Practice Methodology Notes:
1. Focus on what the goal is for each step of your exercise plan.
Don't try to master anything by going over it incessantly. Rather, trust that for the vast majority of students focused on the long-term, the method of being well focused for a "brief" time period with the goal of making it better, not perfect, then moving on to the next step of your practice session is the most effective way to go. A short, focused effort on a consistent, daily basis yields ongoing improvement while avoiding frustration or burn out by over-practicing.
2. You'll learn more effectively and more quickly by practicing slowly and deliberately.
Understand that the tempo that is best will need to change as is necessary at a given point in your development to facilitate accurate, technically correct training of muscle-memory and thought processes. Pounding away at a faster tempo than you can play cleanly will condition errors and rough playing so that over the long term you will have to spend additional time "fixing" and re-training what's been drilled into your fingers and mind in haste. As you improve you can push the envelope slowly but surely to achieve faster playing over time.
3. Play with a metronome or other mechanical or technically accurate guide (loops, sythesizer sequences, play-along files, etc.).
You needn't do it always and forever, but try to do it regularly enough to condition your playing to be steady in tempo, especially during the early part of your development. Always remember that your goal is to play everything, including practice exercises, with a musical "feel" that will train you to always play with a compelling rhythmic pulse.
4. Listen and stay focused on your sound as you practice.
Don't necessarily stop for every mistake. Notice upon repetition if the same thing occurs at the same point in your exercise more than randomly before stopping to fix it. The big picture goal is to keep things going overall rather than always stopping at the first glitch to fix it. When you're performing you will need to be ready to stay focused on the overall flow rather than the details, otherwise you'll be distracted at each little error, leading to potentially more and larger errors and possible breakdown of whatever it is you're playing.
5. Enjoy the journey!
Your goal is NOT to just trying to make it to the end of a practice exercise or song. Enjoying playing music is about enjoying the ride, NOT getting it over with!
Your PRACTICE GUIDE:
1. Tuning. Obviously you want to make a habit of getting your instrument in tune before playing, whether practicing or performing.
2. Patterns. To warm up and to develop a wide variety of critical tools both physical and mental, it is wise to begin with an ordered regime of "patterns," whether literal scales, extended scale patterns, CAGED patterns, melody lines, etc.
3. Reading/Symbology. This portion of your practice plan should be focused on how to use whatever form of reading music you are currently exploring and improving, whether tablature, standard manuscript or chord boxes and other symbology to develop and maintain your ability to utilize visual tools to learn, interpret and communicate songs and musical concepts, as applied to guitar as well as to other instruments, and in regard to music as a complete universe.
4. Conceptualization. Work on some aspect of musical concepts beyond scales, patterns, reading, etc., such as fretboard visualization and mapping, harmonized scales, keys, intervals, song structure, chord structure, listening, improvisation, etc.
5. Integration. Moving between chords, chords and rhythms together, altering chords, working on applying practice exercises and concepts to songs, etc.
6. Ear training. Use your listening skills to learn and mimic something you hear (without looking at sheet music, or a fellow guitar players fingers, or whatever is creating the sound if visual clues could be accessed by looking). Your ability to listen and use your ear is not set. It can be improved just like your other physical skills. The more you use your ears the better you'll become at mimicking sounds, hearing chords and chord progressions, picking up licks you like, hearing and playing off of what others are doing as you play with them, etc. Start simple, like trying to find a note that you hear and play it. Be patient and determined even if it seems "impossible" at first. Virtually anyone can improve at least a tiny bit, and if even a tiny bit of improvement can be achieved then it's just a matter of staying at it to continue to improve.
7. FUN! Reward yourself after each practice (perhaps after taking a short break after your practice routine to get fresh and refocused)! Indulge yourself in any way you enjoy, playing songs, or listening to an interesting sound or series of notes of chord combinations. Continue your ear training by trying to pick up a cool lick or chord or sequence from a recording you like. You may have to stop and start many times, even to the extent of getting one note at a time. That's the way it started for me. Now I can pick up quite a bit from only one, or from very few passes when learning a song by ear. ANYTHING GOES!
Your practice routine should not have TOO many steps. Try to keep focused on each area and what in particular you're trying to learn or improve and focus just a few minutes of concentrated effort on that step before moving on to the next, then the next, etc. 3-5 minutes of fresh concentrated focus on each thing done on a consistent daily basis is the crux of continual improvement. ENJOY!
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