking about being psychic.  Rather, I mean decide where you want to be in the future.  Practicing effectively means knowing what you wish to achieve.  So first you need to set some goals.  Where other articles may say keep these reasonable, I say go for broke.  Right now you just want to define what you want to achieve, not when you want to achieve it.  That’s where we’re going to take a different approach.

Let’s take sweep picking as an example.  You decide you want to become great at sweep picking like some of the people you see on Youtube.  Great.  Now you have a direction, but no time frame and that’s fine.  Most teachers will say pick a short-term and reasonable goal instead of a lofty long-term goal like we just did.  To me, that works in a limited capacity.  A marathon runner wouldn’t set a goal to finish five miles and then worry about what’s next.  He knows already his final goal is to finish the race.  Focusing on five miles at a time simply lets him focus better on his immediate needs.

Let’s Get Cracking

Now that you know what you want in the end, it’s time to figure out how to get there.  This is where the short-term manageable goals come into play.  Define a starting point for your goal.  Following the sweep picking example, we could say “I want to get good at three string patterns first.”  Okay, now we have the first step figured out.  So now you get to finding three string sweep patterns either through books, a teacher, or online.

Once you have some patterns, decide how much time you think you can spend on these a day without getting bored.  See, I told you we would cover this part.  Practicing a single exercise for 30 minutes straight is boring.  I’ve done this myself so I know.  While this may be effective in reaching a goal, it takes away the enjoyment.  Sure you’ll feel joy and a sense of accomplishment once you reach your goal, but wouldn’t it be better to feel those same feelings while you work towards the goal.  So pick a time frame for a daily practice.  Let’s say you choose 30 minutes for your sweep picking exercises.  Now split those 30 minutes up into maybe three pieces of 10 minutes or 6 pieces of 5 minutes.  Then for each piece you work in a specific pattern or set of patterns.

This is where comfort is key.  Practicing something in a way that induces strain is not as effective as working at a pace that is comfortable.

The 80/20 Rule

Also known as Pareto’s Principle, the 80/20 Rule simply states that 80% of time spent yields only about 20% of your total progress, and 20% of your time yields 80% of your total progress.  This principle has been proven in many areas of life, so don’t think I’m feeding you some mumbo jumbo.  The basic idea is that how you practice is more important than how long you practice.  Here we are back to the basis of this article.

Crafting an effective practice routine is crucial to achieving your goals.  How much time you have to practice each day matters but not as much as how you use that time.  Steve Vai once outlined in a magazine a practice routine he used, stating he practiced 10 hours a day for three days a week.  Each of those days was broken into 10 hour-long pieces focusing on different areas of playing.  Each of those pieces was broken down to whatever he was working on in those areas in the same way I’ve already described.  Each hour had a specific routine that broke the hour into smaller chunks of time allowing for more efficient use.  Hey, it obviously worked out well for Steve Vai.

Thank you for reading and I hope this helps you excel at reaching your goals.


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