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  • Writer's pictureJames Leitch

How (not) to Practice*

Updated: Oct 23, 2019

If you want to make minimal or no progress on your instrument, the good news is, it’s very easy! Just follow these simple steps.

Be inconsistent.

First of all, skip today. Maybe practice tomorrow or the day after. Try to avoid playing for multiple days in a row, but every so often is fine. When you do practice, make sure it’s for several hours at a time with minimal or no breaks. You’re only practicing a few days a week and if you want to learn new stuff, the trick is to cram as much of it into one brutally long session as possible.

Practice things you’re already good at.

Maybe you’ve been playing this first position chord progression in E minor or this lick you figured out for 2 years and it sounds pretty good. Maybe there’s a song you sing every time you have friends over or at every gig you play. As soon as you pick the guitar up, do those things you’re already great at. After you get bored pick a song you like and don’t already know and get a chart off of somewhere like Ultimate Guitar. If it turns out it’s hard to play, start playing that stuff you’re already good at again.

Try not to focus.

This isn’t supposed to feel like work. You are going for mindless repetition here, so a good idea is to turn on the TV, keep your phone handy, or have a laptop open to YouTube, and let your mind wander. When you’ve got a song you want to play, and you have a source to give you all the notes, don’t try to visualize anything. If you absolutely must look at a diagram -- say, for a new chord you don’t know -- fine, but that’s it. You have to have your hands on the instrument for it to count as practice. If that song is too hard, pick another song. Maybe play some scales or some cool licks.

Play everything all the way through at tempo every time.

Try to play your new song up to tempo right away, and when you screw up, play that part again once or twice and then move on. Don’t slow down -- it doesn’t sound cool when you play it that way, even if it helps you fix the mistakes. When you get to a real hard part, stop and play the beginning of the song over. You gotta start with the beginning, right? If you get bored, play something else you already know.

Beat your mistakes into submission.

If there’s something you just can’t figure out how to do, it’s probably just that you haven’t repeated it enough. It is definitely not that there’s a better fingering, technique, or way to play the thing you want. Squeeze harder. Play louder. Take your frustrations out on the guitar. Beat your mistakes into submission -- you have to whip the devil out of your fingers! Only 100,000 more repetitions until it’s right.

With this bag of tricks in your possession, you should be no better at guitar in a year than you are today!

*Written on a closed course by a professional guitar teacher. Do not attempt at home.

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