As musicians we all share a common goal, namely to get better at what we do. For each of us, the exact definition of what “get better” means will be a bit different – but there is still a common goal, namely to take our playing beyond where it is now
So, how do we work towards getting better at what we do? Well, the obvious answer that we need to practice. However, when you pick up your guitar to practice, are you genuinely practicing, or are you just playing?
If you pick up our guitar and play the sort of material that you normally play, then you will most likely get better. The licks that you play will become more familiar, and you should
find them tripping off your fingers more readily. Unfortunately, there are a couple of problems with such “going through the motions” practice:
Your progress will be slower than if you performed some exercises specifically targeted at making you a better player.
There’s the risk that you can reinforce any bad habits that you have in your playing.
It’s far better to set aside time to perform activities specifically focused on making your playing better. That will almost certainly include exercises but, can also include creative work as well. The important thing is that when you’re practicing, you are concentrating on what you’re playing and how you’re playing it. Be critical – listen out for mistakes and correct them before they become habits.
To make best use of your time, devise a daily practice routine. This is a structured set of activities which you perform. The actual tasks may vary from day-to-day – for example, if
there’s something which you’re actively trying to get better with, then you need to practice it every day. Other exercises might be more geared towards just keeping you up to scratch on techniques that you’re already comfortable with, and those might only put in an appearance once a week.
Your practice routine shouldn’t be a chore. Yes, it will likely include exercises, and they can be a bit boring and repetitive, but mix these up with other things. Your practice schedule should include some practical/playing work – the difference between this and just playing though is that you should be looking to stretch yourself, and take what you’re learning through exercises and put it to use in a practical context.
Ultimately, pure practice may not be as much fun as just playing. However, if you can divert some time away from playing and towards more structured practice, then it will be worth it, and you will start to reap the benefits.
You can find some more thoughts about practice versus just playing, and some ideas for what to include in your practice routine here…