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Practice Smart, Not Hard

Post by: Walt Palmer

Being a good musician requires many hours of practice and dedication to your craft.  Whether it’s guitar, bass, or any other instrument, there are universally effective ways to approach practicing to get the most growth out of the time you spend. This article is going to give you a step-by-step process on how to do just that.

WARM UP
This is an essential part of a good practice session that is so often neglected by musicians.  More often than not, my students just jump right into whatever song or guitar lick they are trying to learn without taking the time to go through the necessary warm up exercises. It is important to start slowly, deliberately making sure every motion is correct and every note sounds exactly the way you want. Here is a YouTube video by Brandon Acker, a classical guitarist, that demonstrates some warm up exercises that I use and teach in my guitar lessons all the time. If you take five minutes or so to warm up at the beginning of your practice, I’m sure you’ll be surprised at how beneficial it is to the rest of your playing.

SCALES AND ARPEGGIOS
Break out the metronome (if you haven’t already for your warm up), and spend time running the scales and arpeggios you know at a relatively comfortable speed. Play through the ones you are most comfortable with first, and then begin to move on to any of the scales or arpeggios that might need work. Ask your guitar teacher which scales and arpeggios they think are your best and which need work. Don’t hesitate to slow down your metronome speed if you notice you are falling off rhythm. Try playing a scale in eighth notes and then the corresponding arpeggio in quarter notes. EXAMPLE: C Major scale ascending and descending in eighth notes, then C Major arpeggio ascending and descending in quarter notes.

NEW MATERIAL
This will be the time spent on whatever piece of music you and your guitar teacher have been working on. This could be an entire song, an etude, or even just a guitar lick or bass fill. This is when you work on your assignment from the last lesson you had. By warming up and reviewing your fundamentals (scales and arpeggios), you should be much more successful in playing your new material. Remember to slow down and isolate whatever is most difficult for you instead of spending most of your time playing the easier parts.

REVIEW OF OLD MATERIAL
Taking time to review the music that you’ve already learned in previous guitar lessons is very important. It helps to keep your memory sharp and expand your repertoire. As you progress as a musician, you’ll even begin to understand old material in a new and more advanced way.

FINAL TIPS
- Be patient with yourself.
- When we see great musicians play at such a high level, we often fail to appreciate just how much he or she has practiced to get to that level of proficiency. We all have to practice and the amount of growth that’s possible is never ending.
- Use a metronome! I cannot stress this enough.  If you’re not playing with a metronome, you are doing yourself a huge disservice.
- Get organized. Dedicate an area of your house to music. Start a practice journal and keep a log of what you’re practicing and what needs work from day to day.

These little things make a huge difference in your musical growth. Practice smart, not hard.


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