How to Practice Effectively

Do you find yourself practicing a piece of music, song, scale or technique over and over and not seem to be improving?  Or do you find progress to come very slowly?  Can you play something almost perfectly except one little problem area? It could be that you have not found or have not been shown an effective way to practice.

The most common mistake I see students make when practicing new material is trying to play it way too fast.  When learning anything new, it is important to play it correctly to a steady beat.  If you try to play too fast you will make many mistakes and not be able to keep a steady beat.  Good results will be very slow if you practice this way.  Then you will become frustrated and lose your motivation to keep practicing.  A metronome is one of the best investments you can make to achieving noticeable and consistent results.  A metronome is a devise that helps keep the beat by clicking at whatever tempo you set it to.  When learning new material you must set the metronome to a slow enough tempo that you can play it without making mistakes.  Practicing with a metronome is a good exercise which demands your attention.  You must concentrate 50% on what you’re playing and 50% on listening to the metronome to make sure you don’t drop or skip beats.  Once you get better at the new material, you can slowly increase the speed.  Trying to play something too fast before you’re ready is a recipe for disaster.

Another common mistake when learning new material is playing from the beginning to the end without isolating the problem areas.  For example, you might be learning a song that has four chords in it.  You are getting good at changing from the first chord to the second chord and the second chord to the third chord, but changing from the third chord to the fourth chord always gives you trouble.  It is a mistake to practice from the first chord all the way through to the fourth chord, because you are already getting good at changing chords up to the third chord.  What you need to do at that point is to practice changing from the third chord to the fourth.  Just isolate those two chords and practice switching back and forth between them.  That is not how the song goes, but you are practicing the song, you are not playing it yet.  Do not mix up practicing and playing.  Practice involves attempting to do something that you cannot yet do.  If you can do it, then that is not really practice.

Here is another example: you are learning a piece of music and you mess up a certain bar every time, but the rest of the piece you can play without mistakes.  If you repeat the piece from the beginning instead of isolating that one bar, you are wasting time that you could be spending getting that one problem area fixed. You need to repeat that one bar at least 50 times.  Start at a slower tempo than you are able to play the rest of the piece at.  Play it slowly enough that you do not make any mistakes.  Then slowly increase the tempo until you can play it at the same tempo as the rest of the piece.  It may seem tedious or boring, but the reward is well worth the work.  You will spend much less time practicing the piece and more time playing and performing it.

If you are learning a new technique, the same rule about starting out slowly applies.  If you practice a new technique too fast, it will be sloppy and will always be sloppy.  Therefore, it is so important to start off slowly and cleanly and build up speed after you get comfortable.  By practicing that way, you will be able to play fast andcleanly.  Some techniques take longer to master than others.  Practicing slowly may seem tedious and like you are progressing slowly, so learn to be patient.  If you get tired, take a break and come back to it. Upon returning to your practice you will notice your progress immediately.  The technique becomes easier and more natural.

Some songs or techniques actually require rest in order to notice improvement.  Sometimes you may not even notice your improvement until the next day.  Remember to start slowly and play every note perfectly and at an even tempo for the maximum results in the least amount of time.  Have patience and you will progress.  Learning guitar is a life long journey, so do not rush.