You and a friend play guitar, and you notice that no matter how much you practice and how hard you try---they just seem to improve faster than you with little or no effort?
It's happened to me before in the past. And for awhile I was convinced that these people just had more natural 'talent' than I did, and that was that.
That was until I actually asked my instructor and brought this to him, and he explained a few secrets that are often overlooked.
Whenever you practice, try to have a clear idea as to where you are going and what you plan to accomplish. Also, know the difference between simply playing the instrument, horizontal practicing, and vertical practicing.
Playing the instrument: You just want to jam out for awhile or maybe noodle with a few musical ideas.
Horizontal practicing: This is where you learn new songs, invent new licks, and widen your musical vocabulary within a certain technical range.
Vertical practicing: this is where you augment your technical range and improve your control over the instrument.
A lot of times people say they are practicing, when they really are only doing a lot of the first, some of the second, and a tiny bit of the third. This is why the improvement seen is so marginal.
So, the next time you practice, just try to set aside...30-45 minutes tops, and divide each factor into the time.
Playing the instrument: To warm up you run through a blues progression, play a solo, jam around with improvised chord progressions, etc. for 10 minutes. Why? Develops your ear, helps you to assess musically where you are at and what you are capable of.
Horizontal Practice: Work on one or two songs you know for about 7-8 minutes, and spend 3 minutes inventing little motifs you can use when improvising.
Vertical practice: Spend the remaining twenty five minutes slogging away with the metronome. Play through an A minor scale as fast as you possibly can--identify the exact spots where the speed becomes too much ((example: you have trouble moving fingers 3 and 4 independently, your right wrist has trouble picking that fast, etc.)) and isolate ONLY that problem area. Don't play the entire scale over and over again---play things that FORCE you to do what you are weak at---play lines that put you at a 'disadvantage.' Run strict arpeggios, and again, repeat just the parts you have trouble with--not the whole thing. Spend about half the time on speed/technique, and the other half on intonation and vibrato. A good excercise for this is to simply bend a note THEN pick it to see how close you are to the correct pitch. You'd be surprised at how fast your intonation grows doing this simple excercise.
No more than 45 minutes! But focus 100% on what you are doing for those 45 minutes.
You may find that not only do you have to practice less, but you'll grow as a player at a high rate.
I just remember how much my instructor helped me and my playing whenever he told me this, so I just wanted to share. Let me know how it works--if it does at all!!--for you.