To practise or not to practise... that is the question
How many times have you asked yourself this Shakespearian question? We are not always in the mood for practising.
This is what happens... we set aside time for practising, but we just don’t feel like it. I think you are all familiar with the situation.
Let’s wind the clock back and remember the time when you were learning first cords, first licks, first scales... How did you feel then? Was there a burning desire to improve? To discover this illusive “something”, “The Guitarists’ El Dorado”? Or was practising just another chore that had to be completed in order to fulfil the task?
Whatever the answer to the above question, you are the one in charge. Many of us dream of becoming another Hendrix or Malmsteen or another guitar hero... Well, guess what?
Everything is possible if you tune your practise regime to your ambitions
Speaking from experience, many of my students relied too much on talent at the expense of hard work. And they would be quickly surpassed by less talented students who employed structure, discipline and sustained effort in following my program. Talent alone is never enough for success. Just imagine how far you can get with a little talent and a lot of hard work.
Practising should be fun but it should also be a challenge
To make it fun we should make it interesting. Planning the session is very important. Clearly define what you wish to achieve and get down to it. It is that simple. Don’t let yourself get destructed. Watching TV or having coffee with the guitar on your lap is not going to cut it.
Half measures produce half results
I often play in front of computer, while working on a project, recording or mixing... More often than not I reach for the mouse to surf the web a little... Common trap. Don’t do it. You must spend quality time with your instrument or not at all.
If you are tired, sleepy, unsettled it’s best to leave it. Wait for the time when you have enough energy. Physical fitness is very important. Fitter you are, longer you can play, more fun you will have. Adopt correct posture, look after your back. Have regular rests. Put the guitar down, stretch, have a drink (no, not beer). Some strive on this military regime and some just carry on dauntlessly. However, don’t move onto something else until you master what you set out to do. With structure and discipline the results will come and before you know it all these little fragments you’ve been working on will fall into place.
We are all unique. Our personality comes out when we play. This is why there are as many styles as there are guitarists. Just let it happen for you. With time you’ll develop your own style your fingerprint... it takes years and is influenced by everything you do, your sensibility, creativity and interpretation.
Don’t forget that every musical style incorporates a certain manner of playing. To master certain style, you must familiarise yourself with it. Listen, listen, listen... and try it yourself. Pick a phrase that you like and learn it. Then analyse it... note by note. What makes it what it is? Is it a bend, or a slide or a vibrato? Play with it. Move it up and down the neck, up and down the scale, slow it down, spice it up. See what feels good. Make it yours.
Theory? I hear you ask... Well, there is a difference between knowing how to play it and knowing what you are playing. Many a time you’ve heard a beginner shredding impeccably, but in a wrong key. Don’t skip the theory... you need it as the scout needs a map. Then you’ll easily find your way around scales, harmonic progressions, keys and more.
Every note matters
Don’t play dirty. If you allow non-articulated moves to set in your muscle memory, you’ll have trouble correcting it. Play just fast enough to produce a clean effortless sound. Once you achieve that, then start building up the speed and allow plenty of time for that. Every note matters, so give it your full attention. Introduce dynamics... experiment with the position of the right (picking) hand. Pick close to the bridge or the neck...
Use your time wisely
Sometimes you only get an hour... split it into 15 min sessions. First, warm up your fingers. You can play scales in all positions; combine them with arpeggios, up and down, back and forth and diagonally. Joe Satriani is known to pluck the E string hard and then improvise up and down the neck on Lydian or another scale.
Next 15 min try a new lick in a way described earlier. After that try arpeggios over the harmonies of a known song. Last 15 min work on your repertoire.
These are of course just examples of how to utilise you time. It is down to you to plan and execute you own agenda.
I normally get drawn into that “meditative state” when I do something new, something explorative... Any practice session could be organised as a new creative project. Think of it this way: a note is a letter, a few letters is a word, a few words make a sentence. So’ go on say something beautiful. That should keep you focused.
When we talk, we pause to take a breather. We change the pitch of our voice to create the drama. It’s the same in music. We tell a story. And the skill of the narrator is not in the content but in the delivery. Always remember that.
All that’s mentioned above goes here too. Don’t just run up and down the scale. Play 3rds and 5ths and other intervals altering the length, dynamics and rhythm.
We could go on and on, but I’m getting worried I may bore you. Whatever you do when you sit down to practise, don’t take an easy route. It will not lead you where you want to get.
Set your goals and stick to them. That is the route to success.
I hope this was useful. And wish you a happy and joyful practising.