1. Set a time and duration for which you are going to practice– The most challenging aspect for beginning guitar players is often simply finding the time or discipline to practice. We all have busy, full lives stuffed full of jobs/school, family obligations and other things competing for our time. In my experience, the best remedy for this predicament is to block out practice sessions in advance. This might mean getting up early in the morning to practice before work/school or setting aside time after dinner. It might be a daily activity or something you do 3-5 times a week. Moreover, by deciding for how long you are going to practice, you will be more able to manage the time you have. If you know you only have a half hour, you are going to stay far more on task than if you think your time is endless
2. Set an agenda– What are you working on today? How many different pieces or exercises are you going to practice? How long are you going to work on each? Once you know how long you are going to practice and which tunes/exercises on which you will be working, set an amount of time you are going to practice each. These might not necessarily be even increments. For example, say you have three tunes on which you are working and you are going to practice for an hour. I recommend working on the newest one first, and for the longest (i.e. 30 minutes). You then might spend a slightly shorter on the next tune, specifically targeting the hardest or most unfamiliar section (20 minutes). Finally, you could spend the last ten minutes brushing up on the tune (or tunes) on which you are most confident. By delegating your time like this, you insure yourself the most efficient and least frustrating practice session.
3. Work on the hardest section first– When practicing, the beginning is not always the best place to start. In every tune, there is going to be a part you find most challenging to play. Often students attempt to avoid those bits to the end, instead focusing on what they already do well. Rather than playing through the tune, hoping that part comes out well when you get to it, begin by practicing the trouble spots over and over until they become easy. If you are strumming an acoustic tune, it might be that tricky G to C transition. Just work on switching between those two chords while maintaining your strum pattern. Maybe that solo you’ve been learning has part with a tricky rhythm or super fast lick. Isolate it and work on it repeatedly until it’s smooth before heading on to the rest of the solo. That Taylor Swift song you are trying sing might havea line that is particularly hard for you to line up with the strum pattern. Set out to do that first and then combine into the larger verse. Whatever it is, by focusing on the trickiest part first, the rest of the tune will become a whole lot easier.
4. Work on the smallest possible amount first, then expand AKA The Exponential Approach– Another classic mistake people make: trying to learn something by immediately playing from beginning to end. When you are first learning something, it’s best to initially work on a section no more than two measures in length. Play it until it’s mistake free and memorized. When it is coming easily, go on to the next section of the same length. Once that’s perfect, add the two sections you’ve learned to make a longer section (ex. 2 measures plus 2 measures equals 4 measures). Once that is perfect do the next bit the same way, working on another section no more than 2 measures, then the next section of the same length and adding them together (2+2=4). Once you have two larger sections, add those together to make an even larger section (4+4=8). Continue doing this until you have a covered the entire tune (i.e. for a 32 measure tune 2+2=4, 4+4=8, 8+8=16, 16+16=32).
5. Keep your music organized– This one of the most overlooked, but crucial elements of optimizing your practice time. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted rifling through pages and pages of music, trying to find the piece or exercise I needed. Likewise, I can’t count the amount of tunes I’ve failed to learn simply because I lost them. A few years back, I got frustrated and start keeping all my music in binders, held in protective plastic sheets and organized by genre. I have four color-coded binders categorized by style each containing 30 solos I transcribed (i.e. a blue binder for rock solos, a black one for country, etc.) Each one is divided into sections by guitar player at 3 solos a piece. I have a binder for classic/chord-melody pieces divided into 3 sections: ones I am learning, ones I know, and ones I want to learn. By doing this I never have to wonder about what to practice and where it might have gone. I can grab it by color from my bookshelf. However you choose to do it, by organizing your music, practice sessions will be easier, more efficient, less frustrating and more fun.
These five tips are not the be-all, end-all of practice technique, but simply a place to start. I will update this blog in the future with more. In the meantime, if you incorporate these five strategies, I am sure you will find yourself learning the guitar much more easily and having more fun.