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Practicing:

Most music instructors spend their lives convincincg students to heed the guidelines on this page. If you understand the process of practicing effectively, and spend some time every day learning and building up habits, you will reach your goals as a guitarist! It just takes time.

Learning to play guitar is about creating habits. Habits allow you to perform quickly, easily, and naturally - without having to consciously think through every move you make.

The way you develop habit is by repeating a set of actions many times. Anything that you repeat numerous times each day will become habit over a period of weeks. Consciously repeating things on a daily basis, so that they become habit, is the purpose of practice. If you repeat mistakes, confusion, and error while practicing, then those things will also become habit. So, the process of practicing effectively is about identifying and eliminating confusion and error, and repeating things the way you want to be able to play them.

If you want to become a better player, you need to repeat the required movements many times. That truth is inescapable. Some people are naturally gifted - they develop habits quickly - and they don't have to practice as much, but everyone learns by repetition. Repeat the things you want to learn, a little every day, and you have half the battle won.

The other half of the battle has to do with how you practice. Most new music students practice much too quickly. This is usually a result of anxiety and desire. In the beginning, there is so much to learn, and new players typically have a strong desire to learn it all right away. It feels as if the harder and faster one tries, the better and more satisfied one will become. Unfortunately, the faster you practice something, the more mistakes you tend to make. This seems to be another inescapable rule. When you repeat things many times with mistakes, you will learn those things with mistakes. The mistakes you make and the anxiety you feel will become part of the music you learn. To avoid practicing mistakes, go slowly and get things right each time. When the habit kicks in (it usually takes a few weeks for habits to start taking over), you will be able to do things much faster and more easily. Remember, don't practice faster ... practice more if you want to improve more quickly :) Your patience will pay off.

To practice effectively:

1) Repeat manageable sections of music. You need at least 5-10 repetitions to notice any effective improvement, so practice only as much material as you have time/patience to go through multiple times. Going through a piece once does very little to form new habitual patterns. Likewise, the more you practice any section of music, the less you will need to think about every conscious action, and the easier it will get. Take breaks whenever you need to keep your mind fresh, and always return to practicing the same section again (this is great reenforcement).

2) Identify spots that contain repeated mistakes. Sections that you can't play at tempo (i.e., things that you need to slow down to play correctly), or sections that you have to repeat to get right, typically contain the same errors time and again. Trying to perform or record the things you practice, and/or practicing with a metronome are several ways to find those sorts of repeated mistakes. Without doing one of those things, your mind tends to get used to practicing them wrong. If you practice errors, they become habitual, and they begin to feel like a natural part of the music (only to you - not to your listeners). Identifying those kinds of problems is a primary focus, from the beginning of the learning process.

3) Isolate practiced mistakes and repeat manageable portions of difficult sections slowly. *** Anything can be played correctly if you slow it down enough *** You should practice each small chunk of a difficult section until you can get it right 3-5 times in a row, then practice it back in context with surrounding sections, until you can do it 3-5 times in a row without stopping or slowing down, and without mistakes. When you can do that, you have learned it well - it will become a solid habit, and you will be able to play it quickly and cleanly over time.

4) Repeat step 3 until you can perform the whole piece (the thing you are practicing) without problems.

A large part of any good teaching approach is centered around the development of effective and progressive practice techniques. As described above, the main goals are to consistently identify problems, eliminate errors through slow repetition, and repeat manageable chunks of material in and out of context, so that they become fluent over time in the quickest and easiest way possible.

The goal of these lessons is to provide you the most effective and enjoyable materials to learn the kind of music you like (pieces of music, conceptual practice patterns for technical and improvisational advancement, etc.). You will be playing the things you practice many, many times, so they have to be enjoyable and desirable - you have to like the things you practice. They have to be at a level that is achievable, and they must help you develop the skills required to perform the types of music you set out to learn.

You will go through the process on this page many times, sometimes focusing on very small details, and sometimes moving between different pieces to music to maintain variety and interest. If you practice things correctly, a little bit every day - and identify/isolate/eliminate confusion and error - you will be able to play those things within a short matter of time. The speed at which you progress is determined entirely by how much time you spend repeating those things each day, and how effectively you eliminate errors.

Remember, it only gets easier, faster, more fluent, and more enjoyable as habits develop and become ingrained. And everyone does eventually learn! That is another inescapable rule. If you continue to practice, you will continue to get better, slowly but surely, over time. Practice pays off - music is a skill that brings endless satisfaction throughout a lifetime :)  Have fun and good luck!

Copyright 2004-2005 Nick Antonaccio. All rights reserved.