As a teacher, encouraging my students to practice their instruments everyday is a big part of my job. It is not uncommon for the average guitar student to practice less frequently than advised, and even students who have excellent practice habits often express frustration at their rate of progress. To help with this problem, I have written some tips for efficient practicing. The problem is that students often do not know how to make the most out of their time in the practice room, and while there is no substitute for diligent, long hours of practice, it is also reasonable to acknowledge that there are smarter ways to manage your time while practicing. Read my suggestions below and let me know if you have any tips to add in the comments!
1.) COLLECT INFORMATION!
Start by looking carefully at the music in front of you. What key is it in? Can you play the scale? Do you know all of the chords? Do you notice any patterns? Is there any repetition? Where are the phrases, cadences, etc.? Collecting and analyzing information about the music will help you prepare for what you are about to play.
2.) SET A GOAL FOR YOUR PRACTICE SESSION!
Think of a specific goal that you’d like to achieve by the end of your practice session. The goal shouldn’t be something vague. Don’t say, “I will play this piece faster,” or “I will memorize this piece.” Those are good long term goals, but for an individual practice session, be specific. Identify tricky passages or issues, and seek to improve them. Your goal should be something like, “By the end of practice today, I will be able to play through measures 17-32 at 120 bpm five times in a row without making a mistake.” Write your goals down each day and be sure to use proactive language (e.g. “I will be able to”). You might set a goal for yourself and later realize that it was too lofty for one day. In this case, use the same goal the next day and don’t be discouraged!
When you are working to achieve your goals for the day, it is important to develop strategies for success so that you can practice efficiently. Making the most of your time in the practice room is incredibly important. What are some strategies for achieving mastery with a particular piece? First, break the piece into small sections and work through them individually. Try to memorize each small section one at a time. Every time you memorize a new section, add the previous sections and play through everything you have memorized so far. This strategy is good for cutting down what can sometimes look like an overwhelming task, and enables you to work through more manageable amounts of music at a more comfortable pace. Start each new section slowly and gradually increase the tempo. Generally speaking, you should halve the metronome marking to begin. If that’s still too fast, reduce the tempo until you can play comfortably. It is completely okay and even recommended that you start practicing at what might seem like a glacially slow tempo! Mastery takes time, so be patient with yourself and focus on the task at hand.
4.) PRACTICE WITH A METRONOME!
This is incredibly important!! Make sure to buy a metronome (or you can even download a metronome app on your smart phone) and practice along to a click. This is especially useful for mastering scales and arpeggios, as well as for developing the skill of listening while playing! Be sure to practice every day and have fun!!