String Sorcery: The Wizard's Tower Pt.1 - Technical Improvement

A primer for The Wizard's Tower portion of the String Sorcery series. This lesson covers the basics of technical improvement, and this will allow you to make the most of your practice sessions.

Ultimate Guitar
Hello and welcome to the String Sorcery lesson series. Although I plan to expand this to include instruction on many aspects of guitar playing, I have learned over the years that most of the obstacles that guitarists often face in some way involve improper technique and/or bad practice habits. Therefore, learning proper technique and good practice habits will allow you to get the most out of any lesson and your practicing in general. When that happens, your progress will skyrocket. The Wizard's Tower series aims to provide you with the tools you need to build and maintain your technical ability as quickly and efficiently as possible. To do this, we need to first understand a few crucial points.

Practicing Speed:

There isn't really one definitive speed range in which to practice, but generally, you'll need to practice at a speed in which you can be mindful of what you're doing. You shouldn't be tense and you shouldn't have to struggle to play the exercise, lick, etc in a precise and even manner. You should also be able to observe your own playing and correct your technique if need be. This brings us to the next point:

The Secret to Speed:

Most people find a good speed to practice and then instantly start to increase the speed on their metronome. For a while, they do progress and then? BAM! The dreaded plateau. This is the point at which (no matter how much you practice) your speed barely increases, if it increases at all. Why does this happen? This is where that Secret comes in. The secret to lightning fast playing is good technique. As you practice faster and faster, you are less able to pay attention to your technique and make adjustments. When you practice at a slow speed, you'll be able to improve precision and economy of motion each time. Speed naturally follows good technique! Let's say your ideal speed on the metronome is 60 beats per minute. After a week or so of practicing at that speed, test yourself with the metronome. Try whatever you're working on at 70, 80, 90, 100, etc. You'll notice that you're able to play it faster than you were before. Then, if you go another week and test yourself again, you'll be able to play it even faster! Test yourself as often as you like and watch the improvement.

Avoiding Tendinitis and Other Injuries:

As guitarists, we perform a lot of repetitive motions on a regular basis. There are two very important steps to take that will help you avoid these injuries: Stretching and relaxation. If you look up "stretches for guitarists" online, you will find plenty of videos and pictures of stretches that will improve your flexibility and help to safeguard you against injury. As discussed in the Practicing Speed section, it is important to be relaxed when you play. Tension is what leads to repetitive strain injuries in the first place, and nothing kills progress like waiting for an injury to heal.

Length of Practice Sessions:

I'd recommend at least 30 minutes of focused practice daily. If you DO want to more time, that's fine. Just make sure that you take a short break and stretch after each 30 minute session.

What to Practice:

It's very important to look at your technique as a whole, but with endless things to practice, it's also crucial that you build a strong base. To do this, this series will provide you with some basic "go to" exercises for various areas such as alternate and economy picking, scales, arpeggios/sweep picking, legato, string skipping, tapping, and more. The next lesson will focus on alternate picking and chromatic exercises and subsequent lessons will progress to more advanced techniques in a manner that will build upon previous lessons. Finally, we come to the most important ingredient of all: Attitude. Your attitude is everything! If you go into something believing that you can't do it or that you'll never be as good as your heroes, you'll never make it. On the other hand, if you go into it knowing that you CAN do it, success is yours. So, let's finish off with a visualization exercise. Close your eyes and imagine yourself on a stage in front of thousands of people screaming your name. Imagine yourself playing whatever you desire effortlessly. Imagine that you are a shiny, golden guitar god. Now... Hold that image in your head and in the loudest mental voice that you can muster, say "I CAN DO THIS! I WILL DO THIS! NOTHING CAN STOP ME!" Do it as often as you like, and always keep that attitude in the back of your mind. When you face any obstacle in your playing just remember that it's only a little bump in the road and you WILL get past it if you believe in yourself. I hope this helps, and I'll see you next time!

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    I've been looking for a good way to channelise my practice sessions, and this article helps like no other, seriously. Thank you, very, very much.