Practise Makes Perfect

If you don't have one already, then it's a good time to put together a daily practise routine, or DPR. Your DPR should provide a structured set of things which you want to practise, and can include:

By having a structured approach to your practise sessions, you can make best use of the available time. All too often, we find ourselves bemoaning the fact that there just aren't enough hours in the day. Well, to borrow a phrase from the business world, we can work smarter and make sure that we get best value from the time that we do spend practising.

First things first: to get better at anything, you need to practise. Fact. Some people have more of a natural ability than others, and so will get better faster, but the fact remains that unless you're prepared to invest some time and effort then you aren't going to get better. That's the way it works, and it's important to accept that that's the way it works.

There are differing opinions as to how much practise you need to do every day. There are stories of some guitarists doing marathon 12 or 15 hour daily sessions, but few of us have that sort of time at our disposal. The more practise the better, and realistically you need to consider getting a good 45 minutes to an hour every day. That said, if you're really not motivated, then there's no point is sitting down and slugging away at it, as the whole exercise is likely to get counter-productive. Knowing when to walk away and take a break can be just as valuable as knowing what to practise.

Also, its important to make the distinction between practising and simple playing. OK, if you just sit down and play the guitar every day, you will get better. However, that approach is a bit haphazard - practising really means consciously playing certain things with a goal of getting more proficient at them.

This is where the DPR comes in. By thinking about what we need to learn, gain or maintain proficiency at, we can devise a list of things to be included into each day's practise session. The DPR does not have to be a strict every-day-the-same list of tasks - for example, once we've mastered a technique we may want to only practise it once a week, and so make space in the schedule for new things.

What's in and what's out?

Having acknowledged that we need to take a structured approach to practising, we need to decide what gets included in our DPR. What you decide to include in your own DPR will depend on your current level of knowledge of expertise. There are some general rules though which will apply to anybody's DPR:

Keep it relevant - there's little point practising something on a daily basis when you're already proficient with it. Reduce the frequency to weekly, or alternate days, and make space in your schedule for other things which need more attention.

Keep it interesting - practise is a necessary evil, but there's no reason why it should be torture. Vary the content, and intersperse some real fun - like just playing - to keep your enthusiasm levels as high as possible.

Keep a record - this doesn't necessarily mean making an audio recording of each practise session, but you do need a means of gauging how well you're progressing. Being able to recognise that you've got better at 'x' is important for keeping yourself motivated.

Let's take a look at what might be included in your DPR:

Warm up You should never just pick up a guitar and play full-tilt. Taker a few minutes to play a few scales through and do some general stretching exercises first in order to get the muscles warmed up.
Basic scale exercises Play through scales. It's likely that you'll have some scales which you're more comfortable with and will only need to practise every so often in order to keep your level of proficiency, whereas with some other scales you'll need to practise them more frequently.
Scale patterns Rather than playing through scales 'straight', use various patterns (e.g. 1-2-3, 2-3-4, etc. patterns, or alternate note patterns). Again, there will be some scales which demand daily practise whilst some will appear in your routine less frequently.
Take a break and just play for a few minutes Because this is meant to be fun, and you don't want to get locked in to just laying scale patterns.
Basic chords Practise forming chord shapes and moving between them within chord progressions.
Ear training Try listening to intervals from and recognise their size.
Picking exercises Pure technique - playing patterns to improve your general picking technique, strength, reach, etc.
Play along to backing tracks You should have some pre-recorded backing tracks which you can play along to. Of course, it's always better to play live with other musicians, but a tape or CD can always be available. You may have some lead lines, or whatever, that you want to play, but allow time for improvisation and experimentation as part of your DPR
More advanced scale patterns A bit like the exercises from earlier in the routine, but by now you should be more warmed up and can take things a bit further
More advanced chord/arpeggio exercises Again, a bit like the basic exercises, but at a more advanced level.
Play along to backing tracks Play along, and take the time to try out new ideas, rather than just going over tried-and-tested patterns.

Keeping up-to-speed with the theory side of things is also important. You may want to incorporate this into your DPR, or keep it as a separate task for elsewhere in the day. Either way, don't neglect your theory studies.

You can also benefit from listening to other music, and thinking about what you're hearing. This is the sort of task that you can slot in at various points during your day.

Hopefully what we've looked at here will inspire you to put some structure into your own daily practise routine. Remember that you can very things until you find what works best for you. The important thing is that once you have a practise routine, that you stick to it - practise makes perfect.

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