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How To Practice Guitar

January 11 2021

On Track 6 on the 1992 classic Pablo Honey by Radiohead, Thom Yorke declares with his usual levels of otherworldly angst that anyone can play guitar. I believe in the same song he describes himself stood on top of a mountain, blasting out power riffs at all the world below.  There may also be some flames involved. And dragons! And maybe a few explosions as well but it’s worth noting I first heard that song when I was seven. At that age a guitar player to me was bigger than Superman, bigger than the world, so maybe some of my small boy delusions are clouding fact here.  Regardless, he’s right. Anyone can play guitar.  I started teaching aged sixteen and I haven’t come across a single person where I have thought there’s no chance here and I include in that gang of apprising musicians the individuals living with sight loss that I have been teaching for the last two and a half years. 

Fingers applied to strings equals sound and anyone can do it. It’s just about getting the practice right, and here is how I think practice should be done. If you’re short of things to practice, check out my courses. We’re open all year!

How to Practice

1. Be realistic with your time. If you have a busy life, you’re not going to find 20 minutes a day and setting yourself up to find twenty minutes a day is only going to lead to disappointment as the days slip away in a hurricane of tax returns, long queues in the post office and listening to your partners/housemates work problems. Start with something you know you can do. Five minutes a day is better that none and if all my students could get just those five minutes in, I’d be happy-not ecstatic, but happy. 

2. Plan your practice time. Know what you’re going to work on before you start playing. Have all the sheets in front of you or if you’re working online, all the windows open and ready to access. A good session will include three areas or more; something to build up technique, some rhythm work, some lead work. Of course, there might be many more elements depending on where you are but to give you an example, here’s the practice schedule from one of my classes last week.

  1. 3 minutes on hand exercise 1b
  2. 7 minutes on major seventh chords study working through rhythms in this week’s song suggestions
  3. 5 minutes reaching scale objectives 
  4. 5 minutes on this week’s riffs

This covers 20 minutes, and, if you don’t have twenty minutes, just like a single person following a recipe that serves two-you cut the minutes in half. 

3) Use a stopwatch. Sticking to your allocated time on any given area is going to keep your practice time moving along without meandering. It will create a sense of urgency and a sense of focus. 

4) Always work with a metronome. If you’re not working against a tempo then you’re not working. Okay, maybe I don’t fully mean that last statement, but it does read quite well, doesn’t it? What I do mean is this-an artist needs a canvas, the artist doesn’t just throw the paint in the air, and so it is with your playing, it needs a frame, a context. Your frame is tempo. A great tool that addresses points 3 and 4 together is Metrotimer. No, it’s not an obsessively punctual metrosexual, it’s an app, that will allow you to select a tempo and then the number of minutes you want to work on any given exercise at that tempo. 

5) Be nice to yourself. Possibly the most important point on this list (and I’m possible only saying that because every list needs one-point elevating above all others) but you have to be good to you when you’re playing. If you sit and go hard on yourself, if you tell yourself that everything you’re doing is terrible, then sadly, you’ll progress a lot slower than that person who has no issues with themselves and anticipates success. Just celebrate the small victories. If you learn one new thing a week you’re doing pretty well. But really, you must control that inner monologue because it will drag you down. The inner monologue is nearly always a d**k-don’t let it get in the way of you doing music. 

All of these items will be discussed in my January workshop-how to practice guitar. You can book here.

If you’d like to do some guitar with me then you can. At the minute everything I’m doing is online. You can attend as many courses you like a month for just £20. we do beginners upwards. Hit reply for details. 

Thomas x

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