Fresh Practice Ideas And Tricks

This lesson outlines a few tricks to improve your practice sessions, unusual ways to improve your playing with a metronome, different approaches to phrasing, and just general practice and playing advice.

Ok so I've been browsing the lessons here on UG and I must say, there really is a vast amount of awesome material here. It's a great resource for any level of guitarist. However, I have some material that would support many of the other lessons on here, but it is simply too much to just post in a comment. So I decided to compile all of this material into one little generalized lesson. If there are parts of this that don't interest you, by all means skip them! There is no set order to the material given here so you can feel free to jump around as you like. First off, I recommend you download the sound files here that accompany this lesson. Otherwise you probably wont fully understand the concept. I'll divide the information into sub groups, each with a heading that will describe what that particular section is geared toward teaching.

Metronome Practice

Metronomes are amazing little tools, and if you don't own one already, I highly recommend you either buy one, or go download a free one. You can get a great metronome for like 10 bucks at your local music store, and its well worth the money. Just be sure it has a decent BPM range (i.e. 20 BPM-200BPM). 8th, 16th, and 32nd note counting metronomes are cool, but not necessary. So long as it keeps a steady beat, and allows you to speed up or slow down that beat incrementally, you're good to go. So once you have a metronome, the question becomes how do I use this thing to get better? Well, there are plenty of great lessons on UG already for metronome practice, but if your getting tired of those exercises, maybe I can help you out a bit.. I can't play the same exercise for long without getting ridiculously bored. Suddenly, I'm just dinkin' around on my guitar and not really practicing at all. I'm sure we've all been there. So what follows are some new approaches at metronome practice, designed to make your time with a metronome both more fulfilling and more entertaining. 1: So how would you phrase that? This first one, you can do with pretty much any straight beat lick. Play your classic straight chromatic run at whatever speed comfortable:
(Sound Clip #1)
Easy enough, right? Well instead of playing these notes straight, lets apply a bit of phrasing to this exercise. Phrasing is essentially how you say things as a guitarist. It's looking at what you play from a rhythmic point of view. I could go off for hours on the importance and use of phrasing, but lets save that for later. For now, let me just show you how to apply it here. Listen to these audio clips of me playing this exact exercise with a bit of phrasing applied. I did audio clips because I imagine it would be difficult to describe how to play against a metronome with a swing feel. So immediately you can hear the effect. Here is kinda how you could tab that.
(Sound Clip #2)
You can distinctly hear how those notes are sustained a bit longer. Listen to this clip. It's phrased in fives. Here is how I would tab that.
(Sound Clip #3)
More phrasing, just applied on different notes. Not only is it more entertaining to practice this way, it improves your rhythmic sense as well as helping out your phrasing ability. Here is an example of an iteration with some phrasing applied. Key is G Major.
So experiment with this yourself. Try this with different licks. Try coming up with different rhythmic feels. Mix it up in any way you can because that's what will keep you interested and allow you to practice for longer. HOWEVER, make sure that whatever you do really DOES work rhythmically, and that you're able to play whatever it is your trying to do. Don't get too complex. 2: The Metronome Game This next one may require you to slow your metronome down a bit from what you're used to. I came up with this one boring day while practicing, and it's helped me in many ways. First off, pick four chromatic frets on your fretboard. Do four that are in a comfortable position to start. This is the play zone. Only worry about these four frets on all six strings. Also, for this game you can throw phrasing out the window for now, otherwise you'll probably find it extremely difficult. Set your metronome to a comfortable rate. I mean like really comfortable. With all of that said, there are three basic rules. Rule #1: You must play every note once before moving to the next string. Rule #2: Every note per string may only be played once. You cannot play the same note twice (unless it's on a different string of course). Rule #3: You cannot play the same sequence of notes twice. Rule #4: You must play every note on every string before you can change position. Rule #5: YOU MUST KEEP RHYTHM. And that's pretty much it. If you can do it without breaking any rules, you win! So let me give an example. This would be one clean run-through of the game.
So as you can see, every pattern was different, but we still used every note. That would be one successful round, and you could then move to a different position, or use a different technique (i.e. use only tapping, maybe incorporate string skipping, etc.) Here is an example of getting beat by the game.
Same patterns, except if you look closely, we used the 12, 11, 10, 9 sequence twice. So you would then start over. Don't jump into the metronome when you restart, wait for it to count one full measure, then start. Anyway, this game is great little exercise for many things. It can help your ability to think while playing (an absolute must if you ever want to be able to improv), as well as help develop your rhythmic sense. Feel free to change the game up any way you please, so long as you don't make it too easy on yourself. Once you get good enough you can play the game with some interesting phrasing or different techniques. Limitless possibilities.


Do your solos sound boring or really mechanical? You might want to pay attention to your phrasing. If you're playing all straight notes, each with equal time value, chances are whatever your playing is going to sound pretty plain or robotic. If you find it hard to come up with different ways to phrase your licks, here are a few little tricks I've come up with that have proven useful for me. #1 Mix It Up: Take any little straight beat lick. Play it through a few times. Listen carefully. Now, begin sustaining different notes, and cutting back others. Really mix it up. Apply staccato to certain notes (roughly speaking, this is where you abruptly cut off the end of the note instead of sustaining it for the full beat. Hope that makes sense.) Do anything you can to make what you're playing a little more interesting. Eventually you will apply bends, maybe some hammer ons and pull offs, but if your just beginning, don't worry about any of that yet. Look at this example. It's literally a chunk of a scale. If you play it straight up, it sounds like your playing a chunk of a scale. Now listen to the audio clip. It's the exact same notes, I've simply phrased them better. #2 Think Drummer: This is a really outside approach, but it can keep your mind fresh with ideas. Take your favorite drummer or your favorite band. Pay really close attention to his rhythm, like how many beats he puts in a measure, where he puts them, and how they're accented. Pay close attention to his fills also. Try and play a lick with the same rhythmic structure taken from one of his fills. You'll find you can get some pretty cool sounding stuff by listening to drummers and applying what they are doing rhythmically to your guitar. #3 Time Signatures: Experiment with different time signatures. Playing with something other than a 4/4 time can really open up new possibilities to those who have never experimented outside the all powerful 4/4. Try 6/8 or 5/4. Listen to other bands that implement different time signatures and time changes in their songs. Some good bands that do this that I enjoy listening to are Scale the Summit and Animals as Leaders. Or you may know of the band Tool. They use a lot of strange time signatures too. And that's all I have on phrasing for now. Maybe I can give you more in a future lesson.

Tips For Practice

So lastly, I'm just going to give some helpful tips on practicing, and things to watch for. #1: Record yourself If you have a video camera handy or a decent voice memo, record yourself every once in awhile. I know of a crapload of programs that allow you to record your guitar with your computer. If you have none of those, at least grab a mirror and occasionally watch your fingers and picking hand while you play. There are things that you won't notice while playing, but once you record, they can stick out like a sore thumb. Vibrato is a big one. Lots of people will apply such a vigorous vibrato to a note that the note actually goes out of pitch. You don't really notice stuff like that while you're playing, unless you've become quite experienced with the instrument. Recording and listening to yourself can reveal many previously unseen mistakes, and is also a great way to track your progress. If you feel like your just not moving forward with guitar, grab those recordings from a month ago and I'll bet you'll be surprised. #2: Backing Tracks Backing tracks are a great way to practice and apply stuff you've learned. There are a few really great backing track sites out there, one of my personal favorites being Just Google free guitar backing tracks, or (song name here) backing track. Go download one of your favorite band's backing tracks, try to learn the song and play along with the backing track. If your more experienced, download your favorite song's backing track and instead of playing the solo like the band does, try to improvise something of your own over the track. Backing tracks can be both fun and rewarding. It feels great to be able to sound musical, and back tracks will help you do just that. #3: Get Out There and Jam Know any local musicians? Don't be afraid to get out there and play with them. You may not be on the same level skill wise, but you would be surprised at how much you can learn from a single jam session. That is probably one of the best things you can do for your playing is to get out there and get to know as many other musicians and guitar players as you can. Every body has a style, and usually you can always learn something new or get a new view on something by jamming with others. Plus, when the situation requires you to perform, you will progress a lot faster than if you were sitting in your room, playing with a pair of headphones or something. Marty Friedman once said you will learn more on the stage in one show than you will ever learn with a week of dedicated practice or something like that. Either way, I fully agree. Anyway, that's it for now. If you liked it, hated it, feel that some of the material here is misinformation or if you just wanna talk guitar, feel free to email me. Thanks for taking the time to read, and keep on rockin'!

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    I'd suggest playing the metronome game in a diatonic scale around on the neck. Then you'll get more and more certain of where the different notes in, for instance, E minor is.
    To cbs guy, audacity is a free audio program,its the best ive come across
    Cesar Premont
    The backing track info was great. Freshbt is pretty awesome and I never even thought to google free bt's. Thats really gonna force me to ovecome my fear of mistakes so I can keep in rthym. Thanx!
    the metrnome games really ood i play it with my best friend who a way better guatarist then me but i beat him but anyways great hope to see more
    CbsGuitarist wrote: can u suggest some programs where i can record my peices ? i mean with the backing tracks added on.
    Well first off you've got to have a way to get your guitar signal into your computer, or if you have a mic handy you can use that. I am just going to assume you know how to do that. If you don't, feel free to ask how. Anyway, personally I use Reaper. It supports VST hosting and you can get great sounds with it using free VSTs. Easy to use too. The only down is that your supposed to pay for it after 30 days. Even then, a license is only 60 bucks. Very reasonable. Anyway, that's probably the best way to go, but don't let that stop you from browsing around for some other free recording software. If I get enough requests, I may put up a guide on how to hook your guitar up to your computer, apply vst effects and do basic recording.
    could somone please tell me what application you need to open thoses "clips" files??
    yes i love what you said in this lesson you know recording your self is a big thing and just getting out a jamming with some of your buds and jamming (it is extremely fun) and with time you would find out that you need to have one hell of a connection with your drummer.
    WatUWant??? wrote: could somone please tell me what application you need to open thoses "clips" files??
    Well, if your using windows you would use "Winrar". Its free, all you have to do is google it and their site should come up. If your using mac, I'm not sure what you would use, I don't have a mac.
    that was just awesome. it made me to see all kinds of things in different light.
    this article was very practical and deviated from the usual recycled advice you usually hear. i think this is great for giving people ideas as to where they can take their practice exercises. good job.
    The point about imitating a drummer is a good un! Such a simple trck for expressive phrasing! I play bass with a drummer but no other accompaniment on a regular basis and trying to rip of his fills helps for massive insight into being able to manipulate a bar for as many beats as possible.
    Rain Lancer
    Great article. +1 for recommending Animals as Leaders. Amazing band, definitely worth looking into.
    can u suggest some programs where i can record my peices ? i mean with the backing tracks added on.
    Oh lol dang. I just realized I didnt inlcude the clip or tab for the phrasing part 1. Ah well, maybe in a future article. Sorry guys haha.
    Dream Floyd wrote: Where are the sound clips ???
    It says "download the sound files HERE". You should be able to click the word here and get them. Worked for me. To everyone else who has taken the time to read this article, my most sincere appreciation!