Some people just pick up their guitar once in a while dreaming of stardom they will never reach. Others play just for fun, to entertain themselves and their friends. Then, yet another group, actually mean business and want to go places. If you’re in this last group, these guitar practice tips are for you.
1. Have specific musical goals.
We all have goals.
We’ve all picked up the guitar for a reason.
Most of the time though, our musical goals are vague and we have no plan how to reach them.
This is an example of a generic goal:
“I want to become a famous guitar player, tour the world and pick up as many girls as possible along the way”
As opposed to a specific goal:
“In the short run, I want to learn the basics of the guitar. Once I’ve got those in place I want to specialize in Rock and Blues and form a band that releases albums and tours.
I want to be able to improvise and express myself creatively and with complete ease on the guitar.
I will also get the basics of music theory under my hand and train my ear because I want to be a complete musician, not just a guitar player”
Your goals may change and evolve over time and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But make sure that at any point in time, your musical goals are specific and clear.
You’re much more likely to actually reach them if they are.
2. Form a plan that will get you closer to your goals.
What should you learn first, reading standard music notation on the guitar or being able to bend strings?
Depends – on your goals.
If your goal is similar to that in the example above (the specific one), you’d better learn and master string bending first – it’s going to be of much more useful in the near future if you want to play and improvise Rock and Blues.
Learning to read standard music notation, on the other hand, helps with the long term goal of becoming a more complete musician, but will not serve the more immediate purpose of improvising and joining a band.
What you should not do, is learn everything you find (say, on the Internet, magazines, or from a guitar teacher who’s not focused on your goals) without keeping the prize – your goals – in mind.
This does not mean that if you’re a beginner or an intermediate guitar player you will have all the answers yet.
You don’t know what you don’t know and can’t possibly make a full plan on how to reach your long term goals.
What you should do is having clear short term goals – while keeping the end result in mind along the way.
3. Set specific goals for every single practice session.
You may not have all the answers on reaching your long term goals yet, but you should have a clear answer on what you want to achieve in the next practice session.
Don’t grab the guitar and play random things or noodle aimlessly on the guitar neck.
Instead, have a specific goal such as:
“In the next hour, I will refine my vibrato technique, learn the minor pentatonic scale in a new position and improvise solos in this pentatonic position using long notes with vibrato”
4. Put everything in context
Mastering technique is important, so is learning scales.
But as you can see in the example practice session goal in guitar tip 3, you will notice that I added another element to mastering vibrato and learning a scale pattern – integrating those two skills in improvisation.
Your progress will be much faster if you can connect the dots between everything you’re doing.
5. Revisit old stuff with a purpose in mind
I used to hate revising things.
Why learn something I already know? Give me some new stuff!
Remembering old stuff may (or may not) be the only reason why people revise academic stuff they had already learned.
But when it comes to practicing the guitar there is a much more important purpose for revising old stuff:
To apply what you’ve learned in the meantime to it.
Let’s say, a year ago you’ve learned how to play a pretty simple guitar solo from your favorite band.
And let’s say that now, you can play way more complex, as well as faster, solos.
Why should you revisit that simple guitar solo, even if you thought you were playing it right back then?
Because if you had that solo recorded, had it re-learned a year later, and recorded it again, you will immediately notice the difference.
Because during that year of practice, not only your ability to play faster and more complex solos have increased.
Your vibrato is more passionate, your string bending more accurate. You may have started noticing there is unwanted string noise and learned how to mute it.
You may realize that – though you didn’t realize it back then – you were close, but not exactly in time.
Thus, while you should revisit old stuff, don’t just think of it as a memory refreshing exercise.
Think about all the things, especially your phrasing techniques, that you have improved on since then, and apply them.
6. Jam/form a band with ambitious musicians like you
Don’t waste your time with time wasters.
They will start lowering your standards without you knowing it.
Now, don’t get me wrong.
This does not mean that you should become a snob never play with musicians who are not as good as you.
Just make sure that if you mean business, they mean business too.
That if you met for a 2-hour practice session, you’re going to practice for 1.50 of them, not just 30 minutes.
That they’re eager to keep learning and practice regularly at home.
That way, you’ll be growing together, not you trying to carry them (or beg them to come to rehearsals on time).
7. Find the best guitar teacher possible
I’ve been playing guitar for 25 years.
For the first few of them, I had a series of bad teachers.
Then I got rid of guitar teachers and started learning stuff from books and the Internet.
Did I learn anything from the mediocre teachers and the books?
Sure, I had already been playing in bands before getting my first good teacher.
But it was only then that I realized the significance of having a teacher that goes beyond teaching you a lot of stuff to learn.
You need to find a guitar teacher that is focused on your goals and is eagerly guiding you towards reaching them in the shortest time possible while enjoying the process.
Investing your time in looking for a good teacher and ask these questions in mind:
- Does this person care about what I really want?
- Does he have the ability to get me to reach my goals?
- Is he passionate about teaching guitar?
The answer to these questions will give you better clues in choosing the best teacher than taking your decision based on, say, how much the teacher himself can play. (He should be a good player too of course, but that doesn’t automatically mean he’s the right teacher for you)
8. Don’t be hard on yourself
People who are not ambitious want results without having to work for them.
They’re also the most likely to fall for a shiny object or a “get rich quick” scheme.
Ambitious people know that you can’t reap the fruit, without first growing the tree and nurturing it along the process.
However, using the tree analogy, there will be times where you won’t notice that the tree is growing.
These are what we call plateaus, and it’s the time when most guitar students quit.
Be patient and don’t punish yourself mentally if you don’t get the results you want instantly.
Some skills need time to master and they will sound sloppy over and over again when you practice them on guitar.
It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It doesn’t mean you can’t become the great guitar player you desire.
All serious guitar players have been through this before getting the desired results.
Only the “get rich quick schemers” haven’t been through this kind of frustration – at the expense of not getting the desired results.
9. Learn about the music industry
If you’re an ambitious guitar student you probably share or at least entertain, the dream of once making it in the music industry.
It’s what kept me practicing for all these years – and it’s what motivates the majority of people who are serious about their music.
Whether you want to be a Rock star, the guy who teaches people to become Rock starts, a session musician, a songwriter, or any combination of the above and other music-related professional, you probably want your income to come from music, rather than have a day job and play music on the side.
If that’s your long term goal, the best thing to do is to start learning about the ever-evolving music industry now.
So that by the time you go “out there and make it” you already know what you have to do.
An added bonus to learning about the music industry is motivation.
Since my goal was to become a professional musician from the day I picked up the guitar for the first time, I was always searching and browsing about the music industry. Reading about people who were living the same dreams I was dreaming kept me on fire to practice guitar.
10. Nurture an ideal guitar practice mindset
You may have noticed that these guitar practice tips do not include specific things on how to play the guitar, except for a thing or two in the examples.
They’re all focused on developing an ideal guitar practicing mindset.
Because if you practice a lot, you will learn a lot.
But if you have the correct mindset you’ll also go places.
And if you’re putting in the hours, that’s exactly what you deserve.
You may consider giving a donation, by which you will be helping a songwriter achieve his dreams. Each contribution, no matter how small, will make a difference.