Personally I enjoy practising. I find the experience relaxing rewarding and it can be pretty fun too. But I know that that is definitely not how some of you feel about practicing, so with this article I hope to show you a very efficient way to learn new riffs and licks and offer a way to make your practice more enjoyable.
So what is the most efficient way to practice to get them thar riffs up to speed? To help explain my method I'm going to use a riff from Ozzy Osbourne's Crazy Train.
The first thing we need to do is get a tab of the riff, listen to the song, get a feel for the timing and try to play it all together. Soon you'll identify parts that you can play (like the three string chords) and parts you can't (like the fast alternate picking. Or maybe even the other way round.)
So let's say your first stumbling block is right at the start, the initial quaver and two semi quaver rhythm. These parts of the riff that you can't play I like to refer to as choke points'. All the music around these points can be played, but once you get to these guys everything tightens up and the riff falls apart.
The method of practice I'm going to show you is all about identifying these choke points, slowing them down and playing them again and again.
Allow me to show off my mathz skillz and show you why this method of practicing is much more efficient than playing the whole riff over and over.
*Breaks out calculator*
So let's say the crazy train riff is about 10 seconds long, and the small snippet you're having trouble with is two seconds long.
If you decide to just play the whole riff over and over again, you'll have practiced the bit you're having trouble with six times after one minutes practice (60/10 = 6).
If you play only the small piece repeatedly for a minute, you'll have played it 30 times (60/2 = 30).
So you'll be able to play the whole riff four times (400%) quicker because you'll master these choke points faster, because the more you practice the better you'll be. Basically, by practicing only the things that you can't play, you'll end up playing the whole riff faster because once you've mastered each part individually playing the riff is a breeze.
When I have trouble with a choke point, I slow things down. I've been playing for around ten years, and have a good level of technical proficiency, but I still slow new riffs and licks down to 60 BPM (beats per minute). When you're playing music at that speed you can really see where you're going wrong, correct yourself and teach your hands to play it right.
If you're just starting out or haven't worked on your rhythm in a while, a great tip is to use powertab software (it's free, and generally has very accurate tabs) to slow down the tempo. This way you know that the tempo is bang on and you can slowly speed your way up.
So once you have your timing sorted, you can work out a mini practice schedule to work with. Making one of these should take you less than 30 seconds and should look something like this
Choke point 1 (Tab fragment to remind you of choke point) X10
Choke point 2 (Tab fragment) X10
Whole Riff X2
It's important to keep in mind the rest of the riff so you teach your fingers where to go once you've mastered your choke points.
Some tips for your mini schedule
Practice with a metronome. If you don't have one buy a metronome as soon as possible, you'll use it the rest of your musical life.
For riffs you find challenging start at 60 BPM.
Make sure you've got your timing right on the individual sections, or else the whole riff will sound totally off.
Go up in ten beat increments (60 up to 70, 70 up to 80, etc)
Take breaks if you're struggling with a new speed or feeling cramp. You'll be amazed at how much better you'll be able to play once you give your hands about five minutes to recharge.
Know your limits. Once you start playing sloppy and can't keep up anymore, you've hit the ceiling. Try again tomorrow.
If you find you're struggling to build up speed, you may just need more time, or perhaps there's a deeper problem with your technique that needs to be addressed. Finding a good teacher is definitely the best way to go here as he or she can quickly identify the problem and set you on the right path.
And like my last article, if you're up for trying something a bit silly that will make practicing guitar more fun, here's an exercise you can use next time you're practicing.
Instead of focusing on just your fingers while practising, imagine you're in front of a huge crowd. Pick whatever venue or stage you like. Picture yourself on stage with your practice schedule, metronome and guitar. A hush goes over the crowd as you pick up your guitar; you hear whispers of can he really do it?
Begin playing at 60 BPM, complete your first round of practice and while you increase the metronome speed, the crowd gives you a polite applause. As you get closer and closer to your BPM target, imagine the crowd going wild, people gasping, unable to believe your out of this world practice skills.
It's 400% more efficient! you hear from a man in the crowd.
I thought 100% was as efficient you could be? another shouts back.
Others in the crowd shush the heckler. Adjust your metronome closer to your goal. The crowd is giving the place an electric atmosphere. Once you reach your target BPM, The crowd is roaring you on. They're screaming but go into a hushed, excited murmur and the crowd goes wild as you play Mary had a little lamb at 120 BPM!
I know the above exercise seems a bit silly, but I guarantee it'll make your practice a whole lot of fun.
You can find more of Eoghan's stuff at his website here.
Or keep in touch through his blog.