Guitar Lesson Expert. How to Practice on GuitarWhen guitarists consider how to practice on guitar, there are a couple of main focal points that I’d like to concentrate on in three consecutive posts on how to practice for guitar. The first, and possibly the most important concept I’d like you to grasp is to play within your means. What I mean by that will become clear as I tell you a little story.

I had a very talented student whose name I will withhold. He was used to playing at a pretty high level. He also had the type of personality that wanted what he wanted when he wanted it. In other words, he wasn’t particularly patient. During one of his lessons, he let me know that he really wanted to learn the Jimi Hendrix classic, “Little Wing.” I knew that this piece was a departure from his regular playing style, in that it wasn’t a single line solo part, nor was it a typical rock accompaniment. Hendrix had developed a kind of fluid, chordal, embellishment style of playing that was hyper-focused and really upfront in the song. I knew that this student was going to have to learn an entirely new approach to playing a non-jazz, kind of chord-melody style.

I went ahead and transcribed the song for him and began to teach it to him with all the different inversion approaches, using double and triple stops. As I taught him the song, it became clear as it is with almost every advanced song, that some of the measures or bars were easier for him to play than others, and some were downright difficult. Unfortunately, this student’s impatient personality took over, and the rest of the story became a fairly predictable outcome.

Did He Learn How to Practice on Guitar?

As this student set out to practice the song, “Little Wing,” he set the bar really high for himself. His referent was the tempo that Hendrix had played the song in, so that was the tempo he pushed himself to play in. He could execute the easier measures or bars at that tempo, but there were a couple of really tough parts in the song that, every time he got to them, he blew it, made a massive mistake and crashed and burned. Unfortunately, because of his personality, he didn’t isolate on the most difficult passages and work them out, but instead, cursed out loud and restarted the song, over and over again, hoping that the next time he arrived at that passage, he would be able to navigate it.

I observed him approaching his practice time with the song this way, regardless of what I had told him to do instead. I got an invitation to come hear his band play and he told me they were going to play “Little Wing.” I went to their show, and when they played the song, it went almost exactly as I expected. The song went quite well until he got to the difficult passage and at that point in the song, he totally blew it. So what happened?

Knowing How to Practice on Guitar Might Have Saved His Performance

He had consistently been practicing the song faster than he was capable of executing it, mistake free, and so by practicing playing into a mistake, he was actually practicing the mistake. I had had a basketball coach in my youth who always said, “Men, as you practice, so you play.” That couldn’t be a more valuable thing to consider when you think about how to practice on guitar.

Guitar Lesson Expert, How to avoid mistakesWhat exactly had I shared with him when we discussed how to practice on guitar? I suggested breaking the song into phrase fragments and labeling them from 1 to 10 in degree of difficulty. Then use a strategy of practicing more on each of the hardest phrases to make their number match the easier phrases, all the while playing slowly enough so that the body/mind system was having an experience of playing the passage perfectly, albeit a little more slowly. Gradually, he would have been able to equalize the degree of difficulty in the passages, and slowly but surely increase the tempo to match Hendrix’ performance speed, but coming from a perspective of complete confidence.

The moral of this story is that if you practice passages of your songs faster than you are capable of playing them, you will inevitably make mistakes. The net result of this process is that you are practicing making mistakes rather than practicing flawless playing. So I urge you that when you consider how to practice on guitar, that you build up to your ultimate tempo gradually, coming from an experience of playing your phrases masterfully rather than mistake-laden. Good luck!

If you need more help with your guitar playing, be sure and contact the Guitar Lesson Expert for your complimentary 15 minute phone consultation, whether you need guidance on how to practice on guitar or very advanced topics and techniques .

Meet David Randle

has written 12 posts in this blog.

David is a lifelong guitarist and songwriter, with a highly developed knack for producing and arranging. He spends a great deal of time mentoring and coaching aspiring music artists and songwriters to rise to the pinnacle of their abilities. Music definitely is a language we all can understand. Connect with David on Google+.

  2 Responses to “How to Practice On Guitar, Part 1”

  1. You hit the nail on the head. I struggle with this same thing and still never follow the protocol even though I know I am doing it wrong. Too impatient. I am exactly like that kid in the story. Thanks for a worthy post.

    • Great having you stop by Len. Yes, most of us have been brought up in a microwave world. We want results as quickly as possible. The conundrum is that practicing faster than we can play and thereby making mistakes while we practice is actually practicing mistakes, which doesn’t do anyone any good.
      Can’t wait to play one of the guitars you’ve built. There’s a lot of positive talk about your instruments.

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