I don’t think there is any mystery to practicing the guitar. If you surf the internet for tips on “how to practice the guitar”, than you might get dizzy. The amount of websites gracing us with their special practice methods on how to shred or play like Jimi Hendrix in two weeks is overwhelming and confusing, to say the least.
Do you think that any of the great guitarists, athletes or actors just woke up one day and had these super human skills? Probably not. Talent level aside. Simply put, all elite guitarists, athletes, etc. do have a few things in common even if their abilities differ somewhat. Practice. Nose to the grindstone, go to the woodshed and don’t bother me.
They work relentlessly to play the guitar, or to be more precise, practice, practice and more practice. One grows by increasing knowledge input at a slow pace, while practicing each piece of knowledge until perfect. It is not a competition or race, so no matter how long it takes to master something, keep practicing until it is mastered. Enjoy the experience. It’s not that bad!
Relax your body. That is a fundamental habit to get into. As you progress relaxation comes easier. Tension in your muscles causes a lack of fluidity in your motions, therefore it makes it difficult to duplicate a song or play with grace. Relaxation and good posture relieves fatigue and improves the final results of your efforts, sound and tone. Relaxation is hard to accomplish, like changing your posture. It take time, focus and self awareness.
Research tells us to warm up our fingers or little athletes for about fifteen minutes with fingering and strumming exercises. We also know that taking a break every forty-five minutes to an hour and a half for about ten minutes between sessions helps prevent injuries. Be care full not to tear a callus or draw blood from overuse. It really slows you down in terms of progress, and guitar strings can cause infections since they are coated in various nickel compounds. One cool thing that happened to me when I pricked my thumb with a string during a string change is that my very versatile and excellent teacher, Richard Mac, taught me how to tap (a technique Eddie Van Halen is best noted for) because I could not hold a pick for 3 months. Great vibe, even though I’m not much into tapping. However it is another weapon in the arsenal. Ha!
Logically speaking, of course, we recommend starting with easy learn-able guitar lessons. Mastering an assignment builds happiness and confidence. These are two essential ingredients to success. You must enjoy your chosen art, in this case the guitar, and you must build confidence. Early gratification is essential in keeping ones interest level up, or one may get frustrated and lose interest.
Michael Jordan was the greatest talent in basketball, ever. You may not want to believe it, but it’s true. He also had a reputation as the most intensely ferocious person on court during practice. He always pushed the other team mates to the limit. It made them better too. Six world titles says it all.
That being said, the most important part of practicing is having the time and desire to go over certain pieces of musical information until you get it. It is a discipline that requires lots of practice time. It’s comical to even think of practicing during a recital or gig or basketball game. Game-time, recital time or gig time is time when you play by instinct. No practicing at those times. Period. Jam time is a good time to practice.
My point is that a lot of time is going to be consumed practicing the guitar. I read (and saved it, but can’t find it) a reprint of a Stevie Vai practice session in Guitar World about 2 years ago. It was a ten (10) hour/per day practice. Broken down into steps, from warming up through different left and right hand techniques and exercises, to the mental part of transforming it into muscle memory. Muscle memory is explained well in this article at guitarplayerscenter.
An example of finger and muscle memory is when a drunk guitarist can get on stage and play a complicated piece of music, that is the memory in their muscles from repetitive practice, not brain function (at least at the time) since being drunk can affect your brain’s memory. Understand? I hope so..
Without complications, I hope to have conveyed to you in this article that in order to be a top-notch guitar player, be prepared to do it the old fashioned way. Lots of practice. There is no magic formula, unless you are a Voodoochild, or went to the Crossroads!
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