There's no getting around it -- if you want to rock like the best of them, you have to put in the time, work and dedication. And while there is no secret shortcut, there are things you can do to get the most out of your sessions. The following tips should keep you from wasting your potential and work smarter, not harder because it doesn't matter how many hours you sink in if it doesn't actually make you a better player.
For many of us, there’s just too much going on in our day to day lives to have any real time left over for ourselves. Between jobs, relationships, school, and friends, setting aside significant time for practice can seem like an impossible task. If it seems like you don’t have time, you go out and find it. And the best way to find time is to expect that nothing will ever run smoothly and plan around that fact. There’s also no rule saying that you have to practice for one hour and all in one sitting. Maybe it’s easier to find time for two 30 minute sessions or even three sessions of 20. As long as it allows you to fit it into your schedule, any combination of time is fine.
They were made for a reason! If you're not that great at tuning by ear yet, get an electronic tuner (because even great players will sound bad with an out of tune guitar). If you haven't memorized certain chords or scale patterns, get a chart or book. You should also consider investing in a metronome. Even if it does nothing else, it will teach you how to follow the beat. It’s not fun or glamorous, but using a metronome will improve your sense of timing and if you ever plan on joining a band, it's crucial.
Designate A Place
Having a specific place for practice sessions is crucial for two important reasons. First, it allows you to set up your things so that you can be surrounded by the tools you need during your practice session. Second, it allows you to associate the physical space you have chosen with getting better at your instrument. Psychologically, your practice space should put your mind into “guitar mode,” free from everything except you and your guitar. Trying to learn a new solo in front of the TV might be fun but it is ultimately an unnecessary distraction that will keep you from getting the most out of practice sessions.
If you’re practicing for an hour or more, try taking a break every 15 to 20 minutes. It’s incredible how uptight and stressed your muscles can become if you are busy being hunched over for an hour straight. Stand up, walk around, stretch your hands, arms, and shoulders and have some water. This will not only help your body relax, making it easier to physically perform longer, it will also keep your mind focused and refreshed.
There’s nothing more sobering than hearing yourself being played back through a set of loud speakers in your room. That solo you thought sounded perfect sounds somewhat tense and boring. You realize that you’re falling behind the beat more often than not. Or worse yet, the tone you’ve spent years to achieve sounds muddy and generic. While listening to the harsh reality might not be fun at first, hearing yourself play will give you the ability to know what you need to fix in order to be better, and that is a good thing. Record yourself every now and then and you’ll be able to see your progress as a musician while holding yourself accountable, and there are few things as rewarding as that.
Try Something New
It is not uncommon for musicians to spend most of their practice time playing things that they already know how to play. That’s great but if you don’t include learning things that are beyond your current ability, you will never get better than you currently are.
In the end, don't forget that no two musicians are the same. What works for someone else might not work for you. Some players can only practice in absolute silence while others might prefer playing in their backyard. There's no wrong way as long as it works for you and ultimately makes you a better player. There's also no substitution for playing with a quality instrument. This doesn't mean that you need a thousand-plus dollar acoustic (there are plenty of great budget acoustics for less than $200), but if your instrument has terrible action, can't stay in tune or simply sounds bad, it will ultimately hinder your progress. For additional information or help finding gear, don't hesitate to reach out to any of our PAL pros using the Contact Us chat box below!
Your Turn to Sound Off!
What are some of your own tips for effective practice sessions?