The Four Pillars Of Guitar Practice
This post is about a topic I’ve been mulling over for some time now – what are the essential elements that make a guitar practice session truly worthwhile?
Basically I’ve boiled it down to 4 elements. Just like the 4 legs of a table, if one of the legs is missing your table will be rather wonky. If 2 or more legs are missing, then you probably won’t be able to eat your breakfast! I digress.
Herein I unveil the 4 Pillars of Practice! They are:
I suppose you could make an acronym that spells ARIA to help you remember, however the order is quite relevant. If there are any readers out there with a catchy way to remember these 4 words please let me know!
Anyway here’s what each of these words mean:
This is your goal for the guitar practice session, which is clearly definable within a timeframe.
You may have quite a few goals for each practice session. An example could be:
“For the next 10 minutes I am going to figure out all the technical details for the left hand in bars 4-9 of this Scarlatti sonata.”
Or it could be much less specific – “I’m going to play this piece a few times just to have fun and get the feel of it.”
A practice session without a clearly definable goal is probably the main reason why students seem not to get very far in their practice. If you aren’t achieving many results, then you probably won’t be enjoying yourself that much either.
This basically means concentration. If you don’t focus on the task at hand that you set as your intention you will not get anywhere.
You may be surprised how many interruptions can take place during your practice session if you’re not careful, generated both by others or yourself – iPhones are a most excellent way to distract yourself from what you should be doing!
Be diligent in continually bringing yourself back to the task at hand, asking yourself “have I really done this for 10 minutes yet?” or “have I actually played it 3 times?”
Ok – so you’ve followed the first 2 pillars and you have actually figured out how to play bars 4-9 in the left hand of your piece.
However, this is the crucial mistake many students make: they have figured out how to do something, however they have not learnt how to do it. These two things are quite different.
Learning new words in a foreign language, remembering a friend’s phone number, or being able to sing a melody off the radio all use the mechanism of repetition to record the information in your brain.
We are creatures of habit: just like every time it rains water tends to form depressions in the earth over time to make streams and then gradually to rivers, so do our minds become accustomed to information.
Repetition is actually carving out the electrical channels in your brain that is the stored patterns of your pieces.
Repetition is a double-edged sword though – if not used carefully it can create a lot of problems. Read on to find out why…
This is like your quality control mechanism to your repetition.
If you are lacking an awareness of how good each repetition is, you may actually be learning the wrong patterns!
Quite often students are quite perplexed as to why things don’t seem to sound as good in a lesson. I’m sure the reason is that it was sounding exactly the same at home, however in a lesson they are much more aware of their mistakes!
Each time you repeat a passage, think to yourself along these lines:
“Was I happy with the sound of what I just played?”
“I’m noticing a recurring problem – should I play only a section of this passage?”
“Is this section feeling easy and playable or do I feel like I’m only barely getting it under my fingers? Maybe I should play it at an easier pace?”
Questions like this to yourself can ensure that you aren’t wasting too much time practicing inaccurate patterns that you will eventually have to pick apart at some point down the track, essentially doubling the time taken to learn a piece.
If you are very mindful in your guitar practice and cultivate these 4 pillars (and I’m speaking from experience), you can achieve loads more on your instrument in far less time, and the time you do spend on your instrument is far more enjoyable.
You don’t get bogged down in technical problems or memory lapses so much when your practice has a firm foundation, and you can then focus more of your energy on expressing the meaning and feeling in the music.
Thanks very much for reading and I hope these thoughts help you on your musical journey. Do you have any more ideas on what the important elements of guitar practice are?
Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below, I would love to hear from you. Happy practicing!
(Image: pillars in the Great Mosque of Cordoba, Spain, courtesy of SuperCar-RoadTrip.fr on Flickr)