By Jason Wilford
- Practice Slowly – Nothing will slow down your progress more than playing too fast when you’re first learning a song, solo, scale or exercise. This is a simple tip, but one that’s often overlooked. If you find that you’re playing something with many mistakes — slow down! To have the ability to play fast you first need to build up the muscle memory in your fingers. If you practice something wrong repeatedly, you will end up memorizing the mistake. Take your time, slow down, and practice properly from the beginning so that you ensure you’re playing things correctly.
- Get In The Habit Of Warming Up – During a practice session you may notice that playing the guitar tends to feel easier and sound better as the session goes on. You probably feel much more comfortable after 45 minutes of practice compared to when you first started your practice session. By the same token, if you get in the habit of warming up before you begin your actual practicing, you will find that things are going to feel a lot easier and smoother for you compared to no warmup at all. A simple way to warm up is to work on something that’s relatively new to you — such as a new scale, chord change, or exercise. When you don’t know something that well yet, you shouldn’t play it fast anyways, so it’s the perfect time to warm your fingers up, get your blood flowing, and get into the mood for practicing. It’s just like exercise: a good warmup will prevent injury and will ensure that you get the maximum benefit from your practice session.
- Practice Playing In Time – A good example of this is practicing along with a metronome. Many guitar players avoid doing this as it seems challenging, frustrating, and boring if they’ve never done it before. Practicing to a metronome can be quite difficult to grasp at first, but is one of the most effective ways to work on becoming a solid guitar player. Practicing to a metronome forces you to play in time, and will help you develop a greater sense of rhythm. Without rhythm, melody and chord changes have no meaning — we literally don’t have music without rhythm. If you find the click of the metronome boring, you can buy a drum machine or find backing tracks that will do the same thing to help make it more interesting for you. Playing to a drum machine or backing tracks is also a great way to learn how to play in time, and can be a lot of fun. Don’t know if you are playing in time or not? Record yourself playing along to a metronome, and listen back to the recording. Are your notes lining up with the beat (the ‘tick’ of the metronome)? If not, you’ll need to slow things down and focus on the basics — set the metronome to 60bpm, and practice clapping along with the ‘tick’ of each beat until you can do this consistently. From there, you can build the speed up until you learn what it ‘feels’ like to be on time with the metronome. This is a huge topic that we can’t fully get into here, but definitely don’t neglect this area of practice.
- Spend Time On Things That Aren’t That Easy For You – If you are constantly playing things that you already know really well and are good at, then you’re really not pushing yourself as much as you could be. Many people get stuck in their playing because of doing precisely just this – they keep playing the same things over and over again without ever pushing their limits. The true purpose of practice is to grow as a player, so it’s crucial to also spend time on things that feel more challenging for you. The more time you give to practicing things that seem difficult for you, the easier they will become, and in turn you will become a better player. Try to practice things that are just a little bit above your skill level; practicing something too difficult can be frustrating, but playing something too easy doesn’t challenge you at all. Working on something that’s just a little bit more challenging than what you can currently do will provide great motivation for you to keep working at it.
- Break Down Bigger Challenges Into Smaller Tasks – As an example, many people often try to learn a song in its entirety right away. They may quickly find out that the song feels too hard to play, and get discouraged. What needs to be worked on in this instance is breaking the song down into smaller more manageable tasks. Start with separating the left and right hand, mastering each part, and then synchronizing the two. For this challenge you should first practice each chord change in the song to make sure that you can easily go between the chords without making too many mistakes. When you can do the chord changes in time to a metronome, then you can work on the rhythm (strumming) hand, and then finally join the two parts together when you’re ready. Another example is if you’re working on a guitar solo, you can isolate each individual phrase of the solo by circling them, and then master each phrase independently before putting the entire solo together. Often when you first look at a new song or exercise, it may feel overwhelming, but if you break the piece down into smaller more manageable pieces it will help you feel more motivated and in control.
- Practice Consistently – A great way to ensure your progress on the guitar is to practice as often as you can. Practicing five times a week for 15 minutes is way more beneficial than to practicing two hours just once a week. This tip is very important, and many players often ignore this. Try to avoid cram sessions as much as you can, and focus on building a solid routine of practicing everyday (or almost everyday) so that you can guarantee success for yourself. As a teacher, I’ve observed that one of the biggest things that will hold someone back is simply not practicing often enough. Practicing inconsistently can make learning to play the guitar feel like an uphill battle, which will make practicing the guitar less fun and exciting for you. Once that happens, it’s really easy to want to avoid picking the guitar up at all. Many players stop playing altogether simply because they can’t establish a good practice routine. Do yourself a favour and don’t become a statistic — practice and play the guitar as often as you can.
- Make Sure You’re Having Fun – To stay motivated and excited about practicing and playing the guitar, you need to know that you will be having fun doing it. For a lot of guitarists, this is a given, and they seem to have fun whenever they touch their instrument. But for others, practicing the guitar can feel frustrating, and often can seem like just another chore. If this is the case for you, there are a few things you can do to make the guitar more exciting for yourself. First, you should know what it is that you enjoy about playing the guitar. You NEED to know this, so think about what it is that excites you about playing. Some people really enjoy the feeling they get when they play their favourite song along with the recordings; others love creating their own music, or improvising with backing tracks. Whatever it is that makes playing the guitar fun for you, make sure that you keep this in the back of your mind. Second, you should finish off your practice sessions by doing whatever it is that makes it fun for you. Sure, practicing the guitar can feel like work sometimes, but you need to balance it out with fun. Third — and this is most important — the more you practice and play the guitar, the more fun it will be for you and the easier it will get. Things will tend to come easier to you, you’ll spend less time figuring out where you were at the last time you picked up your guitar, and this alone will help you develop a strong habit of wanting to play music. Conversely, the less you practice and play the guitar, the less fun it will be for you, which will make it less likely that you want to play. I know this goes hand in hand with tip #6, but it’s so important that it needs to be mentioned twice.
In the end, make sure that practicing the guitar is a fun experience and that you practice and play as often as possible. Practice shouldn’t feel overwhelming, but you should push your own limits and try things that are harder than your current skill level. Get in the habit of warming up, practice things slowly so that you develop the correct muscle memory, and make sure not to forget that playing in time (whether it’s with a metronome, a recording, or other musicians) is essential to being a solid guitar player. Try putting these tips into practice every day and I guarantee that you will grow as a player.