With so much music in the world to play, how do you figure out how to practice guitar? Guitar teacher Jack C. breaks it down to the basics…
One of the most common questions I’m asked by students, whether they are total beginners, or seasoned veterans who have been playing for more than ten years, is: “How exactly should I practice guitar in order to get the most benefit from my time?” As my explanation, I always like to break down guitar knowledge in three basic categories.
Technique is the actual mechanical movement of your hands which you use to create the sounds coming from your guitar. It entails training the muscles in your hands so you can develop the strength and muscle memory to pull off the actual chords and scales we use when playing the instrument.
2. Music Theory
Music theory is the mental aspect of learning any instrument. It is the act of breaking down the sounds we hear in to names and formulas. It’s the science behind the sounds.
I believe, like any skill set, musical creativity CAN be learned and taught. Some people are brought to believe that you’re either born with that creative muse or you’re not. This simply isn’t true.
Let’s say we have a 2 note per string pentatonic scale (you can use any of the scales found here).
A great practice exercise would be to pick each note in ascending order from the low E string to the high E string, then descending using strictly alternate picking (up and down only). Start very slow, then gradually increase the speed at which you do this exercise. Then, once that movement is mastered, and the scale can be played by memory, you can then try creating a simple melody using only those notes found within the scale.
This exercise kills three birds with one stone! You are practicing your technique by working on your alternate picking, you’re learning a portion of music theory by memorizing the scale, and you’re exercising your creative mind by applying the scale you learned in creating your own melody.
By combining all aspects of learning guitar in to one exercise, you are now making the most out of your practice time. This approach to practicing is used by some of the greatest players in the world, and has proven to be one of the most efficient ways to practice the instrument. As you progress in your skill level, this approach can be applied to different scales, chord progressions, and picking techniques.
In review, we know that if a guitar exercise can cover these three aspects of guitar playing: technique, theory, and creativity, all at once, then we know it is an exercise that will serve us well in our guitar journey! Thanks for reading and if you have any questions for me, I’m more than happy to answer your questions.
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Jack C. is a guitar instructor in Huntington Beach, CA. A professional gigging musician, teacher, producer, and session player, he earned degree in Music Theory and Guitar performance from Musicians Institute in Hollywood, California. Learn more about Jack here!
Photo by J. Pitt