I just joined this group as I love to offer any advice I can to other guitarists. I've posted this subject on some other forums but I thought that this would be a welcome subject here as well.
It seems that most of us wish we had just a little bit more time to sit down with our instruments to either learn that new song we’ve been meaning to get to or master the ones in our repertoire. Work, family, errands and just day to day life sometimes has a way of keeping those practice sessions consistent. Here’s a few tips on how to get the most out of the time you do have.
I welcome any additional suggestions you may all bring to this topic.
I’d also like to mention that I’m talking about Practice time as opposed to Playing time. Big difference. Practicing time means working on what you are currently struggling to master. Playing time is simply for enjoyment... doing what you already know and have fun with. Both are vitally important, but only the first one will put you on the road to improvement.
Finding the time: I figure I’d start out with the big one. As I previously said, many things can get in the way. However, most folks think that if they can’t get in between 30 minutes to an hour a day it may not be worth it. I disagree. Believe it or not you can still make progress with 15 minutes a day and who can’t find at least that amount of time? Ok.. maybe not every day but certainly at least 5 to 6 days a week perhaps. Of course we’re hoping you can find more during the week but this is strictly on those most challenging days. To the trick is what do you do with that minimal amount of time? I suggest taking that one phrase, lick or trouble spot in whatever you’re currently working on and do nothing else but hammer at that. In a day or two when you do have more time you can always work on the rest of list. But the idea here is being consistent as this type of daily practice is much more beneficial than cramming it all in on a weekend.
Prioritizing your time: Ok... let’s say you have an hour to practice. What do you do? I suggest before you pick the instrument up have a clear idea of what you’d like to work on. A lot of time is sometimes spent just playing things we know and then maybe getting around to the hard stuff. You should think about what you’re trying to master here and having a clear plan on how to go about it. That turnaround in the Big Bill Broonzy song still giving you problems and you’ve really been meaning to nail it? Then that should be one of your priorities. Some folks like to work on scales, arpeggios, chords.. whatever. You get the idea.
Isolate the problem: Take a look at that problem area that you want to work on. Let’s say it’s the 3rd measure of the 2nd part of a ragtime instrumental. When I ask my students how they practice it they say that they play the whole piece up to the trouble spot... make the mistake they’ve always been making in that same place and then go straight through to the end. No good. I instruct them to isolate that one lick and play it slowly, in time, so it comes out perfect. Then do it repeatedly. Don’t waste time playing the rest of that piece over and over again.. you already know it! Isolate that area and give it your full attention. Once you can do it at a fairly decent tempo then play it after the preceding measure to make sure it’s locked into the piece. Using a metronome helps. Which brings us to our next point.
The metronome: Make it your friend. Once you discover that problem area the first thing you could do is make sure your fingering is correct. Sometimes just changing one finger around makes the difference. Do you have that section memorized? That helps too. That being done, find a tempo where you can execute the lick PERFECTLY. I mean it. You’re training muscles here and while they don’t have a mind, they sure have a memory. Play that lick repeatedly - slowly and perfectly until it’s second nature. Got it? Good. Now increase your tempo to the next degree and repeat the process until you’ve found the tempo that starts to give you problems. Then back it down just a tad and practice it that way for a day or two. This whole process takes much less time than you think and yields incredible results.
Ok... that’s just a few tips but I’d like to leave room for all of you to add in your own thoughts. We can all benefit from this by helping one another out... and isn’t that what forums are all about?
A little bit about me: I’ve been a professional musician for a very long time. In addition to touring the U.S., U.K. and western Europe I’ve also taught guitar at Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch and Woody Mann’s Acoustic Sessions.
nice one, thanks