Originally Posted by:
Here is the text from a quick-start book I wrote on the topic of practice, called "10 Steps to a Perfect Practice Session"
Hope you find this helpful! - Lisa
10 STEPS to a PERFECT PRACTICE SESSION
CONGRATULATIONS! You are about to learn ten simple but powerful strategies to make sure you get the absolute most benefit from the time you put into practicing your guitar.
After all, your time is valuable, and your desire to become a better guitar player is real, and important.
Even if you only have a few minutes a day in your busy life to dedicate to guitar, this step-by-step guide will ensure you get the maximum benefit out of the time you put in.
So let’s get busy and jumpstart your guitar-progress by implementing these 10 simple steps.
Ready? Let’s dig in!
The very first thing you will do in your Perfect Practice Session is…
1. SET UP
Perfect Practice requires focus, and that’s hard to do with the TV on and people milling around you.
To make the most of your practice time, you must create a dedicated practice space just for yourself.
Don’t worry – this doesn’t require a major re-arrange of your whole house! Let’s keep it easy, quick, and effective.
To create a dedicated focused practice space, all you really need is a basic straight-back chair and a small corner somewhere out of the flow of traffic.
If you can retreat to a room with privacy for a while, that is perfect. But that is not always possible. Even so, it is possible to create a dedicated practice space, even in a busy home.
Face the wall if you have to, just to shut out the distractions of the room.
Cool insiders tip: sit facing a glass window (but don’t get distracted by looking outside and watching the world go by!). When you play and sing in front of a glass window, the glass reflects the sound back to you. You can hear yourself better, which means you can pay closer attention to the details and nuances of your playing.
Now, gather your gear:
- Music, Tabs, Song-sheets
Use a music stand or small table to place your music on.
If there are other people in the house, tell them that for the next 30 minutes (or 10, or 20, or 60, or…) you will be practicing your guitar. Ask them to please leave you alone during that time (unless its an emergency, of course!)
Do whatever you can to eliminate distractions and focus your energy, and you’ll get much more out of your practice time.
All set up? Great! Now it’s time to…
2. SIGN UP
My life is busy. Your life is busy.
It’s way too easy to intend to practice the guitar, only to find that once again the day has come to an end, you’re tired, and you wind up putting it off until another time.
Fix: Put guitar practice on your schedule!
Be realistic about what time of day is best for you, and how much time you can devote to practicing your guitar.
Even if it’s only 15 or 20 minutes.
Even if it’s only 2 or 3 days a week.
Then, get out your calendar and write it in.
Give it the same priority level as all those other must-do tasks that have a knack of creeping in and filling your day, your week, your life.
Guitar is important to you. Honor it.
Got your slice of time all set-aside?
Super – now it’s time to…
3. SHOW UP
Even if you’re only able to carve out twenty minutes, stay focused on your guitar for those twenty minutes.
Do not answer the phone.
Do not check your email.
Do not tweet.
Do not dust.
Do not nibble.
Just play, for twenty minutes, or forty minutes, or an hour.
Whatever amount of time you decided in advance you could allocate.
Keep your promise to yourself and your guitar.
Ready to do this, and ONLY this?
Perfect. Now let’s…
4. TUNE UP
Use an electronic tuner to get your guitar in really good tune.
An out-of-tune guitar will compromise the quality of your sound, leading Use to frustration and discouragement.
If the music sounds sour, it’s going to be un-fun. It’s not going to give you a good feeling - it can cause you to doubt or underestimate your own skills.
Besides, part of what practicing with an in-tune guitar is all about is training your ear to be sensitive to the nuances of the notes, and their harmonic relationships to one another.
Don’t let your ear develop lazy habits by neglecting to tune your guitar every time you practice!
If you are not sure how to use an electronic tuner, watch my free video on How to Use an Electronic Tuner. (click title to view video)
Insiders tip: Electronic tuners are fantastic tools, but are also a little fussy sometimes. If it gives you weird answers sometimes, don’t take it personally! Learn what the note names of your open strings should be, trust your instincts, and use the tuner as a tool, not as the ultimate word from above. A tuner that consistently gives weird answers probably just needs a new battery.
In tune? Excellent. Now let’s dig right in and…
5. WARM UP
Now that you’re in tune, spend the first few minutes of your practice time doing some finger warm-up exercises.
You want to wake up those hand and finger muscles gently before putting them through the main workout. Not sure how to warm up? No problem – I’ll show you! (see my Spider-Legs exercises in my Guitar Fundamentals Course.)
Fingers all warmed up now? Terrific – now let’s…
6. PLAY SOMETHING EASY
Even if it’s a two-chord golden oldie, play something you can play without much trouble.
Play it all the way through. Enjoy it.
I like to call this, “getting the music into the room”.
Relax and enjoy the sound, the feel of your fingers on the strings, the weight and shape of the guitar in your lap.
“Getting the music in the room” helps to focus your attention and energy for working on the more challenging stuff, coming up next in your practice session.
Played a couple of easy songs? Good – now it’s time to…
7. MAKE YOUR PLAN
Depending on how much time you have set aside for today’s practice session, take a moment to choose between one and three specific topics or projects to focus on.
These could include any of the following:
- Working on a specific song, and the details that need to be improved upon in that song
- Working with a scale or specific fingerboard exercise
- Practicing making smoother chord changes between chord-pairs that are giving you trouble or slowing you down
- Practicing achieving the best tone from your notes and chords by working with subtleties of hand-angle and finger-angle
- Practicing getting better at a particular technique. Example: fingerpicking, or strumming.
- And much more!
Plan to spend a minimum of ten to fifteen minutes on each topic or project you are addressing in this practice session.
Given the amount of time you have allocated for today’s practice session, plan accordingly as to how many topic areas you can cover.
Tomorrow you may have a different line-up of topics to focus on, and by the end of the week you should have touched on everything you’re currently working on.
Got a plan? Excellent. Because now we’re going to…
8. BUCKLE DOWN on the DETAILS
Start with your first chosen topic or project, and dig in.
Listen and observe non-judgmentally as you play.
Be your own coach.
Make a mental (or physical) note of the details that need more work.
Work on each of those details one at a time.
Be patient with yourself, and creatively address problem spots.
Notice, appreciate, and congratulate yourself on any improvements!
Remember, guitar is mastered in baby steps, not huge leaps and bounds.
IMPORTANT: Before you move on to another topic, play the whole song or exercise through once more, and try to incorporate all the new learning that has just taken place.
By doing this, you are actually building new neural pathways in your brain. Your brain is literally memorizing the new information and technique, so it will come more easily next time, and the time after that.
See where this is headed?
9. MOVE ON
As time allows, move on to the next topic or project on your list.
Give it your complete attention, diligence, and creativity for a minimum of ten to fifteen minutes.
Rinse, and repeat (and enjoy!). This is how guitar is learned.
Okay, we’re in the home stretch now.
In the final 5 minutes of your Perfect Practice Session, you will…
10. PLAY SOMETHING FUN
Save the last five minutes of your practice time for a fun wind-down.
Play something you enjoy, something you can play with relative ease.
Think back to when this piece used to be too hard for you!
Congratulate yourself on honoring your guitar learning process, and savor the sweetness of making music.
©2012 Lisa McCormick Music, LLC