It’s summertime. It’s the most wonderful time of the year and that can pose problems for your guitar practice time. There are going to be vacations, pool days, cookouts and on and on. How do you manage all of this and still keep playing without throwing in the towel? It’s tough. There are days where you are going from activity to activity without ever stopping. I do the same as well, but through my years of playing I have developed some strategies that might help. Now before other teachers who read this chastise me, remember we live an imperfect world and I do not think this practicing is the best way, but it is a way. Doing this is better than doing nothing. Without further ado, let’s talk about the don’ts.
Don’t take the summer off or skip lessons if you don’t practice. I get this all the time. “I’m going to miss a few weeks in July and we have to shop for school so we will pick up the lessons in September.” Seems pretty harmless, but in my experience, it’s pretty rare that I will see you in a few months. I always wonder if this person wants to quit because this is the express lane to giving up all together. Before you know it, there will be dust on your guitar because it hasn’t been touched in months. This idea only works if you are an advanced student. Advanced students will not stop playing if there aren’t lessons for a while. They can stay on track and work on stuff by themselves. For beginning students lessons do more that just give you information on how to play the guitar. It also keeps you motivated to play until you have worked practicing into you life. It also gives your practice strategies and accountability to your teacher and to yourself. I know the intentions are good, but once you stop the lessons, the idea and habit of playing will stop.
Second, Don’t worry about it. If you come into the studio and haven’t practiced, it’s really not that big of a deal. It happens. It’s happens to me, so don’t sweat it. Your guitar playing will not be destroyed if you skip a few days. You may get a little rusty but you won’t forget how to do it. If you think the end of the world has come when you hear yourself play, your expectations have are a little out of sync. There is plenty of material to work with so never think the time and money is being wasted. I can also give you suggestions on how to fit it into your life. It will even motivate you to practice this coming week because nobody wants to admit to skipping practice two weeks in a row.
Don’t practice with a time value in mind. This is more of a collegiate thought process. Music school is a laboratory situation. There are no real distractions in music school, no work, maybe part-time, no house, kids…I even remember signing a code of ethics in music school that said I would practice 3 hours day. It really comes down to this: it’s not about time; it’s about a goal. If you don’t have a goal, the amount of time spent playing is kind of useless because you are watching the clock thinking you are accomplishing something. It also implies that you can’t play the guitar unless you have so much time per day. Goal practicing is good because you can work on it for 5 min one day, 10 the next and if you have a lot of time on a sun eve maybe an hour! Achieving a goal is a long term proposition and a little time invested will accumulate. You will make progress.It may small but its something. If you put time in this way, it is better than being intimidated by practicing and really doing nothing because you don’t see a point. Now lets talk about the dos
Do scale back your goal. If you have too much going on this week it, is ok to only work on half a riff, a few measures, or just a technical exercise. It’s not that big of a deal. A general rule of practice feel overwhelmed. If you feel that way, you should say something. Remember, guitar lessons are for you, not for the teacher. I think it shows a lot of maturity and professionalism if you say in a lesson, ” I have way too much going on this week, so let’s just do this much.” That is great. You have everything in check. You realize how much time you have. You also understand what you can do in a week. Working on less is a viable option
Do make it a point to practice the day after your lesson and write everything down. Remember that the braid only retains about 20 percent of the info gained I a class. If you skip a few days between your lesson you will more than likely forget what you were supposed to work on. This will lead to a blank stare at a sheet of paper with no memory of the assignment. Who knows what will happen then. Maybe you will start from the beginning and stop when you mess up. Maybe you won’t play at all because the XBox is calling your name. The best solution is to avoid the whole situation by being a little organized.
Do practice technical exercises if you only have a few minutes to play. If you have just a little time, please play, but what do you do? Play a song for 10 min? I would rather you run scales for 10 or 15 min rather than playing around with a song. If you don’t know any exercises, ask your teacher. I will also be posting a courses not this topic in our members sections as well. Playing a technical exercise will keep your fingers moving and they are more beneficial in a 15 min practice session than playing the beginning of “Time of Your Life”for 15 min. I know there are professional musicians who opt to do this as well. We don’t get to practice everyday either. Believe it or not, you might keep practicing if you play an exercise for five min. Starting was always the hardest part for me. I know it is not the perfect solution but it is a choice and the choice is to play or not at this point. It is better to play.
Here is our latest video as a follow up to Different Ways to Strum. This includes practice sections
The other day I was working with a student that was learning a banjo piece(yes I can play that too). While he was playing, a lot of the slides and bends were playing havoc with the music causing him to have problems with his timing. He was making too much out of them. It was as if he was saying’ ” ok there is a bend here, so I’m bending the daylights out of this note.” I told him to take them out. He looked at me like I was insane.
As I was trying to explain to him why, I remembered something Manuel Barrueco said in a master class, ” Technique should be invisible.” Meaning you should not notice the virtuosity of a player; well the virtuosity of the player should not take center stage because they are playing music. There are some great players out there and to me the best players are fantastic. I do notice one thing. They make it look and sound easy. Countless times I have gone to see a band and noticed the guitarist did the same lick or trick over and over. All I start thinking is , “Ya I got it. you can do that.”
As our lesson progressed I said, “You should not notice the bend”. I know it is supposed to be there but I shouldn’t notice it. If I notice it, it’s too much. It’s like garlic on a pizza. If you notice the garlic then you have too much, but if it wasn’t on the pizza, you would notice that it was missing. It’s the same with bending, sliding vibrato and speed. It is the spice you add to the notes, it’s not the notes.
That is what is meant by saying, “Technique should be invisible.” A guitarist bending, sliding or breaking the speed limit should not take away from the music. It’s like a figure skater. They can launch themselves off of the ground and spin in the air 3 1/2 half times. Try that in your kitchen. You never really think, wow that is some great leg strength because it is part of a move. Same with an acrobat at the circus. You just see the show. They don’t show you how strong they are because their job is to do something else. The strength makes it possible but it is invisible.
What does that have to do with slides and bends and the like. Too many times students see that in a tab or music and spend too much time on it. Yes they are hard to do and should be practiced but they should be practiced to a point of anonymity. That is what makes them good. So what next? Take them out or start without them. You can always put them back in later. If you can’t play it without them then you won’t be able to play it with them. Just remember, too much garlic ruins the pizza.
In this video I discuss the three different ways to strum a guitar and the arm movement
In this video we discuss a good warm-up for intermediate player
In this video I show you a great chord exercise for C G and D