One of the most asked questions that bothers beginner guitarists, is how to practice. You have heard stories about musicians practicing for hours every single day, hour after hour, until their fingers bleed.
A no-pain no-gain approach, almost like some kind of army training. The problem is that, with that frame of mind, you will not survive for too long. Eventually you will burn out, lose motivation and stop playing the guitar. But it does not have to be that way. Let me show you my approach, where you can practice, have fun, have results and a social life outside of the guitar.
A week has 7 days. If you divide it by two, you will have 3.5 days. My philosophy is simple; practice for 4 days every week. To be clear, this article is for beginners only.
I would not recommend practicing for 4 days in a row and then taking three days off. Try to spread it across the week. There is no difference between going to the gym to workout and practicing the guitar. In order to progress, you need a good workout and reasonable recovery time. During your recovery time, you will give your mind time to digest the information and structure it in a way that will be easy to retrieve needed skills. The skin on your fingers
(calluses) and tendons also require some time to recover from the practice session. You need to learn to walk before you learn to run. You would not try running a marathon before trying to walk, right? So why would you do this on the guitar? Having too high expectations may kill your passion.
Now lets get into the details. I would try to do 10 minutes of practice each time. Some people may say that this is not enough! Let me explain.
Imagine this scenario. You have decided that you are going to practice every day for 1 hour. You have had a very busy day at work, you need to cook dinner, walk your dog, do some paperwork and practice for 1 hour. PRACTICE FOR 1 HOUR! Your mind will say “no way mate, tomorrow, not today, you will be fine …“
Now imagine the same scenario but you need to practice for 10 minutes. This becomes easily manageable, right? You may force yourself to do it, but it is a realistic goal. And maybe you will be so happy after the 10 minutes that actually you will play for 1 hour!
At the beginning everything is extremely exciting. It’s easy to think we can do everything that we planned. The problem is, that after some time we lose motivation, the once new and exciting things, are not new anymore, and we lose our passion. This is not always the case, but I know that it definitely happens to the majority of my guitar students. Tricking your mind is the way to go. The bottom line is, it is easy to do 5-10 minutes of a workout than 1 hour.
Which brings us to the second part of the article; the quality of the practice session, in other words, what to practice? This is the key to understanding how yon can be effective in 10 minutes rather than in one hour. Just to remind you, we are talking about beginners right now.
In order to be effective, you will need to focus on four areas:
- Chords and how to transition between them
- Strumming hand, rhythm – being able to make sense in a musical way
- Learning new songs (integrating the two previous points)
- Basic knowledge of the instrument – reading articles and watching instructional videos
I would always start my practice session with tuning the guitar . It is very important that your guitar is in tune. You will train your ears to recognise and understand what you play if you are in tune. Secondly, I would focus on the chords. Let’s say I know 2 chords. On every session you will need to refresh your memory, take things very slowly and do not rush. I would try to remember the shape of the first chord. Put your fingers in position, strum it. Does it sound ok? Relax your hand, and try again, find the chord, play it, relax your hand. Now we repeat the same steps for the second chord.
Take some breaks, shake your hands, do some stretches and remember to relax your body. Then, I would try to change between the two shapes. In other words, transition from one chord to the other. Slowly, make sure you always land on the correct chord. Repeat it a few times. Now you have warmed up and you remember your chords. You are ready to work on your strumming’s.
Try to do some sequences of down strokes and up strokes (for example: down, down, up). At first, try doing this without any chords. I know it sounds terrible, but, you will give your fretting hand a break and time to recover.
Now you are ready to integrate these two things together, you can try to play simple chord sequences. For example, strum the first chord twice and then the second chord twice. Then repeat. Or if you know three chords, strum the first and second chords once, and the third two times.
This is a nice easy way to gradually warm up your hands. Work through the chords and finish with something really musical.
If you have very limited time, you can try to practice in front of the tv, so at least you can benefit from both. I would do this only with the content that I am confident with and know well (mainly because you don’t have to concentrate too much on remembering the chords). This is a controversial way of practising, but sometimes it may be the only way to get your work out done that day. We are only human, and we need to live and have fun. The last thing you want to do is feel guilty that you haven’t practiced at all or that you have to practice in a particular way.