5 Guitar Practice Habits That Make You A Better Guitarist
By Tom Hess
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Effective Guitar Practice Habit #1: Focusing On The Right Things At The Right Time
The better you can focus, the more effective your guitar practice becomes. Focusing on the right things at the right time helps you solve your guitar playing problems and develop new skills. You can learn (and improve) this skill, even if you lack it naturally.How to focus correctly on fixing your guitar playing problems: Stop mindlessly repeating exercises over and over. Instead, isolate the specific notes that give you trouble. This helps you identify why your guitar playing breaks down and fix your mistakes more easily (more on this below).
Common mistake to avoid: Not isolating enough notes. Isolate your problem using just the right amount of context. “Context” refers to 2-4 notes before and after the hardest part of the phrase. This helps you identify the cause of the problem and fix it. It also makes it easier to integrate the problem back into the phrase once it is fixed.Watch this video to learn how to correctly isolate your guitar playing challenges, so you can master them quickly:
Effective Guitar Practice Habit #2: Attention To Detail
Many guitarists practice with an unfocused mind. Some do it because they don’t know what to focus on. Others think that practicing = repeating something over and over. False! Mindless repetition only makes you better at repeating your mistakes.
Effective guitar practice is about:
- Focusing on the right things, in the right order and in the right way.
- Drilling perfect technique into your muscle memory, so you always use the right technique when you play.
- Achieving specific goals with each practice session (more on this below).
Answer: The “right things” are guitar playing elements that must be mastered to solve your guitar playing problems. Examples include: learning to collapse the first knuckle of the fretting hand fingers to do finger rolling; pushing the pick through the strings correctly when sweep picking; muting string noise using your picking hand’s thumb. Note: these elements do not need to be guitar technique related. The “right things” also include fretboard visualization, music theory knowledge, ear training skills and guitar phrasing nuances (to name a few).
The “right order” is the priority in which these elements need to be mastered. Some guitar playing elements are more urgent to master than others. The priority is determined by your skill level, your musical goals, your available practice time, your personality and many other things.
Fact: the order in which you practice and develop your skills matters greatly. Many guitarists have no idea in what order they should develop their skills. This is one reason why most struggle to become great musicians. (Self-taught guitar players suffer the most from this problem.)
To practice the right way, carefully listen to the notes you are playing and observe your technique. This tells you if you are practicing correctly or incorrectly, so you can make the right adjustments to keep yourself on track.Want to learn how to develop this habit and make your guitar playing feel very easy? Download this free guitar technique eGuide to learn how to master fretting hand finger independence and never struggle again to improve your guitar technique.
Effective Guitar Practice Habit #3: Make It Easy
Great guitarists make their playing look easy…because it is easy (for them). Effective guitar practice is about training your guitar playing to feel effortless. Look for ways to simplify everything about your guitar playing (without sacrificing musical expression or phrasing).One way to simplify your guitar playing is to use the most efficient fingering possible. Don’t take fretting hand fingering for granted. Think it through and simplify it as much as you can. Improving your fretting hand fingering can be a big shortcut to mastering what you are practicing.
Effective Guitar Practice Habit #4: Ask The Right Questions
Guitarists who make fast progress ask the right questions when they practice. They understand that:
- There is always a reason why they currently can’t do something on guitar.
- There is a specific path to follow to play guitar the way they want.
Their questions help them understand the causes of their guitar playing problems. Their practicing eliminates these causes and improves their guitar playing.
The right questions focus your mind on the results you want. They are specific, empowering and objective. Here are examples of the right questions to ask:
“How can I learn to do X effortlessly and fluently?” (“X" being the guitar playing skill you want to develop.)
“What must I improve in my guitar playing or practicing to master X?”
“How can I maximize my guitar practice time to get results faster?”
“How should I practice guitar to play consistently and reliably without mistakes?”
The best guitarists don’t always know the answers to these questions…but they commit to finding them out. Asking the right questions is the first step to success. You develop self-reliance and confidence in your ability to reach your goals.
Guitarists who struggle to make progress fill their mind with complaints and negativity. They ask disempowering questions (and make negative statements) that kill their motivation, such as:
“How long does it take to get past this plateau?”
“Am I too old to play guitar well?”
“What if I don’t have talent?”
“How do I find motivation to practice guitar?”“I can’t practice guitar as much as I want, this is why I can’t reach my musical goals.”
These questions and beliefs slow down your progress, kill your self-confidence and keep you stuck.
Effective Guitar Practice Habit #5: Practice With Purpose
See each guitar practice session as a step towards your larger musical goals. This helps you stay focused on the big picture and improve your guitar playing quickly.
Here is how to develop a sense of purpose in your guitar practice:
- Visualize yourself already having reached your ultimate musical goals. Think about it often (while driving, while walking, while falling asleep, while taking a shower, etc.). This increases your motivation and helps you do the steps below.
- Break down your ultimate goal into smaller goals. These smaller goals should be stepping stones towards playing guitar the way you want. Plan these goals for each year, quarter, month and week of your practicing. This musical goals manifestation page tells you what skills are needed to master the guitar.
Tip: “mastery” refers to learning skills in isolation, applying them to music and integrating them together.
This guitar practice video explains how musical mastery is achieved:
Question: “Tom Hess, I don’t know how to break down my big long-term goal(s) into smaller goals. What should I do?”
Answer: Work with a guitar teacher to go through this process with him/her. A great guitar teacher helps you set and achieve goals the way a sports coach guides an athlete to victory in competition. This takes out all guesswork from the process for you and leaves you free to simply practice and have fun playing guitar.
- Plan your guitar practice schedules for several days at a time. This helps you see each practice session as a small stepping stone towards musical mastery.
Creating practice schedules for one day at a time makes it hard to see how each guitar practice session moves you towards your goals. This decreases your motivation and your practicing becomes less effective.
Tip: You don't need a lot of practice materials to practice guitar with purpose. You can develop many skills with a single practice item by changing what you focus on.
About Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He teaches rock guitar lessons online to students from all over the world and conducts instructional live guitar training events attended by musicians from over 50 countries.
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