5 Tips To Practice Like A Pro

5 Tips To Practice Like A Pro

By Leo Smith

I’ve talked before about the havoc wreaked throughout time and space by the ‘talent myth.’ I won’t get myself worked up about it here, except to say that the only difference between a sloppy novice struggling to find his chords and that same novice’s fret-shredding guitar hero is the work they have each put in. But it’s not just about the quantity of work. The quality of work, including the consistency, is absolutely paramount to getting good results.

If it seems like you just can’t make progress no matter how hard you try, it’s probably because you have no idea what you’re doing in the practice room. Don’t worry, most guitarists don’t. (I didn’t either, when I started out, but don’t you dare tell anyone!) I discuss this topic in much greater depth with my students, but I’ll give you five free tips below that you can start to implement today to make every second of your practice count towards your goals.

Tip 1 – Consistency: Guitar practice is all about consistency. Many guitar players believe that they can make progress by cramming hours of practice into a few days per week, but they are wasting their time. You are training your brain to control your body in ways it has never had to before, and your brain needs constant reinforcement in order to make fast progress.

Think about studying in school. You might perform well on a test by cramming the day before, but you won’t retain the information long term and you’ll have a hard time building on it later. It’s the same with guitar. You make long term progress (and achieve long term goals) when every day of training builds on the days before it. That means daily practice is a must. Training for just 30 minutes per day is vastly more beneficial than training for an hour every other day, or even five hours on two or three days out of the week. If you’ve been trying to cram practice time like that then you might be able to actually reduce the amount of time you spend practicing and get more benefit by spreading that time evenly throughout the week.

This need for consistency in practice brings me to the second tip.

Tip 2 – Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Many players pack their guitars up in their cases and put them away when they are not practicing or playing them. This is a poor habit for two reasons. First, when you cannot see the guitar you are not as likely to think about it. You do not have the constant reminder of your goals and desires to prod you into practicing. Second, the need to unpack the guitar creates a substantial psychological barrier to practicing. Do not underestimate that barrier! Having to go through the effort to get your guitar out before you can even start to practice substantially increases the chances that you will decide to forego practice entirely. (Danger, Will Robinson!)

Instead of putting the guitar in its case, invest in a guitar stand that you can set up in the corner of your room or in some convenient nook or cranny. When you are not using the guitar you simply set it back down on its stand where it can shine and/or shimmer at you all day. You will think of the guitar every time you see it, and you will be constantly reminded of your goals and desires – including your desire to practice in order to reach your goals! Further, you will have completely removed a powerful psychological barrier to practicing. Getting started will be as easy as reaching out and grabbing the guitar, and with it so accessible and always in sight, you will likely find yourself playing around on it far more often than you even planned!

Tip 3 – Focus: I mentioned in the first tip that when you practice guitar you are primarily training your brain. Generally speaking, your fingers are perfectly capable of doing what you want them to do. They can already move as fast as you need and are already dexterous enough to perform whatever movement you need. It’s your brain that you must train to control your fingers! As such, it’s incredibly important to mind your focus when you practice.

Many guitar players go through their practice items absolutely mindlessly. They may daydream, or even watch the you-tubes or listen to their favorite pod-o-ma-cast while they practice. For shame! This sort of thing seems acceptable to the poor, ignorant barbarian who believes he is training his fingers… but you know better!

When you practice, turn off the television and turn off the internets. Your focus should be on where you are and what you are doing at all times. Police yourself with regular ‘focus checks’ to make sure your mind isn’t wandering. If you are having trouble staying focused then it’s time for a break. There is no shame in putting the guitar down and doing something else until you can get your head on straight, especially when frustration or boredom set in. You can always come back later!

Tip 4 – Plan Ahead: When you are taking time out of your schedule to practice, it’s important to make every second count. In order to make the most efficient use of your time, you should plan out your practice session before you start. That means planning what you will work on, in what order, and for how long. Write it down before you pick up the guitar! Further, think about what you want to accomplish or improve when working on each practice item. Write that down, too! Doing these things will help keep your mind focused on exactly what you need to think about, and will make sure you don’t waste valuable practice time hemming and hawing and wondering what to do next.

Tip 5 – ‘Playing’ Is Not Practice: Understand the difference between ‘practicing’ and ‘playing,’ and don’t do one when you should be doing the other. If you’re just playing through the same song(s) you already have down because you feel cool doing it, you’re playing and it’s not helping you improve. If you’re just playing the same drill/lick/arpeggio that you already have up to lightning speed with a metronome because you feel cool doing it, you’re playing and it’s not helping you improve. Playing sometimes is important, it helps you stay motivated by reminding you why you practice, but when it replaces your practice your progress will quickly grind to a halt.

Practicing means working on specific skills that you need to develop in order to eliminate the weaknesses that are keeping you from reaching your goals. If you’re not sure what your weaknesses are, or what you need to work on in order to make progress toward your goals, then you need to find an effective teacher. A good teacher will keep you walking the most direct path to your goals, and prevent you from being distracted by the shiny objects that litter the ground on either side of that path.

© 2015 Leo Smith