I’ve taught guitar, mandolin and songwriting for a few years now and I’m sometimes amused by the excuses I hear for not practicing. “We can’t find her guitar” was actually one I got a few years ago. (Guess we know who wasn’t practicing, eh?) Here are some pointers for developing good practice habits.
1. Keep your instrument out where you can see it
If it’s there on a stand, you won’t forget to practice. Be careful where you place it, though. You don’t want your dog or child to knock it over. You also don’t want to set it next to a fireplace or heating vent because it’ll dry out the wood. You’ll never lose your instrument this way, unless you’re a hoarder and that’s a topic for someone else’s blog.
2. Play at the same time every day
If you always play after work or before dinner or before bedtime, you won’t forget.
3. Be realistic about your time
Even if you’ve only got fifteen minutes, sit down and play. A little every day is always better than a two hour marathon the night before your lesson or gig.
“I don’t have time” is something I hear from students more than any other excuse. Seeing a teacher once a week won’t make you Bonnie Raitt. Practice, however, will. (If you’re a woman, have John Raitt as your dad and steep yourself in the blues you could at least turn into her guitar-playing cousin.)
Sure, you’ve got a life. If you’re sick or working a lot of overtime, cut yourself some slack. If you find yourself missing practice on a regular basis, though, you might want to reevaluate whether this is a good time to learn an instrument.
4. Use your time wisely
Slowly play through the entire piece you want to learn. Don’t stop at your mistakes. Note the difficult spots and isolate those, playing them through a few times. Then play the whole song again. Always play slowly at first and then gradually speed up. Otherwise, you’ll make mistakes your fingers will remember. (Muscle memory is a powerful thing.) When you get to the speed where you’re making mistakes again it’s time to stop for that day and move on to another piece.
5. Shoot for something just beyond your current skill level
If you just know a few chords don’t try to learn a Hendrix solo. Learn a few blues scales and then tackle that solo. You want to feel some accomplishment, not defeat because you didn’t instantly turn into a guitar or mandolin hero. (Hmm, “Purple Haze” on the mandolin. There’s an idea.)
6. Choose something you enjoy playing
Scales are great to learn – especially if you want to be a good lead player – but it’s also important to learn a song you really like. I look at it like a meal. First I eat my vegetables – practice scales or read a difficult piece – then I eat dessert – maybe learn that cool Bonnie Raitt tune I’m excited about.
Above all, practice! Great musicians are not born; they sweat until they get to where they want to be. So go sweat. A workout is always good for you ‘cause then you get to eat dessert. And I never skip dessert.
If you live in Ottawa, ON or Durham, NC, and you need guitar, mandolin or ukulele lessons, I’m your woman. Contact me here.