How to make any and all parts of your practice more fun…
(and get greater results in the process)
Master your Guitar Practice
Guitar Lessons Jamestown
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For many students taking music lessons, the questions can often arise: “When will all this practicing pay off?” or “How long will it take before I can use this concept, topic, or practice item in Real Music?” In short, many students have the problem of “not being able to see the forest for the trees.”
In this article, I’ll give you some real-world tips to be able to take your practice and make it more fun, more rewarding, with greater results and in less time. If you follow these tips, you are sure to be excited and “chomping at the bit” to get to your instrument and pick it up, knowing that your results will be better and faster than ever before and will ensure that you enjoy playing and enjoy practicing…all the time.
Tip #1: Work with a teacher that understands YOU. It is not enough for your teacher to understand music or the instrument he/she “teaches.” You and your teacher are a team. He/she should always have your goals in mind so you can be taught, trained and coached to reach those goals. The role of your teacher is to be able to work with you and make your music practice a part of your life. Life is always changing, and your practice must be able to change with it.
Tip #2: Learn to enjoy the process of learning. I can’t over-emphasize this enough. Many students come to lessons with goals like “I want to play songs”, or “I want to play _____ song.” Although these are good and valid goals, understand that many times there are skills and concepts that need to be in place and usable. These are not so much a pre-requisite to playing music, but will make it easier and more enjoyable to play the music that you want to play. Realize and understand that learning and practicing your musical skills will get you there, and can be a fun and rewarding experience in and of itself.
Tip #3: Get excited. In most every endeavor you undertake in life, your success is a direct result of your mindset. A positive mental attitude is key to getting results and achieving your goals faster and more completely. If you ever find yourself in a “funk” or lacking motivation, talk to your teacher. He/she (if they are a good teacher with your best interest in mind) are qualified to help you overcome almost any obstacle imaginable in your music. Your teacher is there for you, and makes it his/her prime objective to help you to overcome any obstacle you may face.
Tip #4: Don’t be concerned with always learning “new stuff.” This is a common mistake that leads to the feeling of having way too many things to do. In music, and in life, having “too much to do” typically results in a sort of “freeze up” where we don’t do anything at all, or procrastinate with the idea that “I’ll pick it up later when there is not so much to do”…Can you see how this will always work against your positive mindset? A good teacher will be able to gauge how much material and when to give it for your needs. And again, if you ever even begin to feel this way? That’s right talk to your teacher. You never have to feel that you are “expected” to achieve and understand some preconceived volume of material. This, along with many other obstacles can be overcome with simple communication. If it is too much, or there is something you don’t understand, a good teacher will always ensure that you do understand it and will gauge the material that you are working on to suit your life and what you can take on at that point in time.
Tip #5: Use a solid and well-constructed practice routine that is directly in line with what you want to achieve (even if at first glance it may not seem like it)…What I mean by this is that a good teacher will be able to show you what you need to work on…and a great teacher will spend time showing you HOW TO WORK ON IT and to APPLY IT TO YOUR GOALS. This is so important. Plan on practicing WITH your teacher. That’s right. There is much value to be gained by simply occasionally taking your lesson time and simply practicing with your teacher so that he/she can identify and correct simple mistakes that may be holding you back. This can be an invaluable part of your overall lesson plans.
Tip #6: Don’t be afraid to get creative. This is best illustrated with an example. I have had students that while studying scales, phrasing, harmony, soloing, and improvising that are perfectly good with playing pre-written examples against pre-recorded backing tracks. Now, this is a highly useful practice and I happen to use it many times with many students. But some students, despite all the hours of hard work on these things, still have difficulty doing it in the real world or outside the confines of the “exercise.” There are a few great ways to overcome this and really feel the achievement and results that you are looking for. Here’s a couple of examples:
1.Create your own exercises from the concepts you are learning. For example, if you are improvising, and at the same time working on harmonizing scales to understand what scales work with what chords and progressions, you can instead of playing the prerecorded examples...record your own! Nothing fancy, a simple voice recorder will work. Work out a few progressions, record them, and practice improvising over yourself.
2.Then take the idea in #1 above a step further. This time compose a simple solo (or a not so simple solo) over your progressions. Record yourself playing this solo.
3.Then take the solo that you wrote in #2 above and transcribe it…this can be in simple tab notation, nothing fancy…and bring it to your lesson and have another student (if you are in a small group setting), or your teacher actually PLAY YOUR SOLO. This is something that my students do and not only do they gain a better understanding of the concepts, but get the added benefit of hearing their work played by other musicians (this is very cool…and really fun)
A few more ways to get creative:
1.If learning a song with simple chord progressions and strumming, try the song in a different key, different chord voicings and different rhythm and strumming patterns. This is usually a blast.
2.When going through the sometimes daunting task of learning the notes on the fretboard of the guitar, take a few strings…or even all but one of them OFF THE GUITAR. Then throw on a backing track and improvise or simply “find notes” over the track. This can also help you to understand a specific scale formula, mode, or key signature.
3.Learn a piece BACKWARDS…yes backwards. Start at the end of a piece or exercise (this works great with songs too), and learn it a measure at a time from the end. The advantage? By the time you are learning the first measure of the song, you will have already learned (and probably memorized) the entire rest of the song.
The list is only limited by your own ideas.
Tip #7: Build in time to “screw around and just jam…But do this SEPARATE from your practice schedule. Practicing, playing and jamming all require a different mindset and level of focus. Don’t make the mistake of starting to practice and then “meandering” into jam-land. This can derail an otherwise productive practice, and in many cases leave you more confused and open the doors to the development of bad playing habits…which is anything but fun.
Tip #8: Be Organized. I cannot emphasize this enough. Set up a spot that is dedicated to practice. Keep your materials where you can find them, either in hard copy or on a computer. Make your spot comfortable so that you WANT to be there. If you are constantly trying to find things, or are being interrupted, your practice will be anything but enjoyable. And another thing…simple as it sounds, leave a guitar safely on a stand where you can pick it up. Many times the biggest hurdle is actually taking it out of the case. If you pick it up, you will play it.
Tip #9: Eliminate distractions. Practicing, when effective and efficient, does not take a long time. Explain to family members and friends that what you are doing requires focus, and that you need to practice. Assure them that as soon as you are done, you’ll have all the time in the world to hang out and do other things. I used to use this: instead of telling people “I gotta practice” (which they can easily talk you out of or entice you away from it with something “fun”)…Let them know that “I have practice from 4-5 today…I can meet you after that”…You’ll be surprised at the support that you get.
(DISCLAIMER: Be sure to take care of important things like school work, necessary work, home and family related things first!!! Use common sense.)
Tip #10: Let your excitement and enjoyment become CONTAGIOUS. Show your friends and family what you are doing. Record short video clips for YouTube. Play for your friends and family. Let them see how excited you are, and you will be surprised at how fun your practice becomes as a result of seeing the joy you are bringing to the lives of others and to your own life through the process of practicing your instrument and playing music.
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Copyright © Christopher Cotter All rights reserved.