To ensure constant progress and high motivation you have to develop practice habits that will keep you interested and challenged. I am going to explain my philosophy and outline ideas to help you design your perfect practice regiment.
The Practice Routine: I always tell my students that you must practice things you don’t know or have trouble doing. It’s very easy to fall into a routine of playing something that you have perfected because it sounds good. I remember when I was first learning to do sweep arpeggios I would go over and over an “A” major sweep pattern for hours on end, I drove everyone in my house crazy (my sisters used to throw shoes at me and scream stop). My point being there is a big difference between practicing and playing. If you heard me practicing this technique as I was learning it you would probably think I was a beginner even though I had been playing for years. A few months later I was sweeping everything except the kitchen floor!
Let’s start with a practice outline, you should combine a series of components in your practice routine that will help you develop all aspects of your playing, here is a list of my favorites:
1. Technique exercises for developing your left hand
2. Technique exercises for developing your right hand
3. Technique exercises for coordinating both hands together
4. Scales and patterns
5. Performance pieces
6. Creating leads over progressions (backing tracks)
7. Classical pieces
8. Fun playing
9. Mental perception (visualization away from your instrument)
You should choose exercises focusing on techniques that you wish to improve on or learn. Keep the same routine for three or four weeks and then change sections to keep your interest peaked.
Achieving Your Goal: Everyone has goals so it’s time to clearly define yours. Take a piece of paper and write down your musical goals. Do you want to learn the modes, jazz comping, classical pieces or do you want to get better at improvising? After you have your list of goals tack it up on your wall right in front of where you practice so you can see them everyday. There are four requirements that must be met in order to achieve results:
1. Determine your goal
2. Decide how you are going to achieve your goal
3. Define all obstacles
4. Determine how to eliminate your obstacles You should have many short term goals (one day to six months) to feel good about yourself each time one is attained as well as long term goals (six months to five years). It is important to make your short term goals help you attain your long term goals. For example, if you have a long term goal “I want to learn to improvise free form Jazz” then a short term goal can be “learning all seven modes of the Major scale.”
Practice Tips: As you move forward with your practice routine there are a few other things you should do:
1. Practice consistently – I have had many students come to me and say I missed four days of practice and on the fifth day I played 4 hours. This is not the way to practice and see results because you do not give your fingers a chance to gain muscle memory. Practice every day even if it is for a short amount of time, be consistent.
2. Have a practice spot set up so you can have privacy to focus on your playing. It is a great idea to have a music stand to help position your music so you can sit comfortably. I remember when I started playing and I would lay my music on my bed and twist my neck to try to read and hold my guitar up properly, it was a real pain in the neck!
3. Always have your instrument out of the case, I use the expression “out of sight out of mind” if you see your instrument sitting on a stand you’re more prone to pick it up and play. When it’s in a case under your bed it’s work to take it out and this may detour you from practicing. Besides when your friends come over your house and see your play music they will be impressed!
4. Set a scheduled practice time each day, say you want to practice before school or work every day make this time a routine then later in the day you can play for fun and jam a little more. Great practice habits will result in better overall playing and take you to the next level. Put a lot of thought into a practice routine and choose exercises that will focus on specific techniques that you need to develop. Now, what are you waiting for… go practice!