Practice Tips for Serious Guitarists

by bluru

A few good practice tips to increase learning. Avoid 10,000 methods and stick with proven basics. With about 50 years playing behind me, there might something of value here.

The summary for what follows would go something like this: Identify specific technique issues and devise a practice method that eliminates those issues and promotes smooth playing and greater understanding.

As far as identifying those clunky spots in your playing goes, if you aren't doing it constantly right now, you better start paying closer attention. Even the best players have to stay on their game to sound smooth and effortless. Critical listening is a good thing. The idea here is that you don't imagine how good you sound, you really pay attention to what is coming out of the speakers and address ANY spots in your playing that reflect a loss of flow that raise eyebrows in some sort of WTF? fashion.

When you have a short list of these areas that grabbed your attention, no matter how small, you create a small circle, a short pattern you can repeat, maybe 10-30 notes long. This constitutes a practice circle that you can use to reduce or eliminate the rough playing you notice.

When you have a set of practice circles, maybe ten, you arrange them in a set of two minute drills and do those drills the first thing each day when you start to play. Record yourself playing something difficult on the first day, then do the drills for 30 days. Record that same piece again after 30 days and just listen. This has happened many times in my experience with younger players. They love the jump in their skill level.

Give it a chance and make yourself smile.

Guitar Indulgences

Thoughts from Tony Dee
Could Be Worse
Could Be Worse

In case you thought I was kidding. This is from Jazzbones in Tacoma circa 2008. Just to verify playing credentials.

My Own Fault - Blues Traditional

The Two Minute Drill Concept

... Or how to go nuts in the privacy of your own home

This is fairly simple in theory, but deceptively powerful in practice. Just as described above, you pay attention to issues in your playing and set up a practice circle to polish up the tough spot. I've only hit about a million of those spots along the way myself.  We can use a fairly simple repeating 6-note phrase that is a usable rock/blues lick to demonstrate the idea here. I practiced this one until it was the most completely overused lick I had. But when you have four licks and a lot of time on your hands, these things can happen.

This phrase is played on the first two strings, the tiny ones. The numbers refer to the order of the notes. The lick is used as a repeating phrase placed in solos or as a stand alone fill. You can see numbers 1 to 4 move down in pitch while 5 and 6 move up in pitch and lead back to the start. Use down-up picking and you will feel why this lick is used. Play clean and clear notes that ring right up to the next note played = legato. The circle around the numbers 6 and 2 is referring to the note that tells what key that the lick is in. This point becomes more important when you try to play the same lick in different keys as a practice device. Here is where the two minute time frame comes in. Do the lick eight times through then move to the next key. Do this for two minutes then substitute another lick or phrase for this one and do another two minutes through the cycle of fourths. Stacking these up is where it gets interesting. Remember that this method can use any lick, phrase, arpeggio or idea. You just have to have one you want to polish up.

Cycle of 4ths

... Learn the fret board while you practice your licks, lines, arpeggios, sequences, phrases and all that stuff

This is a cool way to practice those licks that would otherwise bore the interest right out of you. Like the 4-note lick I just threw your way. Trying to practice it for very long without losing consciousness takes up too much energy, so spice up your practice time by having more than one project going on at a time. While practicing the lick to smooth it out and to get comfortable with the picking pattern, you involve your mind in keeping track of what key you are playing in and where you are about to jump to next. It involves a basic understanding of how a major scale is laid out and then playing the lick of interest over and over as you move through different keys. The order of the keys is derived from how a major scale is built. But that is another story. For now, you can just use this list:

C  F  Bb  Eb  Ab  Db  Gb  B  E  A  D  G 

In the fret board diagram above, if numbers 6 and 2 were on the 8th fret, you would  be in the key of C. Which is where you want to start. Play the lick 4 times and move to the 13th or 1st fret and you will be in the key of F. Play the lick 4 times and move to the 6th fret, Bb. Keep moving in this fashion through the keys while you practice the lick. Keep it smooth and even, try to make all your practice exercises musical. Tougher to do than to say. While you are smoothing out your technique, you have to look ahead to the next location to play the lick, so you are pretty involved. This allows for a couple of things. You have to learn the notes on at least one string to jump from position to position on the guitar neck. Just think of the fun when you realize this lick is movable throughout the Pentatonic scale. The ideas are endless for this practice technique.



Practice Sheets

... An easy way to keep track of licks

Sometimes using a practice sheet like the one here is a good way to list your licks. Not everyone is into this level of keeping track of their work, but for those who are, this is pretty cool. You can use the numbering system above or anything that makes sense to you. The point is though to concentrate on your playing more than how you keep track of it. The sheet is a tool to assist learning and sharing what you're working on. It's a tool to use if you think it might be useful.  


Updated: 12/14/2012, bluru
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