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How to practice when you do not have time to practice?

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.

Happy practicing!

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Sometimes I just want to play the guitar

Sometimes I’ll have a day when I don’t want to practice the guitar, I just want to play the guitar. I found out a long time ago, that it is sometimes better to just twang around or doodle on the guitar than not to pick up it up at all. This article is not about replacing your regular practice schedule, it is a little rescue approach on those tougher days, where you are finding it a little difficult to get motivated.

Some days, just the sound of the word “practice” may turn your eyes away from the guitar. You know where your guitar is, but you just don’t want to look there. On those days, I just forget about the word “practice” and I just play the guitar.

Very often, I just sit in front of the TV or my computer, watch some movies and play the guitar. What is important however, is that I only play the things that I know very well, things like; chord progressions, scales, arpeggios … The goal is not to learn, the goal is to be in touch with my guitar and have fun. The great thing is that I still keep my fingers in a good shape and I still do something musical.

After a while of playing the guitar like that, I may actually feel like practicing. It can somehow trick your mind by pretending that you are practicing. If it works for me, maybe it will work for you 🙂 Recently, many of my “playing sessions” have turned into proper practicing sessions, but even when they haven’t, the job is still done. I made contact with my instrument and that is what counts. Of course, I can’t have too many days of just playing the guitar, I would not learn anything new.

But I found a solution to that. Let’s say there is a very cool guitar lick that I want to learn. I would memorise the first few notes, then I would put my movie on and practice those notes watching the movie at the same time. It doesn’t feel like practicing at all, it is still fun. After a while, I would pause the movie, learn another few notes, put the movie back on and try to connect the new notes with the notes I learned before. This is a really cool way of learning guitar licks. And the good thing is, it doesn’t feel like practicing, as I still have fun watching TV.

This really is an emergency practice routine, but it does do one thing – it keeps you in good musical shape.

Now grab your guitar, put your TV on and have some fun 🙂

P.S. Don’t over practice this approach!

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The best way to practice the guitar for beginners

If you are a beginner guitarist, you may often ask yourself this question: “what is the best way to practice the guitar?” What is better? Practicing the guitar for 10 – 30 minutes every day or 3 hours once or twice per week? These questions pop up on guitar forums all the time. What is the correct answer? My personal opinion is that shorter practice sessions which are repeated more often, will bring you better results.

What do you think is easier? To focus for 20 – 30 minutes or for 3 hours? We all know that it is almost impossible to fully focus for a long time. You will scramble your brain. There is a reason why school lessons last for only 45 minutes or less.
We can play the guitar for a long time but practicing is very different from playing. When you practice the guitar, you concentrate completely on the thing that you are doing. Your mind is not wondering thinking about dinner or the colour of the walls. You are fully focused on your instrument.

If you want to memorise a song, scale or a new chord shape, you need to concentrate in order to fully understand the relationship between what is on the paper (or the screen) and what is happening to your fingers. You have to teach your fingers the new shape or position of the scale. That can only be achieved by being fully mentally engaged in the exercise. Shorter sessions will keep your brain fresh and your practice sessions will be much more exciting and interesting.

Now, imagine that you had not touched your instrument for 4-5 days and then you intended to practice the guitar for 2 – 3 hours. You will probably have to learn the concept from the previous lessons from scratch. The gap between the sessions will be so big that you will forget what you have done. You will waste your time memorising the concept again from the beginning. On the other hand, if you practice the guitar on the next day, it will be much easier to recall the pattern.

I personally, would aim for shorter, but more frequent practice sessions. That way not only will you connect better with your instrument, but also, your fingers will be in much better shape. Long breaks between sessions simply weaken your fingers and will also affect your calluses. In turn, all of this may affect your mood and you may lose the motivation to practice the guitar at all. More frequent sessions will connect you better with your instrument, it will feel like it belongs to your every day life. Make the guitar a happy part of your day, shorter, but more frequent sessions will make it happen easily.

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How can I stay motivated to practice the guitar?

One day we are full-on and motivated to practice the guitar, the next we are completely flat and don’t even want to look towards it. Why does this happen to us? Self-motivation is difficult. I guess you have to ask yourself why you want to play and practice the guitar in the first place?

Is it because you love the look of the guitar or is it because you want to play your favourite tunes? Or maybe because you think it is easier to find a girlfriend or boyfriend (this one is funny because a lot of relationships are not very guitar friendly, Eg. After a while you may hear “honey put aside that noisy box and help me wash the dishes” or “Can you please stop making so much noise, I’m trying to watch tv).

We all have different reasons. For me, it is all about my love for music and weirdly enough about practising. I love practising the guitar 🙂 I do it every single day, its the first thing I do in the morning, together with my coffee. When I was working in my 9 to 5 job, I used to get up at 5 am to practice the guitar. It was my mental reset before starting work. Nothing else mattered at that moment. I had my headphones on (I used to live with flatmates) and it was all about the music.

Funnily enough, since I started to teach professionally, I do struggle to find the same initial passion and drive inside of me. I guess since I am surrounded by music all the time, I am kind of getting numb to it. I’m constantly searching for that same spark, but it is difficult to find it. I had to create new goals – the goals that are in line with my current mindset. I would say this, our reasons for practising and playing the guitar change all of the time.

Make sure you update and level up your goals and expectations and don’t be self destructive. Don’t challenge yourself with crazy un-achievable goals. This stuff kills or passion for practising the guitar. Set up realistic goals, i.e. I want to improve the changes between two chords within the next 2 weeks (not next 10 minutes), or I want to learn this song in the next two weeks. If you are struggling to achieve this goal then just adjust it, look from the perspective of what you have achieved by working towards it. Sometimes achieving our goal is not the most important thing, it is the journey that shapes us. What did you learn by working on a particular song or chord transition?

Find inside of you what you like about the guitar. Why did you want to start learning or playing? And keep it in your mind every time you pick up the guitar. Reasons come first, answers come later.

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Am(add9) – mysterious guitar chord

AAm(add9) – mysterious guitar chord. The guitar chord described in this online lesson is one of those really cool sounding ones. I like to think about it as a kind of mysterious sounding chord.

It is not a very difficult one to play, but you need to pay attention to your finger positions. To play the Am(add9) guitar chord, you need to position your first finger on the 5th fret, 3rd string and your third finger on the 7th fret, 4th string. We will strum this chord from the 5th string and strings two and one are open. Make sure that you play this in a vertical way to the fretboard. Watch the video to learn how to play this guitar chord.

Am(add9) - mysterious sounding guitar chord

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Don’t over practice, play more music

We all know that exercises are designed to bring our skills to the next level and beyond. But there is a fine line between playing too many exercises and not enough music. Music is the reason why we play the guitar in the first place.

Lets take the scales as an example. At first, you may struggle to play scales, your picking is not smooth and you have a lot of excessive right-hand movement (if you are left-handed, it will be your left hand- the picking one). It might also be difficult to synchronise both hands. Many times one hand doesn’t want to ‘listen’ to the other one. Once you pass this initial frustration, it will start sounding better and better, and of course will start to feel more natural. It will become so easy that you will start doing it more and more … We don’t like to struggle, we love easy stuff. This is where this potential problem may arise from. To be honest, I wrote this article as a reminder for myself, as I am just as guilty as everybody else.

The exercises are predefined, structured and predictable, are easy to use and are the basis for our practicing plan. Of course, we have to use them to bring our technique to the next level (and we should!). On the other hand, playing music, improvising or learning new songs may not be as enjoyable as doing exercises. It requires more of your mental focus.

After a busy day at work, it is just easier to pick up the guitar, play a few chromatic exercises, a couple of scales and have the feeling that we have done the job. This is the moment where we need to change the balance.

Learning and playing songs, improvising and playing with others should be the major focus of our playing. This is the stuff that will make us better musicians and will increase our repertoire and understanding of music. Using the scales in a creative way (for example: selecting the notes that sound good and resolve around the chords instead of playing it up and down the fretboard) – this is where the majority of our focus should be.

I would aim for more than 60% of your time spent on playing actual music. Give it a go for 2 – 3 weeks and see if it works for you. Suddenly you might find out that playing the guitar is more fun, more enjoyable and you are inspired to pick up the instrument!

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Natural talent – do I need it to play the guitar?

At some point we all struggle to break the barriers of our technical abilities – we can not improve chord changes, the speed of scales, legato or it takes us a very long to master certain things. This is when this thought creeps into our mind. “Maybe I’m not talented?”

Having a natural talent is definitely a great thing. Everything comes easily, memorising is a breeze, technical difficulties almost don’t exist. We look with envy at all these great musicians ripping off the neck, playing the scales with lightning speed. How lucky are they to have these abilities? But maybe it is not talent, maybe it is a hard work? Maybe you can trigger your talent by practicing the guitar the right way?

A long time ago I had a student. He came to one of my lessons with two of his friends. He was definitely the one that did not have “it”. He was not quick with memorising and it looked like everything was a struggle. The group class was not fun for him. What others played with ease, he struggled with a lot. After few months they decided to quit as a group. Something came up and they could not make it together anymore. They decided to take lessons separately.

To cut the long story short, the two of his friends who were very very good, after another couple of months quit. But the guy who was struggling kept coming back. We worked on basic strumming, simple scales, on songs, …. There was a lot of frustration and a lot of fun. Guess what? After a couple of years, he really had a breakthrough. He really became a good guitarist. He took it at his own pace, he did not compare himself to others, just worked on his thing. I was amazed. Persistence and the will to play the guitar pushed him to a place nobody thought was achievable.

His friends don’t play the guitar anymore – how do I know it? The second person from the group became his wife 🙂 So I had the first-hand experience.

The question is. Maybe he developed his talent? Maybe hard work triggering something inside of him?

Natural abilities make things faster, but I have observed one thing. People for whom things come easily, usually quit very quickly. They don’t know how to deal with big struggles. On the other hand, the ‘struggling’ person is surrounded by difficulties from day one. He learns how to deal with struggles, so somehow he develops this mindset that keeps pushing him to the next level no matter what.

I am not naturally talented, it took me a long time to achieve a certain level of guitar skills. But I love it. I hope you will also persist, keep practicing and never give up! The reward of being able to play the guitar is priceless.

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How to strum Simple Man – Lynyrd Skynyrd

The purpose of this session is to improve your rhythm techniques. I have arranged Lynyrd Skynyrd Simple Man in a strumming only version, so that you can play along and improve your strumming technique.

We will start with really basic strumming and then build up until it starts to sound like the real song – don’t skip anything, as I will cover all of the different parts that you will need in order to play this lesson.

I am not going to cover arpeggios in this video, if you would like to learn the arpeggio version of this song, you can learn to play that version here (LINK).

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An easy way to memorise the names of the guitar strings

Why would you memorise the names and the numbers of the guitar strings?  It will help you with tuning up the guitar – the letters and numbers wont look like a secret code when you use your tuner. Also, it will help you to learn new chords because usually, we refer to the string names or numbers when we describe fingers position.

The guitar has 6 strings, looking down from the guitar players perspective, you will see the thickest string first. This is not a number 1 – it is string number 6. Unfortunately, it is a little bit awkward here. So remember the thickest string is number 6! Then the next one will be 5 and so on. The thinnest string is string number 1. (think about it in this way – the thinnest string is much slimmer than the thickest one so it has a smaller number).

Each of the strings has its own name. That is because each of the strings creates a certain pitch (sound) that you can name (and for example also find on the piano). So the 6th string is called E, the 5th one is A .

Here is the full list of the strings numbers and names:

  • 6t – E
  • 5th – A
  • 4th – D
  • 3rd – G
  • 2nd – B
  • 1st – E

Did you notice that we have two strings with the same name? The 6th and the 1st string have the same name – because they generate the same sound just in different octaves (one sound higher than the other one, but it is the same kind of sound).

How would you memorise the names of the strings?  The simplest way would be to repeat them over and over – EBGDAE … EADGBE … eventually you will memorise it 🙂

You can also assign the following words to each of the letters that represent one string :

  • Elephants
  • And
  • Donkeys
  • Grow
  • Big
  • Ears
  • Every
  • Amateur
  • Does
  • Get
  • Better
  • Eventually

Although it may be a little bit tricky to memorise the names of the strings right now, you will get very, very good with it very soon. Just keep repeating the names daily and in no time you will remember everything!

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