This post is written by guitar teacher and musician Mike O’Cull, professional music enthusiast, teacher, blogger at GuitarGeary, podcaster, and songwriter. Mike O’Cull works with and covers the most compelling artists from around the world. His writing work has appeared in countless venues over the last twenty years.
7 ways to make your guitar practice routine more efficient
Go home and practice. We’ve all been told that before. What does that sentence really mean, though? For beginners, it’s a pretty simple definition. Your daily practice is all about playing whatever it is you’re able to play until it starts to sound like music. Once you get past that stage, however, it gets a little more complicated. There are many areas an advancing player must work on and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by options and time commitments. What the heck is a picker supposed to do?
Well, fear not, friends and family. I’ve been a guitar teacher most of my life and today I’m going to bust into my experience locker and show you some tried-and-true ways to get the most out of your practice time. A little planning and preparation go a long way towards maximising your practice routine, so prioritise what you need to work on. Every instructor has their own thoughts about how this topic is best approached. These are mine.
1. Divide Your Time
Becoming a better musician means learning a lot of different things and we have to work on multiple topics at the same time. Technique, knowledge, and musicality can’t be isolated from each other; we need to develop them all. The worst thing you can do is overdo one and ignore the others.
The best way around this problem is to structure your sessions. If you’re planning to practice for an hour, break the time up into three mini sessions of 20 minutes each. Use a timer. A sample session might include 20 minutes of technique work, 20 minutes of scale knowledge, and 20 minutes of learning songs. The idea here is to achieve some sort of balance. You can increase the time spent and change the topics as needed but this method works well for most people.
2. Stop Noodling
Noodling around on your guitar can be fun and creative but it isn’t practising. Practice means working on that which you cannot yet play. Pick a direction and go. Touchy-feely guitar fun time exists outside of your actual practising. You can noodle for years and not get much better. Work on something specific.
3. Plug In!
Practising unplugged on the couch is a temptation for many of us but it’s best avoided. It’s very easy to make an electric guitar sound terrible and it’s essential to hear all the sounds you’re making, both good and bad. The solution to this is to practice through an amp. It doesn’t need to be a full concert-sized rig; a small amp dedicated to practising is fine. Without an amp, you could be totally blowing it in terms of string muting, pick noise, touch development, and a host of other issues and never know it. If you’re planning to perform plugged in, it’s best to practice plugged in. It will go a long way towards making every single rep count.
4. Record Everything
Now, we’re getting serious. The best way to boost your skills and slay your ego is to record your practice sessions. Hear yourself the way others hear you. There is no faster way to get better. Any audio or video recording device will do. You won’t be listening for fidelity but for performance. This experience can be unnerving at first but that’s what makes it so important. You need to know how you sound. There’s no fooling the microphone and it will tell you the truth. If you sound good playing into your phone camera, then you sound good. Period. If you don’t, suck it up and get to work. Now is time for tough self-love. Record everything, be brutally honest about your playbacks, and get better quickly. Bottom line: the more you record, the less you suck.
5. Learn Songs
If you don’t know what to practice, learn a song. Songs are musical currency and each one you know is a buck in the bank. No one plays guitar because they have a burning desire to practice scales and modes. Those things are means to an end, not our ultimate goals. Songs make you use everything you know mixed together all at once and require you to think and play musically, in theory, at least. Work up a set of ten songs and practice them until you can play them all along with the recordings one after another. Jam that playlist through and call it a complete session. You’ll have fun and improve at the same time.
6. Practice In Short Bursts
You don’t need seven hours of daily practice to get better. You can do a lot in short, intense bursts of practising that only last ten minutes or so. Pick a single idea and hammer down on it exclusively for ten minutes. Do as many quality reps as you can in that time. Learn one lick from YouTube and see if you can play it 100 times in ten minutes. Then, go on about your business. This one is great because it gets you past the mental hurdle of starting a long, difficult practice session. This can’t be the only way you practice, as we all need in-depth guitar time, but it can keep you improving steadily when getting practice in is an issue.
7. Always Use A Metronome!
This is another tough one but it speeds up improvement like nothing else. Play everything in time to a metronome every time you practice and you will tighten up fast. Playing smoothly in time is always important and the more comfortable you get playing to external sources of it, the better your entire game will be. An hour with the clicker is worth three hours of free-range wanking. Plus, playing to a click track is pretty much part of life these days in most recording situations and doing it regularly will put you at ease with it. Using your metronome, like recording your sessions, is another huge way to make the most of every second of practice time. Sometimes, the old ways are the best.
This post is written by guitar teacher and musician Mike O’Cull, professional music enthusiast, teacher, blogger, podcaster, and songwriter Mike O’Cull works with and covers the most compelling artists from around the world. His writing work has appeared in countless venues over the last twenty years.
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