Everyone knows almost instinctively that practicing an instrument is important. What’s not so instinctive is figuring out how to practice. This is an entire skill in itself that we all have to learn. It’s helpful to have a really good teacher to show us the way, but for anyone making a go of things on your own or anyone who hasn’t had “the practice talk” with your teacher yet, here are a few things to help you learn how to practice.
1. Have a routine
Make practicing a part of your everyday schedule. Find a time during the day when you can sit with your instrument and focus. Try to make it the same time every day. It’s really important not to fall for the “I don’t have time” excuse either; there’s definitely time in the day to practice. If you really want to make progress, don’t let practicing take a backseat to other activities.
2. Be consistent
Once you’ve set your practice time be sure to make it an every day thing. Don’t do it every-other-day, or cram the day of your lesson, you’re only ensuring a bad lesson and no progress if you do. It will also make practicing the next day seem like more of a challenge. Our goal is to be better than we were the day before. We want to make progress, which gives us a sense of accomplishment, which in turns inspires us to practice more. So by practicing one day you’re making it easy for yourself to practice the next day, and the next, and the next . . . You’ll also be amazed at the progress you make in just a short amount of time with consistent practice!
3. Have a dedicated practice space
This is pretty self-explanatory. It can be anywhere you like, you don’t have to isolate yourself in a separate room, as long as you can focus. Having somewhere to practice can instantly put you in a practicing state-of-mind as soon as you enter that space. Practicing “wherever” can take time to settle in to, which can be tedious or lead to a less than productive, or even skipped, practice session.
4. Be prepared
Have the things you need in order to practice (instrument, footstool, music, laptop/tablet, writing utensil, metronome, notebook, and anything else you can think of) ready to go before you play your first notes! Also, turn anything distracting off (i.e. phone).
5. Be mindful
Practicing isn’t just about the number of minutes or hours you sit with the guitar, or the number of repetitions of a section or passage you fit in during a practice session. If you’re not putting thought into what you’re practicing, why you’re practicing it, or coming up with ways to overcome obstacles you won’t make the kind of progress you think you’re making. We have to practice thoughtfully, not just repetitively. Target the issue: for example, in a difficult passage that you just can’t seem to get, ask yourself “what is it that’s giving me difficulty?” Is it in the left hand, the right hand, or is the coordination between the hands not quite there? Are your hands moving too fast for your brain to keep up (or vice versa?). Brainstorm solutions: what ideas can you come up with that might work to solve the problem? Implement a practice approach: once you find a solution to your problem, practice it mindfully.
6. Keep track of your progress
Have a notebook or a Word/Pages folder where you can write down what you practiced in a day, make notes about what went well and what didn’t, and to write down your goals for the next day (or week/month/year). Keeping a record of your practice is a huge help in making progress and knowing what to target in future practice sessions.
Now grab your guitar!!!