How To Practice Guitar

It seems like a pretty obvious topic that would be covered by common sense, but actually, that isn’t the case. Learning how to practice guitar is as important as learning how to hold it or learning how to strum – without the ability to efficiently and effectively practice techniques and riffs, there’s no way you’ll be able to improve.

We give guitar lessons in Edinburgh, and find that a common basic problem amongst students is an inability to practice. Because you are only usually in the company of your tutor for an hour or so a week, it’s important to develop your own approach to practice that not only covers the materials you’ve been given, but that also helps consolidate the techniques and pieces that you’re learning. That way, you can progress at a faster rate, and cover more material over the course of your lessons.

Beginners often make the mistake of trying to practice a piece of music or a riff from start to finish, making multiple mistakes as they go, in the view that eventually they’ll get it right. This is the wrong way to practice, and will not only waste your time but also engrain wrong notes and bad habits within your ‘muscle memory’, which will subsequently make it much more difficult to learn the piece correctly.

A quick aside on muscle memory – muscle memory is the phenomenon whereby you subconsciously remember movements you’ve made in the past. A great example – there are fairly intricate classical guitar pieces I used to play 5 or 6 years ago that I haven’t played since. When trying to recall these pieces, I can play them almost perfectly without thinking about the next move, simply because my hands seem to know where to go next. It sounds a bit metaphysical, but there’s definitely something in it, which makes it all the more important to learn things correctly as you go along. The best way to practice is to learn a piece in stages.

Question: How do you eat an elephant? Answer: In bite-sized chunks.

You can conquer any piece of music (even the most complex guitar solo) by learning it very slowly and in stages – note by note. Take it one bar at a time and play it at half speed (or even quarter speed if it helps). Once you’ve played a bar through correctly once, do it ten more times with no mistakes. If you make a mistake – go back to the beginning and do it ten more times, and reset the ten count every time you make a mistake, until you play it through ten consecutive times without a single mistake.

If you’re dedicated and disciplined with yourself, you will notice that fairly quickly that by practicing and learning in this way, you get to the stage where you’re playing a full passage fluently with no mistakes, and then soon after that you’ll be able to tackle the piece as a whole. What’s more, you’ll have muscle-memorized the notes/techniques you’re playing, which will stick with you for years to come thereafter, and help make you a better all round guitarist.


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