Practice Efficiency


Mike_Philippov
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Mike_Philippov
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04/18/2006 12:29 pm
Maximizing Practicing Efficiency
By Mike Philippov

We have all heard that practicing is the surest way to improve skills in any endeavor. Everybody has heard the phrase “Practice makes Perfect”. Few people know however what it means to practice guitar correctly. For many, practicing quickly becomes a tedious chore rather than a rewarding and (most importantly) PRODUCTIVE investment of time. As a consequence, many people either stop practicing all together or continue through sheer discipline but wonder why they are seeing so little progress. There are many reasons for that, and I will discuss several.

First of all, how would one define the word “practice”? Most people only have a vague idea of what it means. At best people would imagine that it involves playing their instrument. In fact a much more useful definition would be something along the lines of: action with intent to achieve a purpose. What can we learn from this? When you practice, you must do so with intent of making forward progress as a player. Learning how to practice is the thing that EVERY beginner should learn to do when they first begin playing, but this is most often not the case. Instead a student automatically assumes that they know how to practice and jumps right into learning songs. Guess what happens? The student will most likely plateau in playing ability after reaching a certain level if they are lucky to even learn to play at all.

Another very common obstacle that players face is the physical nature of guitar technique. It is useful to learn to make a distinction between the art of creating music and training the hands to perform the incredibly complex movements required to play. Too many people don’t realize that guitar technique is a science that must be learned. It is easy to neglect technique since playing guitar is all about making music. As a result the student will focus all their efforts on the musical aspects of playing (which is great), but when the music requires a higher level of technique, the student will not be able to execute the phrase with the required grace and flow. The very concept of technique is dictated by the music that you want to play. So when you encounter difficulty in playing a certain piece of music you must discover what flaws in your technique are preventing you from playing like you desire. The motions required to play an instrument are NEW to the body, and must be TRAINED just like we all had to learn to walk and use our body in daily lives when we were children. This requires a very high level of awareness of the body and this is something that most people never pay attention to. Think of a programmer who enters hundreds of lines of code (instructions to the computer) to produce a specific result. If for some reason, the programmer stops paying attention to what he is doing or if he does not know how to overcome a particular problem, the program will not work! Learning a technique on guitar (or any instrument) is exactly like that.
Moving along, lets discuss another problem that often affects the quality of practice and that is failure to pay attention to the task at hand. It is very common to get distracted while practicing. This very often happens because most of the time we don’t know WHAT we’re supposed to be focusing on in our practice. As a result it is frequent to see students playing the trouble passage or lick over and over in the hope that the notes are going to magically appear. Very often the problem can be solved simply by paying careful attention to what is happening when you try to play a certain phrase that you always mess up. Now ask yourself: what SHOULD my fingers be doing in this spot? Am I clear on the fingering and pick strokes? Do I have extra tension present in my shoulders that is making it impossible to direct the fingers to their notes? Very often just by asking these simple questions and performing an analysis of the problem you will begin to see the solution.
Yet another problem that plagues students is not being organized. It is important to have a sense of direction while practicing. This can be achieved by writing out a plan (practice schedule) before sitting down with your guitar. This way you can achieve MUCH greater results by practicing for only 15 minutes (because you will be focused and clear on what you will be doing) than just practicing random things for an hour jumping from one to the next. How do you come up with a good practice schedule? That depends on your long term goals that you must set for yourself as a musician. After that is done, you must determine what tools (sets of skills) are needed to get to the level you want to be. Very often students are not clear on what tools they need and how to acquire them (this is what your teacher should be helping you with) After this is done, practicing becomes sort of like a journey to your destination (ultimate goals). With each practice session you get a step closer to reaching your dreams. Start thinking of practicing in this way and you will see powerful things begin to happen.

Practice does not make perfect, it makes permanent, but PERFECT practice DOES makes perfect! Always remember that. Simply sitting down with your guitar and mindlessly moving your fingers around for 2 hours every day will not bring you the results you seek. This is especially deadly when it comes to practicing technique. If you train your hands to make sloppy, imprecise movements that are full of tension, guess what, these are the instructions that you are programming into your muscles. Your muscles remember ANYTHING they do enough times. So what do you think will happen, if your practice is sloppy? That’s right, your playing will be sloppy too! Enough said.

It is very common to read an article like this and say: “This makes sense, but it doesn’t really apply to my case, because I know how to practice.” Very often a student will THINK that they are practicing correctly when they are NOT. It is easy to underestimate the complexity of learning an instrument. Do not make this mistake. Unless you are already a very advanced player, chances are you can benefit from reviewing your practice habits (working with a good teacher is the best way to do this). This will only help you move forward as a player. What is the best way to know if you’re practicing correctly? It is simple, record your playing and LISTEN. Be honest with yourself. Do you hear things that could use improvement? If so practice them for awhile and see if your work produces RESULTS. (are the mistakes disappearing and is the phrase becoming easier to play?) So judge the effectiveness of your practicing by your playing. It is really that simple.

Hopefully now you understand what practicing is about, and I hope that you take the advice in the essay and apply the concepts to your own playing. You will amaze yourself with the results!

You can contact me at [email]mikephilippov@yahoo.com[/email] I would be happy to answer any questions you may have. I reply to all e-mails.

Visit Mike’s sites:
www.enigmatheband.com
www.myspace.com/grimthesweeper


For more insight about practicing, I recommend you to visit www.guitarprinciples.com



©2006 Mike Philippov All Rights Reserved.
# 1
mc9mm
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mc9mm
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04/19/2006 2:04 am
Even though you presented some solutions to all these problems I still think there's an underlying problem here.
In Nick Layton's essay about phrasing he wrote that guitarists probably had the least developed skills in that area, and I think guitarists are probably the least developed in many other areas too, including practicing.
In my opinion, people who start learning guitar are often drawn in by the sense of freedom. No need for scale-practice and boring old teachers, just pick up yer axe and let rip! Many of our time's best known guitarists has had far from perfect technique.
But if/when you feel like seriously developing your technique, you find out that it takes a whole lot more than your usual jamhour/day to get where you want. I think it's here many are deterred because serious practice isn't for everybody. Even though you know your playing will improve drastically I think many people just don't think it's worth it since it can be easy to get bored when you go from just jamming freely to planning daily exercise routines.

Me I have never been able to plan my daily practice.
My first six months at the conservatory of music I tried doing everything right, warmup, lefthand exercises, right hand exercises, scales, arpeggios etc in that order.
Although I got better, I got bored. It simply wasn't that much fun to practice anymore.
I still loved playing guitar, but I wasn't looking forward to it as much as I used to.
So then I found something in between where I practice right, but only what I feel like and only when I feel like it. Some days I do my exercises and practice my new pieces for 6 hours, some days I play some cheesy Sonatine for 15 minutes and then I go home. It's all about having fun while you play. If you loose that you won't have much left.

Now don't get me wrong, I agree with your essay, what you say is very true.
Everyone serious about improving their technique should try those methods with the help of a good teacher.
Becoming a skilled guitarplayer is hard work, make no mistake about that, but if you hang in there and if you're having fun doing it, you're well on your way.
# 2
Mike_Philippov
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Mike_Philippov
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04/19/2006 2:16 am
Yes, I agree for the most part. My post was directed more toward players who are frustrated with their (percieved) inability to improve beyond a certain level.

If someone is happy with their current level of skill, then of course that person doesn't have to do any focused practice unless he decides one day that he DOES want more playing ability in which case focused practice will be essential.

Mike.
# 3
Angel Zamora
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Angel Zamora
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04/20/2006 6:43 am
I liked this article. Very good
# 4
Musikian
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Musikian
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04/20/2006 6:04 pm
Yeah, practice can be tough, but think of the outcome, and watch a dvd while you practice, just a film, and never put too much effort into it. Obviously put some in, but dont push. It just comes together, like all the riffs you can allready do. Can be repetative at the start, but when you make a breakthrough, it gives you more insentuve to go on, and you just feed off that like a cycle. );) . You build momentum. You reach a point where you learn faster, and you think whoa, where did that come from?
# 5
Zack Uidl
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Zack Uidl
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04/20/2006 9:54 pm
Awesome Mike. I think you nailed the frustration topic directly. I think that many guitarists do get frustrated because they are not advancing and do not know how to achieve what they want, mainly a result of practice habits.
# 6
timgibson
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timgibson
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04/26/2006 9:27 pm
I think you are right on.
# 7
GuitarPsy
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GuitarPsy
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04/26/2006 10:03 pm
That was spot on, just the thing that was bothering me for a long while, trying to form a band and I really need to improve my playing if I make a good entry, thnx Mike!
= good music is good drinking =
# 8
Krys444
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Krys444
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04/27/2006 3:15 pm
Mike, you are correct..."muscle memory" is extremely important, and we shouldn't take it for granted. If we properly learn a technique correctly, then we'll have an easier time approaching a difficult passage. Plus, this can reduce any possibility of receiving any form of a hand injury. It is always important for guitarists to take care of their hands, otherwise we won't be able to play at all. :(

~*Krystle*~
# 9
Mike_Philippov
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Mike_Philippov
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05/14/2006 8:31 pm
Thanks for the feedback guys!

Mike.
# 10
jimmy_kwtx
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jimmy_kwtx
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05/16/2006 5:13 pm
I agree that when you reach a certain level you do need to step back and look at what you are "Practicing".

Great Essay by the way.

Here's my 2 cents.

I have always beleived that the phrase "practice makes perfect" should be stated "practice makes persistance"

Meaning, If you practice the same thing/things perfectly then you will always(persistantly) play it perfectly. If you practice something"wrong" (I beleive there is no right or wrong in guitar if it sounds good--it sounds good) you will always (persistanly) play it "wrong".

Sometimes a practice session --as mentioned earlier- should be about what you want to get out of you time and what is fun.

Some tips passsed along to me and I have used in the past to help when you get stuck at a plateau (after 18 years you still find em') is to Practice with someone else who has aa totally different "style" than you, Who is better than you, who is not better than you, Practice in a jam setting (this will help you react to other peoples styles and help you develop a sense of "groove").

One thing I noticed that was not mentioned. No matter what or where you are practicing always make a recording.

Sometimes what your ear is hearing (while you mind is concentrating on that particular lick) is not what you are actually producing or vice versa and by going back to listen to your practice you may find out you like the way you sound or what sounded good actually did not sound good at all.

Another thing to help push you over the top and leave that plateau is to take a favorite lick or licks. Play it different speeds. Slow, Slow fast slow, medium, Medium fast etc.
Find at least 3 different ways to play that lick and play the different ways up all 12 frets (even learn to play it on open strings).

Try practicing your clasical pieces in a funk style, jazz style, blues/rock style, country western.

Play the same lick over and over again so many times that you force your mind to become so bored with it that you will subconciously play it differently which can sometimes be all you need to bring back the joy and fun

I'll get off my saop box now.
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# 11
Mike_Philippov
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Mike_Philippov
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05/16/2006 7:54 pm
Good points Jimmy!

Mike.
# 12
jimmy_kwtx
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jimmy_kwtx
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05/24/2006 9:58 pm
Mike,

All on you dude!

You brought up a great topic and one that I feel is not expressed enough.

Especially when you get into the debate of Quantity vs. Quality.

Kep it real my brother from another mother :p
[FONT=Comic Sans MS]I reject your reality and substitue my own[/FONT]

[FONT=Comic Sans MS]BYAAAAAAAAAAAH![/FONT]

[FONT=Comic Sans MS]But it goes to eleven....[/FONT]
# 13
Mike_Philippov
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Mike_Philippov
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06/14/2006 3:30 pm
Thanks guys, I'm glad this was helpful.

Mike.
# 14

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