Friday, March 23, 2007

Effective Practicing on the Guitar

By: Andy Weaver

Effective Practicing on the Guitar

Ah, guitar practice. It really means a different thing to each
and every guitarist. For quite a few guitarists, practice simply
means looking up a new song and learning it by tab. Though this
is beneficial to an extent, it is by no means effective
practicing. Allow me to elaborate:

The guitarist who knows a huge library of songs (because he
learns a new one each time he practices) can play quite a few of
these songs, but can he play them convincingly? Can he play them
very closely to the original, is everything clean and played
with conviction? How is he phrasing everything, and how tight is
his rhythm playing?

These are all questions you should ask yourself as you are
practicing. Being able to play a 1000 different songs would be
great (and would be impressive) but I would much rather be able
to "nail" a song note-for-note than be able to play several
other songs in a half-assed fashion. Being able to "nail" a song
really gives you a sense of satisfaction that is truly
unmatched. Or better yet, composing your own work -- and being
able to nail it effectively every single time is truly
liberating. You feel great!

The key to effective practicing is to use your ear, and be
honest with it. Was that bend intonated correctly? If it wasn't
start over again and work extra hard on making that bend scream
in tune. Record yourself trying to play the song you want to
learn, and go down the following check list:

* How is my intonation? Any bends that sound off, any vibratos
that sound out?
* How solid and tight are my rhythms?
Does the song call for a relaxed, almost swing rhythm or for a
more fast-paced on the dot rhythm?
* How is my
articulation? Do some of the notes sound too weak, too strong,
or are otherwise distracting?
* How is my phrasing? Did
I give the notes a decent amount of space, and how predictable
is the phrasing? Pretend you're a listener who's never heard the
piece, could he effectively predict what's going to be played
next? This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I believe that a
good balance between predictability and unpredictability is what
we should strive for.
* How clean is the playing? Overall
cleanliness.. do I need to woodshed that lick a little bit
more? Do I need to practice this phrase with a metronome for a
while? There is much more to pay attention to, but I think you
get the idea. Don't cut yourself short. Realize that there are
going to be some flaws. A lot of times it helps to record
something and save it one day, and then the next day come back
to it and listen. You'll be listening to it with fresh ears, and
you can better identify what needs to be worked on.

Post your playing on internet forums. Find a decent music forum,
and post your work there, see what non-biased ears think of your
work. Tell them that you're open to c&c on your playing and
tone. This is the #1 way to improve your playing. Pretend like
these people are your guitar teachers, they are there to let you
know what needs work and what sounds good. Follow their advice.

There have been times where I practiced a simple section of a
solo (that wasn't any longer than 8 seconds or so) for 3-4 hours
in one day. I was somewhat satisfied with my performance of that
section, but I *knew* that I could play it better. I just knew
it! Deep down inside, I felt like I could totally ace it
flawlessly. After a few days of practice, I did it! It sounded
great. And I felt great about it too!

Hell, I've sat around practicing my vibrato on one note for
close to an hour. Boring? Yes. But did it pay off? Hell yeah!
From that point on I focused a lot on my vibrato, always trying
to pull off that same vibrato I had after practicing it for an
hour that one day.

You may think it's a waste of time to spend hours on end
practicing only 8 seconds of a solo, but it's truly worth it.
The overall effect it has on your playing is like glue. When you
work so hard to fix your mistakes within a short section of a
song, it's like sealing the glue.

And once that glue is sealed, it's there for good. =)

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