July 07, 2020

With not much to do these last few months but stay inside or close to home there’s lots of time available to practice our favorite instrument. But with our sense of normal being challenged on an almost daily basis it can be hard to find the proper inspiration to practice or the proper direction in our practice.

We’ve faced this challenge as well and decided to pinpoint what actually made a difference every time we sat down to practice. Hopefully, you’ll be able to take something away from this and feel invigorated enough to make your practice routine better.

What is “practice”?

We consider ourselves VERY lucky: our jobs requires us to pick up a guitar everyday. And even when we aren’t working we like to spend some time everyday with the guitar. With this in mind, how often do we ACTUALLY practice? This question is a surprisingly loaded one.

For most of us, the definition of the word “practice” has changed A LOT over the course of the last few years. Most would say the fact that we can pick up a guitar everyday would naturally lead us to become better players. However, we’ve found that we notice the most improvement when we devote our full attention to the instrument.

Here’s a good analogy: real “practice” should be treated much like how an athlete treats training sessions: Practicing guitar is like working out. You must go into each session with a goal you hope to accomplish or, at the very least, some direction or routine to focus on. And, most importantly, you have to free yourself from distractions of any kind.

Typical Practice Routines

When asked about our practice routines, we found we have some common
techniques and regiments when we sit down for a practice session. Here are some of our favorite tips:

It’s a good idea to start by playing “normally”: simple chord shapes and single-note licks to get yourself limber and ready for more strenuous playing. Once you’re warmed up, run scales with a metronome as a way to build muscle memory. Start with the metronome at a VERY slow speed, between 50-60 BPM, and run the scales playing in quarter notes, eighth notes, triplets, and sixteenth notes.

Once you’ve successfully cycled through all the subdivisions, increase the metronome’s speed in five beat increments. Surprisingly, the slower speeds are the hardest! What’s great about this exercise is that not only does it help increase speed and dexterity but it also helps to improve your left/right hand coordination!

The last tip we loved was to end your practice sessions by choosing a key center, a mode or scale and improvise over a backing track. It’s a great way to help break yourself out of scale patterns and “boxes” and also greatly improves your phrasing.

Aside from these, there are plenty of other exercises you can implement on a rotating basis: sheet music and chord chart reading, learning new chord voicing, and transcribing licks and solos by ear.

When we put all of these into one practice session, we were surprised that we could practice for at most TWO HOURS and still feel like we accomplished something. Why? This is a good place to go back to the athletics analogy: any athlete will tell you that overworking yourself can lead to injury. And injury means you’ll be spending time without your guitar.

It’s important to remember that improvement doesn’t happen overnight. Be patient and persistent. Your work will be rewarded. Do you have any practice tips? Let us know in the comments below.

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