How to Dramatically Increase Results While Practicing

What limits your progress on the guitar while practicing?

Ultimate Guitar
Students frequently ask me if it's OK to practice in front of the TV. I used to say, "Yes," because I just wanted my students to practice, period. Now it is a resounding, "No!" and the reason is that when you practice in front of the TV, your mind is essentially shut off. In fact, watching television is so mentally un-engaging that it's the closest your brain can actually come to being asleep without actually being asleep.

This limits your progress on the guitar while practicing. The solution?


It's that simple. You must keep your brain focused and engaged on the specific task of playing guitar at all times to maximize results. Here's an example:

Recently I was practicing a lick from Andy Timmons' "Deliver Us," and I could not get the picking hand to sync up with the fretting hand consistently at full speed (see Fig. 1), so I first isolated the lick and began repeating it over and over, slowly and perfectly with the occasional speed burst thrown in.

But then I noticed my mind starting to wander. I thought, "How can I improve my fretboard knowledge at the same time so I get double the results (technique AND fretboard knowledge)?" Now I must confess, this strategy is not my own idea. It is the result of reading about successful athletes who work their bodies and their minds to fatigue to increase performance (what is more effective - throwing a football 100 times or focusing on an imaginary defense coming at you from various angles while throwing the football 100 times?). It is also the result of some professional guitar training I received in Chicago in 2014.

So, with that in mind, I determined that this song is in D Phrygian dominant, but for the sake of training, I changed the lick to D Phrygian. I then moved the sequence up and down strings 3 and 4 (see Fig. 2).

Next, I made myself say the note names before I played them.

Then I modified the lick to end with the next note down in the scale instead of open D (Fig. 3)

Finally, I modified the lick to end on string 5 instead of string 4 (Fig. 4).

By the time I did all this, I accomplished four things:
  1.  Improved technique and accuracy from so much repetition.
  2.  Gained a deeper understanding of D Phrygian (which I have never specifically practiced until now).
  3.  Gained greater knowledge of the notes on strings 3, 4, and 5.
  4.  Improved creativity having to create multiple variations of one musical idea.
But it doesn't end there! I could have changed the lick to start on another string, another key, ascending instead of descending... The list of ideas is endless.

Remember this - good guitarists practice licks repeatedly. Great musicians practice licks repeatedly in many ways, keeping their brain engaged the entire time. So turn off the TV, eliminate distractions, and focus 100% of your practice-time energy on the guitar and keep your mind engaged. In other words, make yourself THINK.

About the Author:
Eric Bourassa is the owner of Ridglea School of Music in Fort Worth, TX, and plays guitar at City on a Hill Church.

11 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Crazy Redd
    You had me at "I determined that this song is in D Phrygian dominant, but for the sake of training, I changed the lick to D Phrygian"
    In other words, he means that the song was in D minor w/ accidentals. Songs/licks/riffs are in keys, which are tonalities of major or minor. What he brought to the table was just using a modal name to the key.
    There is one time to practice in front of the TV, (and it's a pain), and that's sitting through commercial breaks and trying to get the melodies by ear. It's awful, but a good challenge at the same time.
    " It is also the result of some professional guitar training I received in Chicago in 2014." Are you referring to Hessfest? You seem to point out similar things that Hess does when he talks about practicing.
    Yes he is definitely talking about Hessfest. This guys is a Hess clone, just like Tommmaso Zillo, Mike Philipov, etc... What's interesting and not many people know about is that some of the sites that these guys "run" are actually owned by Tom Hess. Look at tommasso's music theory for guitar website. It's owned by "Guitar Mastery Solutions, INC." ---> that company is owned by Tom Hess!
    You say that as if it's a bad thing.
    Hess is a goon
    Care to explain? I've taken lessons with him online for about a year and have learned more than anywhere else. Once you get past his endless sales pitches there is a truly great guitar teacher.