Practicing is one of the most important things you can do as a guitarist, whether you’re an absolute beginner or seasoned professional. Yet, to the detriment of their musicianship, many players have poor practicing habits—for instance, running through things that they already know, reinforcing mistakes, or just noodling around—or choose to avoid practicing altogether.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll be focusing on tips for practicing more smartly and efficiently, so that you can make the best use of your time in the proverbial woodshed—and ultimately take your playing to the next level. But first, here are some basic concepts to keep in mind whenever your practice, whatever you’re working on:
Play as slowly as needed
It might be tempting to take a fast piece at tempo from the get-go, but remember that in order to master it, you’ll reap benefits by starting at the speed at which you can play it cleanly, gradually increasing the tempo until you’ve got it down
If it doesn’t sound right, stop and figure out why
Rather than gloss over a phrase that seems off kilter, take a moment to understand what’s going on. Are you playing the wrong pitch or rhythm? Are you not articulating the note(s) cleanly? Identify and correct problems before proceeding.
Listen critically, but don’t criticize yourself
This ties into the above tip. Beating yourself up can lead to frustration and discourage you from practicing, so try to listen objectively to your playing, zeroing in on mistakes without judgment. It can be helpful to record yourself for this purpose.
Take frequent short breaks to rest your hands and mind
In the worst cases, powering through practice sessions can lead to permanent injury. As with any physical activity, always remember to periodically set down your instrument, stretch, and clear your head. Tending to your body and mind will go a long way toward establishing healthier and more productive practice routines.
Practicing isn’t just about techniques and skills, it’s about expression and feeling, too. Don’t make the mistake of thinking First I’ll learn the notes, then I’ll add the music. Everything you practice—whether a scales, chord progressions, or song—gives you an opportunity to work on being musical.