5 Things You Should Practice Less On The Guitar

As the saying goes, practice is the way to Carnegie Hall, and I have yet to meet a successful guitarist who claims he has acquired his abilities without putting in a lot of practice.

However, practicing a lot alone does not guarantee access to Carnegie Hall or the achievement of any high-level musical goal.

Quality is as important as quantity when it comes to guitar practice.

Many factors contribute to high-quality guitar practice, including how focused you are, how you handle mistakes, how relaxed you are, and whether you’re practicing the right things in the right order.

In this article, we’ll look at five things that may be lowering the quality of your guitar practice because you’re doing too much of them.

By practicing fewer of these items, or removing them entirely from your practice schedule, you free up time for things that help you achieve your goals faster.

  1. Spider exercises

While spider exercises help to build finger strength and dexterity, there are better ways to improve your strength and dexterity.

Most spider exercises involve playing chromatically with four notes per string, but in real music, you rarely play four different notes in a row on the same string.

Thus, the time spend practicing spider exercises can be used on items that also build strength and dexterity, but use note patterns that are more commonly used in real musical situations.

These include scales and scale sequences, arpeggios, guitar licks and riffs, chords and chord progressions, and many other things you can learn on the guitar.

By practicing such items rather than spider exercises, you are building strength and dexterity, learning patterns that you are more likely to encounter or use in the future, and learning music theory elements (e.g., scales, arpeggios) and applying them to the guitar.

  1. Things you already know, unless…

Many advancing beginner and intermediate guitarists tend to stay in their comfort zone and play songs, riffs or licks that they already know, or ones that use the same concepts and techniques they’re already fluent in.

This leads to your growth in the guitar learning process being only horizontal – doing more of what you already know, but not vertical – learning new things.

You should only learn things that you can already play if there’s a specific purpose why you should. Here are some reasons why you may want to play things you already know:

  • To improve something in the way you play it (such as remove unwanted string noise, perfect the timing, or add dynamics) or increase the speed at which you can play it.
  • To play the same thing in different forms and variations (e.g., replacing picked notes with legato, changing the rhythm, replacing slides with bends etc.)
  • If you had recorded in the past, to check if you can play it better.
  • If you intend to perform or record the music, to remember it.

If it isn’t for these or similar reasons, you shouldn’t be spending much time on things you can easily play already.

  1. Things not meant to achieve a specific goal

Before you start to practice an item, ask yourself:

“What short, mid or long term goal is practicing this going to reach?”

If you don’t have clear answer to this question, you should spend your time practicing something else.

  1. Things that are far beyond your level of playing

When I first started learning the guitar, there wasn’t as much information available as there is now.

For example, if we needed tabs, we’d have to buy an entire book or look them up in a guitar magazine.
Thus during my first year of learning, in addition to spider exercises and cowboy chords, I attempted to learn Iron Maiden riffs and the Mixolydian mode, since I had bought an Iron Maiden guitar tab book, and found the Mixolydian mode in a magazine.

No wonder I progressed very slowly in the first few years.

Iron Maiden riffs were far beyond my reach (I didn’t even know how to palm mute) and the Mixolydian mode pattern I had found in the magazine, though not incredibly hard to learn, was completely useless since I had no clue how to put it into practical use.

Nowadays we’re not starving for information, but drowning in it.

This can still lead to the same mistake I was doing.

Techniques like sweep picking and tapping, or music theory elements like the modes and voice leading, may frequently pop up in social media or search results, giving you the impression that you should start learning them now.

This may be the case if you’re an advanced player and fluent in music theory, but if you’re trying to sweep pick before you can play legato fluently, or if you’re learning a mode before you can understand and use scales, you’re mostly wasting valuable guitar practice time.

  1. Things that can hurt you

Even though it may seem obvious that you should not play in pain, many musicians ignore their bodies’ warning signs and continue to practice until they develop serious conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis.

I’m 100% guilty of this because while my left arm was healing from tendonitis (which I had acquired due to practicing legato technique for longer periods than I should), I got it in my right shoulder (due to compensating my left arm by shifting all the heavy stuff to the right).

Thing is, we sometimes get carried away and ignore those minor pains and irritation warning us to stop doing what we’re doing.

Since my second tendonitis, I’ve followed the philosophy of “when in doubt, don’t.”

Is it worth risking weeks of pain, during which I couldn’t play anyway, to keep practicing the item I’m practicing right now?

What you should practice more

This article on what you should practice less on the guitar should give you clues as to what you should practice more to get results faster.

The following are some suggestions on what you should consider when deciding which items to practice:

  1. Your goals. Make sure that everything you practice has a purpose. The more specific you are about that purpose, the more effective that practice item will be.
  2. Your level of playing. Most of the time you should be practicing things that are challenging, but not far beyond your level of playing.
  3. Your health: Practicing the guitar is healthy for both body and mind, but insisting on practicing things your body is telling you that you shouldn’t, can get you hurt.

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