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Some Thoughts On Practicing Guitar And Other Things Related

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is how should I practice. Well, here are a few ideas to help you answer that for yourself !

1. Never practice seriously in front of the television or while there is a lot of activity swirling around you. To the extent you can, make practice a special quiet time just for you. Turn the phone off. Create a special place in your room/study for practice with good light, comfortable straight chair, and a music stand. Never practice sitting lazily or lying down.

2. Start each practice session off with at least one minute of silence. Why ? Because it helps clear your mind of all the other distractions that you face all day. When you begin, it should be an important and consuming event. Turn your clock away so you can't see it. Try to remove anything that is going to prevent you from reaching full concentration. The mind, in case you haven't noticed, is always looking for a way to weasel out of focusing and getting stuff done.

3. Create a list of the different things you need to practice. Keep a clean, organized, and guitar dedicated notebook for this purpose. There are basically three types of practicing that you should focus on :

a) New Material -- This means recent and ongoing assignments that have not been mastered or completed. I call these "chip aways" because they are like blocks of stone that slowly turn into musical sculptures.

b) Maintenance -- This means regular review of all assignments so that you can still play all the stuff you worked so hard on. One of the most puzzling phenomenon in my teaching is when a student literally forgets in a few weeks how to play a complex piece after spending a couple of months trying to master it. Regular review of material is BY FAR the most important way to practice.

c) Freestyle -- It is important to just be able to kick back and have a little fun. This means opening up a new song back, writing your own little ditty, or just plain noodlin'. This is the time when you should just relax and not judge yourself. Make some noise !!

4. Dividing up your practice time can be approached many ways. The key is to be flexible. Suppose you are really getting into that new assignment and the inspiration is there. Don't stop because you have other things to work on.. Go with the flow. Listen to what your body/mind tell you. Stay with what feels right. Move on when you honestly feel it is time, and not a moment before.

The guitarist faces three issues when approaching practicing :

a) Knows he/she should practice but can't bring themselves to.
b) Practices but forces it and doesn't enjoy it one bit.
c) Loves it so much he/she can't put it down.

Well, we'd all like to be like c) wouldn't we !

Here's how --

Determine why you don't want to practice. Is it laziness or unrealistic expectations, the twin hitmen of many fledgling guitarists ? Most people have an unrealistic idea of just how long it takes to excel on the six-string even in the most basic way so if they are even slightly lazy or distracted then on comes the TV and discouragement. Just play. Quit trying to be something your not and you will become what you want to be sooner. PHEW, what a mouthful ! If you believe that the song you are playing is boring or that playing the same scale over and over is pointless then you better buy a Playstation ! Listen quietly to yourself play and hear the beauty no matter what your assignment is. Those who just enjoy playing no matter what it is are the ones that improve the most. They just get lost in the experience, sound, and joy of the guitar.

Some Practice Myths

Practicing is fun. Well, yes and no ! The better you get the harder the guitar gets in some ways. At first, it is a whole wide world of new chords, songs, and notes but pretty soon you are faced with lots of repetition and some things that you will fear you physically can't do. When you reach this point , congratulate yourself ! You are about to really be able to play some music. This is the point when most people quit inches away from the hidden treasure. Stick with it. The real fun comes the first time someone says to you the following really cool things --

Do you teach ?
You make it look so easy !
Wow, you must have been playing a long time and you get to say, "only a year or two."
Gosh, that finger pattern is wicked cool . . .
You go girl ! Your riffs are smooth !

Be patient. Be forgiving. Be hungry but not ravenous for improvement.. If you are the type of person, like me, who just loves the actual sound of the instrument as opposed to style or song then practicing will always be fun. If not, beware ! You will always be wrestling with illusions like "It's the assignment, not me that is boring, and if I change the assignment it will be more fun syndrome."

How To Bring Joy To Practicing

Be kind enough to show others what you are learning. It is really fun to show your Mom , Dad, brother, or lil' sis that new chord. Let them try it too ! Music is like that homemade cake you baked. Tastes good when you eat it but tastes GREAT when shared !

Find a friend to practice/play/goof off with. Who cares if you aren't any good! The word SYNERGY is one of my favorite. It means that two or more working together will be able to improve/excel faster than an individual.

Stop comparing yourself to others ! So what if Delores or Howie knows bar chords or the pentatonic scale. Watch and learn from them and be inspired knowing full well you can do the same thing when you are ready. See as many guitar players as you can and savor what they do. Envision, but don't compare, soon enough you'll be there !

Making mistakes is what music is all about. Suppose all of us looked alike. Same hair, eyes, skin color, etc. Boy, that would be boring. So would perfection on the guitar. It would sound lifeless and without passion. If ya' make a mistake who cares. Try again. Some of the greatest inventions/discoveries/music have been made through serendipity otherwise known as a "lucky accident." If you keep making the same mistake over and over, stop for a second and look at your fingers and hand position. Enlighten yourself. Don't proceed blindly. Say to yourself. "I am a smart , intelligent person and I can figure out the solution here." Repeat process. Mix. Puree. Add a little sugar. Bake at 350.

Vanquish FEAR of sounding like doody or being embarrassed in front of your friends. Be the select few who overcome laziness/inertia/lethargy and spent their time wisely developing a life long passion. Stick with it. Chart your progress. Keep your notebook neat. Make time every day, even for a few minutes. All of your ideas are good, there are no bad ones. Experiment. Keep it fresh. Remember : Sounding good or bad is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think you can sound good, then trust me you will ! Think of how you want to sound and then have the courage to practice enough to achieve it.

Copyright 2000 Rob Levit/Symbol System Music www.roblevit.com 410-263-8779