Maximizing Practice Efficiency

We have heard that practicing is the surest way to improve skills. Few people know however what it means to practice guitar correctly.

logo
Ultimate Guitar
0

In my previous articles (Natural Talent and Reasons for Not Reaching Your Goals, I talked about some non-musical aspects that often prevent people from reaching their goals. With that said, there are also a great many things that are specific to musical training that also make a huge difference. In this essay, I will focus on practicing.

We have all heard that practicing is the surest way to improve skills in any endeavor. Everybody has heard the phrase Practice makes Perfect. Few people know however what it means to practice guitar correctly. For many, practicing quickly becomes a tedious chore rather than a rewarding and (most importantly) PRODUCTIVE investment of time. As a consequence, many people either stop practicing all together or continue through sheer discipline but wonder why they are seeing so little progress. There are many reasons for that, and I will discuss several.

First of all, how would one define the word practice? Most people only have a vague idea of what it means. At best people would imagine that it involves playing their instrument. In fact a much more useful definition would be something along the lines of: action with intent to achieve a purpose. What can we learn from this? When you practice, you must do so with intent of making forward progress as a player. Learning how to practice is the thing that EVERY beginner should learn to do when they first begin playing, but this is most often not the case. Instead a student automatically assumes that they know how to practice and jumps right into learning songs. Guess what happens? The student will most likely plateau in playing ability after reaching a certain level if they are lucky to even learn to play at all.

Another very common obstacle that players face is the physical nature of guitar technique. It is useful to learn to make a distinction between the art of creating music and training the hands to perform the incredibly complex movements required to play. Too many people don't realize that guitar technique is a science that must be learned. It is easy to neglect technique since playing guitar is all about making music. As a result the student will focus all their efforts on the musical aspects of playing (which is great), but when the music requires a higher level of technique, the student will not be able to execute the phrase with the required grace and flow. The very concept of technique is dictated by the music that you want to play. So when you encounter difficulty in playing a certain piece of music you must discover what flaws in your technique are preventing you from playing like you desire. The motions required to play an instrument are NEW to the body, and must be TRAINED just like we all had to learn to walk and use our body in daily lives when we were children. This requires a very high level of awareness of the body and this is something that most people never pay attention to. Think of a programmer who enters hundreds of lines of code (instructions to the computer) to produce a specific result. If for some reason, the programmer stops paying attention to what he is doing or if he does not know how to overcome a particular problem, the program will not work! Learning a technique on guitar (or any instrument) is exactly like that.

Moving along, lets discuss another problem that often affects the quality of practice and that is failure to pay attention to the task at hand. It is very common to get distracted while practicing. This very often happens because most of the time we don't know WHAT we're supposed to be focusing on in our practice. As a result it is frequent to see students playing the trouble passage or lick over and over in the hope that the notes are going to magically appear. Very often the problem can be solved simply by paying careful attention to what is happening when you try to play a certain phrase that you always mess up. Now ask yourself: what SHOULD my fingers be doing in this spot? Am I clear on the fingering and pick strokes? Do I have extra tension present in my shoulders that is making it impossible to direct the fingers to their notes? Very often just by asking these simple questions and performing an analysis of the problem you will begin to see the solution.

Yet another problem that plagues students is not being organized. It is important to have a sense of direction while practicing. This can be achieved by writing out a plan (practice schedule) before sitting down with your guitar. This way you can achieve MUCH greater results by practicing for only 15 minutes (because you will be focused and clear on what you will be doing) than just practicing random things for an hour jumping from one to the next. How do you come up with a good practice schedule? That depends on your long term goals that you must set for yourself as a musician. After that is done, you must determine what tools (sets of skills) are needed to get to the level you want to be. Very often students are not clear on what tools they need and how to acquire them (this is what your teacher should be helping you with) After this is done, practicing becomes sort of like a journey to your destination (ultimate goals). With each practice session you get a step closer to reaching your dreams. Start thinking of practicing in this way and you will see powerful things begin to happen.

Practice does not make perfect, it makes permanent, but PERFECT practice DOES makes perfect! Always remember that. Simply sitting down with your guitar and mindlessly moving your fingers around for 2 hours every day will not bring you the results you seek. This is especially deadly when it comes to practicing technique. If you train your hands to make sloppy, imprecise movements that are full of tension, guess what, these are the instructions that you are programming into your muscles. Your muscles remember ANYTHING they do enough times. So what do you think will happen, if your practice is sloppy? That's right, your playing will be sloppy too! Enough said.

It is very common to read an article like this and say: This makes sense, but it doesn't really apply to my case, because I know how to practice. Very often a student will THINK that they are practicing correctly when they are NOT. It is easy to underestimate the complexity of learning an instrument. Do not make this mistake. Unless you are already a very advanced player, chances are you can benefit from reviewing your practice habits (working with a good teacher is the best way to do this). This will only help you move forward as a player. What is the best way to know if you're practicing correctly? It is simple, record your playing and LISTEN. Be honest with yourself. Do you hear things that could use improvement? If so practice them for awhile and see if your work produces RESULTS. (are the mistakes disappearing and is the phrase becoming easier to play?) So judge the effectiveness of your practicing by your playing. It is really that simple.

Hopefully now you understand what practicing is about, and I hope that you take the advice in the essay and apply the concepts to your own playing. You will amaze yourself with the results!

You can contact me at mikephilippov@yahoo.com I would be happy to answer any questions you may have. I reply to all e-mails.

Mike has recently completed work on the Supreme Rock Guitar Beginner Course which is now released! This course is targeted towards advanced players who would like to start off on the right track as well as those intermediate players who feel like they are not progressing as they should.

Visit Mike's websites:

  • mikephilippov.com
  • myspace.com/grimthesweeper
  • enigmatheband.com

    2006 Mike Philippov All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

  • 79 comments sorted by best / new / date

      spunkeymonkey36
      Good article but nothing new. I think songs are a great way of practising, even if its not all of it. For example just pulling out certain licks or riffs from a song can easily help you find new patterns and techniques on the fretboard.
      zippidyduda
      shammyshamsham wrote: This whole article is one of the most narrow minded things i have ever read about anything in music. There are no rules when its comes to music, everybody who plays any sort of music is different, just the same as everybody who listens to music is different, which means that there can be no 100% certain way to practice, write, or play music. Just look at most of the tabs on this website, most of them are different, however acheive the smae sound or results. Anyone who thinks that there is only ONE WAY to become great at your instument obviouly just wants everyone to be the same. If everybody follows the same formula for rehearsing and practicing then everyone will just end up being the same and the diversity of genres, song, and bands would be lost over time. Thats all from me. Thnx for reading my rant lol
      Wow, and that was one of the most narrow minded rants I have ever heard... Its not like he was telling you how to practice, and that it was the only way. Its just one of the best ways to get the most out of your playing. Also, practicing the same and playing the same are in no way related. That style of practice can be utilized in any style you play. Its certainly more helpful than learning Green Day... Idiots...
      Fergality
      MOnkeytoss : Mr.Loomis_shred wrote: What????? You need to do more than learn songs. Ok yea sure you say you can play anything on guitar within an hour but what about expressing yourself by making your own music. How are you supposed to be able to make a half decent song without knowing theory. Look at punk music when you say that.
      Punk musicians dont just play a couple of chords and write anti-establishment lyrics and have a sone down within minutes. They know theory too.Punk writers work with chord progressions and son writing theory as well experimenting with other kinds of music....othertwise you'd have loads of punk songs sounding the exact same and this isnt the case.
      The_Dead_God
      I aggree with alot of people about this article your being too stiff. ive only been playing a year but even for me if there are any rules or limits or restrictions on my practice it gets boring and i dont want to do it. for me playing guitar is a form of expression and in my opinion you cant play or practice with expression if there are boundaries on it.
      Prince Albert
      hated the article. ur being way too robotic about it. i agree with mikeplaysguitar, all i do to practice is learn songs and its working fine for me.
      chris4
      Its obvious but ok advice..you should take some advice on your approach to teaching-like your mentor your style seems pretty agressive and pushy which i can imagine puts a lot of kids off. Also you seem quite patronising and egotistical in your approach. No offense.
      I agree with this. There's way too much egotistical false bullshit in that article. I mean get your facts straight man. This article shows that you're an amateur and haven't been doin this long so I guess it's a good article for a beginner novice.
      dann_blood
      Another great article. Perfect practice does make perfect. For example, ive had guitar tutoring since i started, and i learnt correct methods for finger picking, because thats how i started. 4 years later ive basically maxed out what i can learn for finger picking, last thing to learn is to get my thumb and 3+ fingers picking at high speeds. So, the other day, i asked my tutor how to play faster. He said speed-picking, with a soft pick of course, and showed me some riffs worthy of a guitar god. He then told gave me a soft pick, and told me the method. Within 10 minutes, i was speed-picking at an average rate like id had weeks of practice. The thing with perfect practice is that its so much easier than trial and error practice. Im looking forward to another brilliant article. Cheers.
      gtr1960
      Good Post. I agree if you have a clear idea of what you need to accomplish during your practices you will gain more knowledge and playing abiliy in a shorter amount of time using your time wisely.i studied classical guitar at college for a degree and you had limited time to accomplish alot. you had to maximize all practice.
      kujo waffles
      I think that there are only a few people out there with enough concentration to sit down and practice. it is a son to not feel that vibe when you start to jam!!!!!
      The_Seeker
      c0ld_3mphasis05 wrote: good article, though that method wouldnt work for me because as soon as it becomes strict its no fun for me anymore,
      I think there's something to this because I feel the same way. The last thing I want to do is write out a plan of what I'm going to practice, then time myself. I may as well set up a time clock and punch in and out every day.
      Kizna
      Good article, but it needs to say how to practice correctly, because we can't compare and say I am doing right or wrong.
      Mr.Loomis_shred
      TheSilverBeatle wrote: How are you supposed to be able to make a half decent song without knowing theory. You sir are an idiot...you think Lennon ever sat down and thought hmm...I'll write in the key of g dadadada...no...he sat down and strummed a few chords, it sounded good and off he went. Theory is not an essential part of songwriting unless your going to be a classical player/writer.
      Sorry what i meant by this was that by knowing theory(well), you can give what ever sort of feeling you want to a song...u know what chords work well together etc. Im not saying that you strictly use theiry to write songs im simply saying that knowing theory would help you to write better songs because you know what to use and when to use it.
      Fenderman32
      I think that a good blend of theory and just blind luck is what makes good music. of course it depends on what kind of music u like. I listen to just about everything, but i really only like playing the less-tightly bound songs, the ones that throw theory to the wind and just rock!
      Mr.Loomis_shred
      The_Dead_God wrote: I aggree with alot of people about this article your being too stiff. ive only been playing a year but even for me if there are any rules or limits or restrictions on my practice it gets boring and i dont want to do it. for me playing guitar is a form of expression and in my opinion you cant play or practice with expression if there are boundaries on it.
      Good point, but the way i see it is that if you have a good practice workout(doing your theory and techniques and also learning a song for example) you can express yourself easier. By knowing theory well and different techniques you can express all different moods on your guitar. I'm not saying that learning songs isnt good, hell i done it for my first year and i must say it hepled me develope some techniques and do certain things but i feel there is a time when theory is needed and the only way you can do it is by sitting down and learning it, although it may not be fun then it pays off in the end. Another thing during practice which i havnt heard yet is timing, working with a metronome and all.
      WhoKilledNorma
      I've progressed more by learning different songs than I have by coming up with my own stuff. I have come up with some great riffs by learning other music, I mean their not face melting riffs but they sound great.
      Frankie Sparks
      This is a bunch of bull. If someone just practices out a schedule all the time with the whole "no pain no gain" idea, than what's so fun about it? Just play what you feel like playing, and have fun with it. Isn't that the reason you play guitar? To have fun? I've just "Practiced random things for an hour jumping from one thing to the next" and my friend that does the same thing you're talking about plays with no emotion, no feeling. The music doesn't flow. Just play what you feel like playing, that's it.
      mmaddogg
      he said
      if your practice is sloppy? Thats right, your playing will be sloppy too! Enough said.
      first learning something will be sloppy, practicing will make it not sloppy
      NikkoFreako
      Frankie Sparks wrote: This is a bunch of bull. If someone just practices out a schedule all the time with the whole "no pain no gain" idea, than what's so fun about it? Just play what you feel like playing, and have fun with it. Isn't that the reason you play guitar? To have fun? I've just "Practiced random things for an hour jumping from one thing to the next" and my friend that does the same thing you're talking about plays with no emotion, no feeling. The music doesn't flow. Just play what you feel like playing, that's it. Oh by the way there isn't a single guitarist in my high school that can play as well as i can...and ive been playing a year and a half. I didnt't make a "practice schedule", and I can play the solos to every song on Metallica's "Ride the Lightning" album, not to mention my originals
      Ok. Firslty, you are not required to practice by any means. Practice is a method of improvement, and Mike is just offering what seems to be a very progressive strategy. That whole "No pain, no gain" as you say is called determination. Some people aspire to be at virtuoso status one day no matter how long it takes or how much practice is necessary. And practicing is a way to HELP you play what you "feel like playing" If you feel like playing heavy metal and you don't know basic chords or chords that flow with eachother, how exactly do you plan to do that? Just having distortion and wailing on random notes accomplishes nothing. The reason you may not enjoy practicing is because of your mindset. You probably think "This is soo boring I just want to play songs" blah blah. The people that practice think ahead, we think "If this can make me that much better of a guitar player, then what the hell, why not." but whatever. that's just my little input.
      Music Shop Hobo
      I hate the "i dont need to practice" crowd. John Petrucci (one of the greatest guitarists alive right now)could easily not practice or brag about natural talent yet he is known to sit down in his hotel room and practice for hours. If he practices you need to also! As for just playing songs it can help but it isnt impressive to play someone elses song. The best are able to write music above there level and work to play it.
      Power Driven
      miggse wrote: Your muscles do not have a memory!!?! But other than sounding like an article to promote and generate some funds for music teachers, has some good points. your dumb, there is a thing called muscle memory, if there wasnt you would have to think about eevery step you take, yuod have to focus on keeping your balance while riding a bike, and you would keep missing your mouth when you are eating and watching the tv. so FACT: muscle memory exists, another FACT: your a moron I like practise to be fun and best way of practising for me is jamming some songs with anyone, drums, bass, keys, whateva.
      Frankie Sparks
      Oh by the way there isn't a single guitarist in my high school that can play as well as i can...and ive been playing a year and a half. I didnt't make a "practice schedule", and I can play the solos to every song on Metallica's "Ride the Lightning" album, not to mention my originals
      anaoshak
      correction, this guy isn't the guy i was thinking. sorry... but you should sitll have fun playing guitar haha and not make it a choir
      axe_2_grind
      well, it seems to me that this article, as well as some of his previous articles, are more about musical philosophy, rather than technique. Anyway, It does seem like he is offering up some good advice that will help a certain group of players who are struggling. But certainly not everybody. One thing does ring true in my experience, it's all bout goals. What are you trying to acheive. Wre you trying to be a virtuoso shredder, or a 3-chord punk guy? Examine the music you listen to, or the music you're playing, and figure out where you want to go with it. If you just wanna jam on some covers with some friends, that's cool. If you wanna start the next great stadium rock act, and make millions, that's cool too. But for those who havan't figured it out yet, look at what you're trying to do, and figure out for yourself how to do it. No one method is correct. Find what works for you.
      anaoshak
      im 20 , in college.. been practicing guitar by the book for a while now and got through maybe about 5... My goal was to play basic rock music that was raw and fun.. Yeah **** that. the books didn't help me at out, they just make the guitar soulless and are made by people who didn't even learn that but gained the knowledge after they developed their craft. look at this guy's video, the author of this article. http://www.tomhess.net/video/Through%20t... .. I hate that. Yeah its impressive, but its also mindless and doesn't look fun. You don't look like your having fun, and i doubt your a fun person (judging from site and its confrontational approach to dealing with people.) Don't learn guitar like this.. you don't want to be shredder, you want to have fun and all that stuff, you ll end up like this guy (look at site). Learn the songs you like and get good at them, thats how you develope style. You develope it learning what you like because most people want to end up being what they like, you get my drift? Part of you will show too and that will evolve.
      supasteve60
      yeah good article and all but you could at least give some things to practice, most people know they should practice, but they just dont know what. and pretty much every article on the subject just says the same thing, you should practice to be a good guitarist. so in a way, thanks for nothing
      invincibleneo
      Awesome article! He's made a lot of sense. Im feel so great that everything he has said I already know! woohoo!
      ozboomer
      Excellent article, Mike... for those who appreciate a disciplined approach to *efficient* practice. Thinking out loud... Ask yourself: Why do you play any instrument? Answering that will help you decide how to practice. Playing songs alone, again and again will only help your technique in certain ways (whether your technique is already good or bad). Actively working on what you're practing... *targetting* your practice... will help you develop in specific directions. Maintain your existing skills by playing songs that exercise them. Develop your skills by practicing specific exercises and learn to apply them, in your songs or others. Above all, music is about communication. How do you feel? Melancholy often means a minor interval, thus speaks theory... but does your audience understand how you feel if you *don't* use that minor interval? Do you even recognize it... or how they feel? Too analytical? Perhaps. ...but if you want to develop and communicate effectively, you have to understand how *you* learn... and how you *want* to communicate.
      miggse
      Your muscles do not have a memory!!?! But other than sounding like an article to promote and generate some funds for music teachers, has some good points. I like practise to be fun and best way of practising for me is jamming some songs with anyone, drums, bass, keys, whateva.
      Neverfind_Hemz
      Fergality wrote: MOnkeytoss : Mr.Loomis_shred wrote: What????? You need to do more than learn songs. Ok yea sure you say you can play anything on guitar within an hour but what about expressing yourself by making your own music. How are you supposed to be able to make a half decent song without knowing theory. Look at punk music when you say that. Punk musicians dont just play a couple of chords and write anti-establishment lyrics and have a sone down within minutes. They know theory too.Punk writers work with chord progressions and son writing theory as well experimenting with other kinds of music....othertwise you'd have loads of punk songs sounding the exact same and this isnt the case.
      Punk rockers arent rockers there people who cant play at all they chuck 3 or 4 chords into a song oh wow thats hard god seriously. who cant do that i could do that at 5 yoa. If u dont know ur background to what you are playing how can you learn. Yea u can jus chuck a couple oh chords together but at least know wat they are at least. songs are good to learn for practise yes. but if u are looking at guitar seriously listen to this guy he obviously knows wat he is talking about and i agree. great article Mike
      TheSilverBeatle
      How are you supposed to be able to make a half decent song without knowing theory.
      You sir are an idiot...you think Lennon ever sat down and thought hmm...I'll write in the key of g dadadada...no...he sat down and strummed a few chords, it sounded good and off he went. Theory is not an essential part of songwriting unless your going to be a classical player/writer.
      CurtisJay
      nice to know, but i felt that you were being rhedundant. you seemed to keep on repeating the same lines in different ways, i believe this could have been written in one paragraph (maybe 2)
      CurtisJay
      shammyshamsham wrote: This whole article is one of the most narrow minded things i have ever read about anything in music. There are no rules when its comes to music, everybody who plays any sort of music is different, just the same as everybody who listens to music is different, which means that there can be no 100% certain way to practice, write, or play music. Just look at most of the tabs on this website, most of them are different, however acheive the smae sound or results. Anyone who thinks that there is only ONE WAY to become great at your instument obviouly just wants everyone to be the same. If everybody follows the same formula for rehearsing and practicing then everyone will just end up being the same and the diversity of genres, song, and bands would be lost over time. Thats all from me. Thnx for reading my rant lol
      true dat man!
      tgibson
      Great article. I think that having good practice habits are great for developing technique.
      Mike_Philippov
      Also, if you check out my other article that is mentioned at the top, "Reasons for Not Reaching Your Goals" there are more tips there. Mike.
      Mike_Philippov
      Metalkills, You should be able to tell if you are practicing correctly by examining your progress over the past month, 3 months, 6 months, year etc... If you're continuously getting better, that's great. But if not, then something about how you practice needs to change. There are tips in the article on how to improve the quality of your practice, but they are not explicitly stated. These things are: 1. Learn more about the physical nature of guitar technique. 2.Get organized about your practicing. 3. Record your playing regularly to examine the quality of your practice (that quality should translate into playing ability) 4. Get a good teacher to guide you. Hope this helps. Mike.
      Eirien
      metalkills, this guy is just trying to advertise his course. how are you supposed to get better on guitar without paying ridiculous amounts of money to some guy?(!)
      MOnkeytoss wrote: Mr.Loomis_shred wrote: What????? You need to do more than learn songs. Ok yea sure you say you can play anything on guitar within an hour but what about expressing yourself by making your own music. How are you supposed to be able to make a half decent song without knowing theory. Look at punk music when you say that.
      exactly! how are you supposed to make good music without knowing theory? punk is a perfect example
      metalkills
      i thought there were going to be some tips in the article about how to practice correctly, or useful routines... seems more like an article about coming to the realization that you might not be practicing correctly. so i might not be practicing correctly... now what? thats what i was hoping this would offer
      Bass90
      It's a good article, nothing new but you kinda missed one key thing to doing this. It's motivation and determination.
      JDR
      MiKePlaysGuitar wrote: ummm lol it was a good article but i just wanna say all i have ever done to practice is learn songs and that has REALLY worked for me lol like i dont see wats wrong with that i can play nethin on guitar perfectly within like an hour....all i ever did was play around and jam with a friend and learn songs...i dont know more then 3 chords i only know penatonic scale lol, i just think ur bein too straight and robotic with this learnin shit lol,have fun and youll learn just as well...i do though have lots of "natural talent" so that could be it too.
      OMG could you be any more up your own ass. Im suprised you were able to read his article considering how far your head is shoved up your there. Those Lol's made me cringe, I really hope for your sake you werent laughing out loud. Anyway good article nice work!
      MOnkeytoss
      Mr.Loomis_shred wrote: What????? You need to do more than learn songs. Ok yea sure you say you can play anything on guitar within an hour but what about expressing yourself by making your own music. How are you supposed to be able to make a half decent song without knowing theory.
      Look at punk music when you say that.
      c0ld_3mphasis05
      I think it was a good article, I taught myself guitar, and not really knowing what I was doing I just played a bunch of songs I heard using tab on a steel string acoustic, then I got an electric and it was so easy to play it was fun, from there I learned a buttload of songs and yeah.. that brought up my technical ability, now im trying to learn theory and Ive figured out tons for myself just by messing around examining the instrument, also these forums helped a lot too. good article, though that method wouldnt work for me because as soon as it becomes strict its no fun for me anymore, and I love learning songs and now that ive got my playing ability a little higher, I can try to pick up some advanced theory, maybe you should write an article about a song and break it down and show how they wrote it, id love to see one of those