It’s a new year and I’m sure you are thinking about what to do with your guitar playing. Learn more songs? Take lessons? New equipment? More books? I have a question for you. What about your practice habits? How are they? Do you practice? What do you do with your time? Is it organized? As a teacher, this is the most misunderstood part of progress in my studio. Many times a student will tell me that they can’t seem to gain the progress they hope to even after a year or so of lessons. Here are some ideas that will hopefully elevate some of the stress and start your year off right.
What is practicing? I tell my students that It is a critical thinking activity not a physical activity. This is where the confusion starts. Too many students play something over and over in the hopes that it will improve. This usually doesn’t work and frustration will start because progress is not being made. This is making practice a totally physical activity. There is the act of repetition in practicing, but repeating for the sake of repeating is a like a dog chasing his tail. I call this an infinite practice loop. You just keep playing the same thing over and over in the hopes that it will get better. This is where critical thinking will transform your practice time. You need to have an idea of what is working and what is not. What you can do well and what you can’t do well.
Start with playing something. How well did you play it? If you are not sure, record yourself and listen to it. Be specific and easy on yourself. This is critical thinking. Did you miss any notes? Are there spots that are harder than others? Is the rhythm bad? This list can go on and on. In my experience, really great players are very specific with their critical thinking. They make comments like, ” My arm twisted when I shifted.” Or , ” My fourth finger is not quite making it to this note.” These are very descriptive and constructive comments. They don’t make general comments like I’m not feeling it or that stinks. They can tell you what note they missed or what rhythm they missed. By not being specific you are being counterproductive because general comments don’t give you something to improve upon. They leave you feeling empty and helpless.
Once the specific flaws are noted, its time to get to work. This is where a sheet of paper is greatly helpful especially if you recorded yourself. Write them down. I missed a note here. I can’t play this all the way through. I slow down here…so on. Once you have a list, decide on one flaw. How are you going to solve that problem? What is the plan? Think about it. How are you going to get from where you are now to where you want to be? Once you have an idea, sketch it out. What to do on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and so on. Break it down into steps that you can accomplish in one or two practice sessions. If you can’t get it done in one or two days, it’s probably too much. Now you have a plan something to follow. To quote NFL football coach Herm Edwards, a goal without a plan is a dream. Till next time.