Whether you’re just learning how to play guitar chords or you’re on your way to being a virtuoso, every guitar player needs to practice. Take these tips from guitar teacher Dee F. to create your perfect practice plan…
Practice What You Are Assigned
If your teacher asks you to practice a certain warm-up exercise three times at each practice session, do exactly that. If you are supposed to complete a written assignment on theory, don’t wait until the last minute to do it—try to do it right after the lesson when the concepts are fresh in your mind. Always ask questions if you do not understand what to practice. Check your assignment book so that you always follow your lesson plan, and come to the next lesson prepared to play what was assigned. Highlight or mark any notes in a song that are difficult for you. Mark repeat signs, dynamic signs, etc. that you need to remember to observe when practicing your assigned music.
Practice In The Best Environment
Choose a quiet, undisturbed area in which to practice (you don’t want to practice in the living room with people watching television!) Make sure you have your lesson books at eye level when practicing (it is best to place music on a music stand, but a table will work as well); and a straight back chair to support your back. Sit with your feet flat on the floor, back straight. Choose a time during the day when you can best concentrate. For many students who need a regular routine, a set practice time during the day works best. For some students this may be before school; busy adult students may split their practice day into 20 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes in the evening, for example. Many students use a timer or a watch to keep track of their practice time.
Record Your Practice Time
My students are given a monthly practice chart for their own use; they place a check on each day when they meet their daily practice amount, or write in the amount of time they practice on the monthly calendar. I write in their goals for practice minutes. Yes, I do give out rewards for younger students for monthly practice goals that are met! This motivates students, and is fun!
The goal is to practice every day. In our busy world, for many students this is not possible. My expectation is to practice at least 4 times a week; for students age 5 to 7, 10-15 minutes a day, depending on aptitude; for older beginning students, 20-30 minutes a day; for intermediate to advanced students, 30 to 50 minutes a day. Adults should practice 50 to 60 minutes a day for optimum results.
A performance recital, special performance for friends and relatives, and perfecting or memorizing a challenging piece of music helps motivate young adults and adults to practice. Younger students, in addition to preparing pieces for recitals, may ask their school music teacher to play a song that they perfected for their school class in General Music. When I taught General Music for a school district, a monthly “Mini-Concert” was held for classes Grades 1-5 for students who wanted to play or sing a special song—students anticipated the last 20 minutes of class once a month for this opportunity to shine! High school students have informal, and formal, opportunities to perform as well. These goals help students prepare and maximize practice for a concert or recital.
Practice The More Challenging Parts
Always save the tempo for last—correct notes, rhythms, fingering, dynamics, and expression come first. Practice a challenging part in a song first, and repeat it very slowly and correctly, counting to yourself, until the notes and rhythm are perfect. When you get it perfect, leave it alone—or try to practice until at least some aspect is correct! Isolate the problem area, and work on it the most. Write notes to yourself in pencil on the music—mark repeats, dynamics, etc. with a highlighter to remember to be consistent in observing all the markings in the music.
Always study the music—the key signature, time signature, dynamic markings, tempo, notes, and rhythms before starting to practice. Count to yourself before starting to establish a steady beat and tempo before starting the song. Remember, it is okay to make mistakes—this is how people learn! Even the most accomplished concert musician makes mistakes. Always try your best, and be patient with yourself. You are learning a life-long skill!
Dee F. teaches accompaniment, acoustic guitar, arrangement and composition, bass guitar, classical guitar and vocal training in Scottsdale, AZ. She received her Bachelor of Music Education from Montana State University, as well as many other certifications and awards. Dee was a public school music educator for over twenty years and has taught students since 1983. Learn more about Dee F. here!
Photo by Will Foster