How to practise

Many hundreds of hours are wasted by students who do not apply good practice techniques.  If you are like me, and have only a small amount of free time, it is essential to practise efficiently, unless you are just practising for practice’ sake, but then what is the point in that?  You are going to need to play to someone at some time.

Firstly, don’t leave your guitar in the case.  Leave it out where it can be picked up and put down easily and frequently.  Play when you have an odd free moment, even a few minutes whilst waiting for a kettle to boil or an interesting TV programme to start.

Secondly, work to a goal.  Write down the first 5 things that you would like to work on and then just do the top one and ignore the rest.  Nothing will be achieved by learning to play 5 things badly.

Don’t practise what you can already play well until the end of your session.  Work firstly on the things that you are currently not getting right.  I heard a young Japanese concert violinist talking on the radio about how she managed to balance her practice schedule for a forthcoming tour with her school studies.  Apparently only doing 4 or 5 hours a day compared to the more usual 8 to 10.  She only practised the passages that she found difficult, before putting the violin down to continue her school studies.

Practise difficult passages slowly at first.  All too often I hear students trying to play fast passages on the guitar before they have really mastered the mechanical skill.  Practising poorly executed phrases at speed reinforces poor performance, which I am sure is not the intention.

Don’t practise for long periods or for too long!  Instead break your practice session up into smaller chunks of maybe 20 minutes or less.

When learning a difficult piece, try visual rehearsal, especially before an exam, for example.  This is practised by all top athletes.  When you are away from the guitar, try relaxing and visualizing yourself playing the whole piece in your mind,  note perfect from memory.  This will reinforce the mental road map, which is what you will call upon when you pick up the instrument and start to play for real.

Get used to playing strictly in tempo by buying a metronome and using it.  You will be amazed at how easy it is to speed up or slow down.  Poor time keeping can become a habit that makes it difficult to work with other musicians, if allowed to go unchecked.

I may have already made this point early on, but it is so important that it is worth stating again here.  Make certain that you have really learned to play a piece well before going on to start new material.  Don’t end up with a repertoire which is a collection of pieces you can’t really play.

Start with pieces that sound great, but are not too technically advanced.  Even a simple piece like the famous Romance melody, played by so many guitarists, can sound fantastic if played well and with feeling.

Finally, learn to read music properly, not just guitar tablature.  I think tablature plays an important role in helping establish correct positional fingering for a piece that you may have already heard, but is no substitute for the information that can be conveyed by real music.

Remember the old joke, how do you get a guitarist to turn down?  Put a piece of music in front of him!

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