How To Practice Guitar

A very important issue is covered here, about practicing. Not too many "to do's" but an important concept to understand.

Ultimate Guitar

As a guitar player, one of your primary goals is to learn as much as possible. You want to be able to play as well as you can, so the main objective is to learn as many techniques, licks, songs, music theory concepts, exercises, tactics, strategies, and more

This is generally a good thing, but if you're like me at all, you're probably going to do this with a few mistakes along the way, and in this article, I'll explain what some of those mistakes are, and how you can avoid them.

The learning process with any instrument is really a long-term process, and it's also something that is kind of difficult to really understand and explain. I'm going to demonstrate through a few analogies how you can more strategically develop your learning process faster and better.

Right off the bat, you should know that unless you are a complete beginner, most of the time the results from practicing really won't start to show right away. Depending on many factors, you can start to feel the effects of good, solid practice after several hours, or weeks, or months.

There are several ways to learn music, but I'm only going to talk about two of them. The other ways would require entire articles of their own.

You can spend time focused on a particular topic, trying to master that specific exercise, concept, or strategy. You can spend time focused on learning something new.

This distinction is very important to make, because now you have a new question: how much time should you devote to each practice?

It is difficult to know what to do on your own, so it is really important that you find a good teacher. It is a lot easier to see and hear what someone else is doing, thinking, and whether they are on the right track, than it is watching yourself doing it.

So one way to look at this is to imagine your mind like a battlefield. You have two armies on each side, your physical side of guitar playing, and your mental side. You want both armies to eventually kill themselves off so that you no longer have people blowing things up in your mind's battlefield. They also each have a base of several hundred thousand more soldiers, and as soon as either side believes that their army is almost gone, they send more soldiers.

Whenever you learn something new, it's like someone throws a grenade into the battlefield, and that causes big clouds of smoke and debris everywhere. This makes it harder for either side to shoot. If there are too many grenades exploding in your battlefield, all of the soldiers are lost in smoke, so they might accidentally shoot their own team members, or just slow the progress of this battle, and make things much more chaotic and confusing and just not fun.

So you want to limit the flow of new knowledge, skills, and information. You want to control how many items or exercises or topics you learn during a single period of time.

If you let all of the smoke clear before you toss more grenades, it is like you are spending the time to master a particular thing. But here's what happens: all the people kill each other off too quickly. So now you have to wait for soldiers to come, and it's only going to make things displeasing for you, because they have to take the time to send in the people. They don't just appear. This makes the learning process just as slow as the previous process.

So you don't want to spend too much time mastering or perfecting what you know before learning new skills. You just want this long, long battle to finish as fast as possible, so you want to draw out more soldiers with bigger explosions at the right time, just when things are starting to clear up a little bit.

You want to balance how many grenades you throw so that you can bring as many soldiers out at a steady stream, and have a continuous battle, so that both sides either give up or are finally all dead, and also you want to make sure that they are always around the same general numbers, otherwise you'll always have a slumber party going on in your mind if you let some army members survive on one side

All of this stuff is going on while you're playing guitar, and thinking about guitar.

Okay so what does this mean? You need a good balance of the two time divisions, and you need to be able to know which items to practice, for how long, and in what order. You will need to have your teacher guide you through that process. I cannot tell you specifically what you need to practice, because it's different for every person. I can only give you these ideas to use as a temporary guide.

If that was too confusing to understand, you can see these two time divisions to be like building buildings on strips of land. You can either buy more land, or build bigger buildings. As you invest in bigger buildings, you make more income. You only have so much money though.

When you buy new land, it's like learning something new. If you keep buying more and more land, it's going to cost a LOT of money to build on all that land all at the same time, and you will probably either lose the land, or go bankrupt. So then the money spent buying the land goes to waste and you have to buy it again later once you spend all the time to build up buildings on the land you've bought

Essentially, you can't learn too many things because you will start to actually LOSE those skills that you haven't spent time mastering, and you will have to spend the time to learn it again!

When you build a building, you're spending money to invest in the land that you've bought. This makes you get more income, but if you keep building really, really big buildings, you will see that the other buildings will suffer, because it's going to feel like a drag to have to invest in another building, when you could keep building up that big one. It's going to be harder to attract people to come into the other buildings, because they'll all be interested in the one building. This makes your city out of balance.

It's important to dedicate enough money in each of the two options to help make your city even and balanced. Learn enough topics at once, spend enough time learning those items, then shift your focus to another few topics, and continue to rotate around until you've built up a small empire that is well balanced.

This relates to the five fingers of your hand. Lets say you have a musical fist in your mind. As your fist opens and gets bigger, you get a stronger and stronger hold on music and your guitar. You can spend time growing and lifting only one finger at a time.

If you focus on pulling one finger up at a time, by the time your next finger gets lifted up, the first finger is halfway pulled back down. And if you go on to the next finger, your first finger is all the way gone, and your second finger is halfway down. So now you're stuck in a pickle.

You need to spend enough time shifting from one finger to the next, and spend the right amount of time on each so that each finger slowly pushes itself up equally without dropping too much. It's obviously very difficult to do this.

This again is why having a teacher to help you do this is so important. I cannot stress this more. You will be too busy thinking about something and doing things to be able to keep your eye on the big picture all the time.

That is also why I have dedicated myself to helping people like you who need help being walked through this very delicate process. I can show you what things to practice, for how long, and in what order to best help you reach the goals that you have in playing guitar. Visit my website Guitar Lessons in San Diego if you would like to study with me directly.

11 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This article is like living in a cave a long time ago. On one hand you're living in a cave which totally sucks in all forms. You have no air conditioning or any other conveniences, it's probably uncomfortable, and you don't really like it. Not to mention the obvious dangers of living in a subpar shelter. On the other hand you're living in a time period where nobody knows what they are talking about and are all pretty primitive. It's probably going to be really hard to get food and water. Most likely there will be lot's of injury and sickness, due to lack of doctors and medical knowledge. I think the point of this novel is pretty self explanatory so I'm not going to add any further details.
    With these crappy analogies I be convinced learning guitar is extremely difficult as well...
    Basics is where its at. Dated fundementals or not. Way too often musicians try n over complicate their playing to mask their lack of creativity.
    I understand exactly what this article is about. Actually, I just thought about much the same thing a few weeks ago. One thing I read on the forums was about Buckethead supposedly taking Bruce Lee as an example for guitar. You know, obviously Kung Fu and guitar are very different things but once you start to think about it you'll see that they have a lot of similarities as well. For example, both take a certain level of discipline and require decent form to do well. I have noticed that a large part of practicing guitar (and living life in general) is about balance. Nobody can really tell you how to do these things, you just have to get a feel for things. Sometimes it is more about the way you approach something and your attitude towards things rather than how you actually do it. Just put yourself into the mood that gets things done and you'll just do it. You can find knowledge/inspiration from anything, you just need to open yourself to it and get a sense of where to look rather than looking everywhere and getting confused. I'm not trying to be condescending or rude or anything, but if this makes absolutely no sense to you think about those crazy (buddhist?) monks down in Asia who mark out to wisdom and do all that crazy meditation training and can supposedly beat the hell out of five guys at once. They don't have superpowers, they just condition their bodies to do exactly what their disciplined minds want them to do to try and get every ounce of ability out of them that they can. Anyone can do the same thing with guitar. Balance and harmony are key, there is far more to it than mindlessly doing the same thing over and over again.
    this is bullshit. theres better advice here, thats written in a coherent and non-douchy manner: i cant beleive you think writing an article like this (with no real advice, just a shitload of platitudes and weak metaphors) would get you students.
    Stupid ****ing advertisments!! Who the hell are you to say people cant teach themselves guitar the majority of legendary musicians are self taught people will get lessons when they want to they dont need you leading them to it man this website is for the self taught its not a ****in bullitin for ads
    Disappointing to say the least. Dig your way out of the metaphors and you'll find a little substance. My advice? If you know where you're lacking, there are plenty of lessons to be found online. If you don't know where you're lacking, play with other musicians. You will find weaknesses soon enough. Lastly... instructors are great if you find one that suits your needs.
    @JimDawson: Yep, you've got the idea! @everyoneelse: I said in the beginning, there isn't much to do here. It's more of a concept which you SHOULD apply to your practice habits.
    I cannot give advice on what to do, because every one of you is at a different level. But you also shouldn't try this on your own because again, it's hard to know what you really need help on. You don't know what you don't know! Someone else has to tell you...