6 Steps to Better Practice
by Dan Brooks
You have a good ear and a passion for music. You have a good guitar, and maybe good amp and a collection of effects worthy of your talents. And you have a vision, a well of great musical ideas you’re going to share with the world. I can’t wait to hear it.
No matter how far along you are, playing guitar is a discipline that uses a specialized set of skills, and you have to keep them fine tuned on your way to whatever fame, fortune and enlightenment awaits you and your vision. Like every other guitarist, you still need to practice. You’ll thank yourself for taking the time and effort to develop your practice with these six basic steps that will improve your playing.
1. Tune up before you practice. An out-of-tune guitar sounds bad no matter who is playing it, and an expensive out-of-tune guitar sounds just as bad as a cheap one. Let your guitar inspire you. Take a minute to tune before you do anything else, and while you’re at it, be sure to tune to “concert” pitch. This is the standard A = 440 Hz. to which all instruments are tuned, in theory at least.
There are three good reasons why tuning to concert pitch is more important than one might think. First, if your guitar has a standard set up, its intonation is almost certainly adjusted for concert pitch. If you are not tuned properly, your guitar can be perfectly tuned to itself and sound just a little off on the upper frets. Second, concert pitch allows you to play well with others. If you are tuned properly, you should be able to turn on the radio and play along. Yes, there are songs recorded a little off, but most are accessible only when you’re properly tuned. Third, playing in concert pitch at all times develops your sense of perfect pitch. This will reward you in more ways than we can list here. For a reliable reference every time, a one-note tuning fork (usually A-440) is certainly worth the $10, an outstanding hand held chromatic tuner can be had for $20, and an “expensive” pedal tuner can end up on your pedal board for a mere $99.
2. Use a metronome. Time is a primal element in music, and one’s sense of time can be quite subjective. You can have a great sense of rhythm, or a gift for creative syncopation, and still find yourself drifting away from a song’s tempo. A metronome gives you a precise beat, a reliable reference to help you develop your sense of time. Even if you play around the beat, for creative purposes, you will sound better if you do so in reference to an unwavering tempo. Play in time (and play in the proper pitch) and everything you do will sound better. You can spend fifty to well over a hundred dollars on a traditional mechanical metronome, but you can also find a reliable digital model for as little as twenty or thirty dollars. Every one of them is worth the investment.
3. Play every day (No matter how briefly). Music is frequency and time and inspiration and creativity. Music is its own language, a primal growl, a primeval perception, a moment of transcendence. Music is discipline and habit and calloused fingertips and muscle memory. Music is a physical, mental, sensory and spiritual practice. There are as many reasons to play as there are people, and songs. If you want to maintain fluid technique, your openness to inspiration, your connection to music, then you have to show up, put your hands on your guitar, and make a sound. Every day. Even if only for a few minutes.
Set aside some time every day to practice. Make it a daily ritual. Do it even when you’re not feeling it. Do it especially when you’re not feeling it. And above all, remember that music is, ultimately, a form of play, and let it be your sand box, your chessboard, your bungie jump, your flirtation with that hottie.
4. Practice with specific goals. Challenge yourself. Find out what you need to learn next and then work to master it. Make it a reason to pick up the guitar every day. Memorize all of the notes on the fretboard. Learn to fluidly transition to an F-chord. Learn how to read and write standard music notation. Learn how to play that impossible song. Learn how to play your favorite album from start to finish. Master an alternate tuning. Create a whole new song. Learn how to sing while you play. Then, when you’ve done that, challenge yourself some more. And recognize the things you can do now that were “impossible” when you first started.
5. Play things you don’t know. Get out of your comfort zone and learn more than one style of music. You are not abandoning your muse or compromising your vision. You don’t have to play free-form jazz to a festival crowd. But you owe it to yourself to gather information from other sources. You will be surprised at the insight and inspiration you gain from a perspective that is completely foreign from your own. If you’re a metal shredder, learn how to play some bluegrass banjo and blow your audience away with your new techniques. If you’re a country picker, try playing some traditional music from another country and you might recognize the depths of your own music with new ears. Explore Prog-rock, or Zydeco, or Hindi Film Music, or Marching Band Music or something completely different, and find out how it works. Be a musician and not just a guitarist, and you’ll become a better guitarist.
6. Use a practice routine generator. There isn’t a guitarist alive who doesn’t have more to learn. Even the greats would benefit from another good guitar lesson, in one way or another. Ideally, you might go to a music school and immerse yourself in study, or you could find the best guitar teacher you can and dig in until he or she has taught you everything they know. While you seek your teacher, take advantage of the information age in which we live, and check out some of the outstanding online resources, like http://musicdiscipline.com.
You are always welcome to subscribe to our youtube channel for a free daily lesson from Andy https://www.youtube.com/user/ProGuitarShopDemos