To Practice, Or Not To Practice!

By Andy Mclaughlan

Only a small percentage of guitarists ever reach an advanced level of playing. Many guitarists not only believe, but accept they will never play like their heroes because of the misconception that the aforementioned 'advanced' players attained their skills as a result of their exceptional talent. Whilst there is no denying some players are naturally more talented, talent alone will not produce exceptional playing. Only understanding how to practice and doing this on a consistent, focused basis over a period of time will yield the results we all seek.

There are no short cuts unfortunately. But don't be disheartened just yet. The journey to becoming an exceptional player does not have to be a boring, tedious one. Some people may think of it as an uphill struggle with a big reward at the end. However, the journey has many rewards along the way. And, indeed, the very realisation of these intermittent rewards, may just be what keeps you on track!

In the beginning, everything seems unnatural and this is normal. To sound cliché, Rome wasn't built in a day. But, as time passes, and your playing gets better, you will notice the difference. You will start to feel the confidence and authority in your hands, and this will shine through in your playing. No longer will your entire focus be on what your fingers are doing, but rather what the music inside you is telling them to do. The ongoing construction of the bridge between your inner music and your fingers has begun!

The key to becoming a great player is in goal setting and effective time management. You must learn to efficiently use whatever practice time you have and have clear, well thought goals and you must write these down. I can't stress enough the importance of having these written down. And have this piece of paper where you can see it each time when you practice. In your practice log or on your wall. Just make sure its visible so you always remember what these goals are and this will help you work harder to achieve them.

Effective practising is where most players fail. They spend their 'practice' time playing instead of actually practising. Let me explain. When we practice, we are ingraining repeated motions into our muscle memory, we are focused on eliminating any and all tension, we are scrutinizing each little movement of our hands and fingers and a whole bunch of other things which could easily constitute another article. When we are playing however, we are doing just that...playing. Going over our favourite songs, jamming along to our favourite CDs etc. The first step to becoming a better guitarist is realising the difference between the two. Think about that for a second. Do you understand the difference? Once you do, there is one final hurdle between you and the journey to becoming the player you want to be.

Are you dedicated? Are you going to manifest your dreams? Or will it forever remain just that...a dream? A large number of players simply don't have the patience to put in the hours to not see immediate results. These are the players who will constantly be frustrated with their playing and yet will never embody their desire to become a great player. These are the same people who say, "Oh, I just don't have the natural ability to become a great player, " or "I don't have it in me to be a great player." These people are "try'ers", not "do'ers."

There is another group of players who seem to make good progress in the early stages and then, further down the line, they believe or are led to believe by others, that they are in possession of natural talent, thus rendering the need to practice obsolete. Whether these players possess natural talent or not, they will never come to harness the potential they possess as long as they hold these beliefs.

Once you start to truly believe you can achieve your own goals as a player, there is nothing holding you back. You CAN do it. It CAN be done. After all, in a couple of years time, would you rather be ripping on the guitar or would you rather be ripped up inside because you wasted all that time dreaming? We both know the answer. So what are you waiting for?

Any questions drop me an email at andrew_mclaughlan@hotmail.com
Very nice indeed. An eye opener if it comes to me. I have strugled in the beginning but I am now in the stage that I just play and don't practice. The reason becouse is that I allmost never done different. A few weeks ago I said to myself: my technique is horrible. And it is. I was already doing a little about it, going over lics with alternate picking.

As for the "whrite it down" part: I think that's very true, I'm going to do that, thanks for the tip!

I do have a little question though, speed is one thing where there is little progress, anyone have an idea what practice is good for building op your (soloing) speed?
Thanks for the feedback!
As far as gaining speed. Buy a metronome!
If you wanna play fast then this is the only way its going to happen. And when you practice with(or without) the metronome you must practice slow and gradually gain speed.
Now here comes the important part where alot of guitarists fail. You have to increase the speed only when you are ready. You must be focused when you are practicing with the metronome. If this means practicing triplets at 30 bpm for a month then so be it. You have to focus on tension, and making sure you are making the smallest most efficient motions that you possibly can whilst still keeping a tight, consistent sound.Then when you can comfortably play at a certain speed put the metronome up 2 bpm. Then start again.
It will take you while before you start feeling confident in your ability and even then you should not rush it.
After awhile of practicing like this and when you have gained substantial speed then you can thnk about practicing bursts.Which is essentially as fast as you can for 2 -5 mins or whatever. But when the time for this comes you will have conditioned your muscle memory from all those hours of practicing slow that it is now natural for y to play fast with no tension.
Alot of people fail because they try the 2nd approach first. This is how you injure yourself. You cant possibly play something fast and effortless before you can play it slow and effortless.
We must learn to walk before we run.
Anyway good luck and if you have any more questions get in touch.

p.s. Another point about being focused. Alot of this is in your mind. If you jsut sit and go over exercises with a metronome this will not benefit you. You must focus your mind on everything the muscles in your hands are doing. When there is tension, when there is not etc. If you try and get totally mentally engrossed when you are practicing, results will come much quicker.
Quote by poekie1337
I do have a little question though, speed is one thing where there is little progress, anyone have an idea what practice is good for building op your (soloing) speed?

There's an article here by PSM who's written a huge post about using a metronome. It's a good post... and good post Andy.
Absolutely awesome article. The only section I would add to a little is where you talk about goal setting. This is an absolutely crucial area. Long term goals are essential, but short and medium term goals are just as important - down to periods as short as a week. Here's an example -

3 month goal - play difficult song by artist X cleanly and with authority and confidence.

Halfway through, we are able to play the song really cleanly and well at 90 bpm. This is already a major achievement. But the song's real tempo is 150 bpm. At this point, this can seem overwhelming. So a short term goal for maybe 2 weeks might be to play the song with the same cleanness and authority at 95 bpm. Or an even more specific goal to take a certain section where there are difficulties and improve it. At these times, it is good to temporarily "forget" about the medium term goal and focus very hard on achieving the short term goal. Then when the short term goal is achieved, look again at the medium term goal, and decide on another short term goal that will get you another step towards the medium goal.

Of course, the same relationship exists between the medium and long term goals.

One thing about the timeframes for goals. It's very hard to predict how long a certain amount of improvement will take. So a) be realistic about the amount of time you give yourself to achieve the goal and b) if you have tried your best and made significant progress towards the goal at the end of the time, don't beat yourself up if you dont achieve it in the timeframe, just adjust your timetable a bit and keep working towards it.

Wow, I realized I've just written a mini article myself in response to your article. But I really believe that developing a habit of setting and achieving goals is the primary driving force behind improvement.
Thanks dude.Yeah as far as the goal setting thing...Im writing a follow up aritcle about that and actually getting a practice routine. This article was more about getting motivated and thinking about the practice aspect more than a detailed plan...but thats what I intend for the follow up. Well to be more specific a detailed plan of how to make your own plans if that makes any sense. As ooposed to heres a plan to follow exactly, because that does nothing. Once people can make their own plans and follow them and amend them as neccesary then they are set to go. This is also a necessity for anyone thinking about teaching guitar. Too many people expect to be lead by the hand without realising the appraoch that works for one, won't neccesarily work for another
Massively agree. The real skill is the skill of knowing how to make plans/goals, and how to work on them. And when a person makes their own goals, and achieves them, there's a real sense of accomplishment that I'm not sure you get if you are just following steps that someone else has shown you.
You spelled "Practicing" wrong in one part.
Sorry, but I just couldn't help but say something.

I thought it was great.

8/10. You could've used a little more detail in goal setting/effectiveness.
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Very nice article... I went to school for music (4 years) and spent most of that time playing (not practicing). I would like to crack out the old practice books I've accumulated and try doing it right this time.
i would give that an 8.5/10 thast is a good article i have read a couple on practicing and i have to say you hit the nail on the head with that one i cant really think of anything else you could have added. good job