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Playing vs Practicing

Over the many years that I have been teaching guitar in Houston Texas, it has become apparent that some students do not make the progress that they need or want to. Through my many years of teaching guitar and practicing myself, I have made many observations about practice and playing. I hope this article will be of help to those of you that may be struggling, and help you make as much progress as possible.

Playing is great and I think all of us should do as much of this as possible. But what is it? Playing is working on the things that we already know. What do I mean by this? Examples are, playing through songs that are already memorized, the chords you can play well, the scale and arpeggio patterns that are under our fingertips. In short the things we don’t have to think about to play well. All of these things I consider playing guitar. If you work on these things great! You should so that you don’t forget them, but make this time separate from your practice time. Noodling around for hours, not doing anything in particular doesn’t really get anything accomplished. That would be the worst end of the spectrum.

Practicing on the other hand is working on new skills or tunes that you cannot play well enough. Examples would be new chord voicings, scale exercises, new tunes, rhythm and strumming exercises, or new finger picking patterns, just to name a few.

Different styles of guitar playing, may involve playing different types of guitars and each may have it’s own separate technique issues. For example if you are working on a classical guitar piece, it would best worked on with and instrument designed specifically for that style of music. Classical guitars generally have a wider neck and may take some getting used to. Rock music is more often done on some type of an electric guitar, fingerstlye or acoustic rock, usually a steel string acoustic is used.

Jazz a lot of times played on a semi hollow body or full hollow body electric. Remember these statements are general as you can play any of these styles on any type of guitar, they just won’t necessarily sound the same.Good practice would involve working with your metronome and or playing along with recordings, or a program like Band in a Box. (www.pgmusic.com)

Working with one or all of these things, can help improve your rhythm and time. Having a set practice schedule each day and sticking to it is important as well. Find a comfortable practice area, where no one will interrupt you. Type a practice list or routine and hang it somewhere in your practice space. It is there to remind you of the things that need to be worked on, and the order in which to practice them. Decide how much time to practice each item on your practice list, and stick to it. I always start my practice with the things I like least or are the hardest, and end with things I enjoy or like the most.

Try this and see if it works for you.For those of you that are doing this as a hobby, 30 minutes of practice a day would be the minimum amount of time that would be needed to see good progress. Small children should practice at least 20 minutes per day. If you have greater aspirations for playing and want to become a very accomplished player, then ask yourself how many hours a day could you devote to practice.

I am always amazed when parents make comments like, “little Bobby is not practicing” or “he is not making progress”. My first question to them is always, do you have a practice schedule set up for them? The answer is almost always “well I didn’t think about it”. Adult students are no different. If you don’t have a practice schedule and routine, practice does not get done. Everything else in life seems to come first, and then your time to practice is gone.I hope this you find this article helpful.

Try some of the suggestions I have made and stick to them. There is no fast way to becoming a good player, but there are ways to get there faster with good practice habits. Try these and I’ll bet you become a better player.

Alan Darby

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