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Practice Routines For Learning Guitar

"You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail." -  (Charlie Parker)

If someone could devise a one size fits all practice routine for learning guitar, they would be making a lot of money. The truth is that what works for one musician simply won’t necessarily work for the next musician.

We all have varying amounts of time we can commit to practice and also varying responsibilities that get in the way of time with our instruments. The advice from Charlier Parker to just practice, practice and practice is obvious, but what constitutes effective practice? In this blog, jazz guitar student Andrew Bowen outlines several approaches to effective practicing - because time playing guitar doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re learning guitar.

learning guitar

Plan Practice

When you start a new session, do you just pick up your guitar and pick up where you left off? Having a clear idea of what you’re going to focus on is essential for purposeful practice. There are several ways you can do this. Students of Andreas Oberg's jazz guitar lessons can use the practice charts to plan how you intend to use your time.  Additionally you could use an app on your phone or you could purchase a printed practice planner.  I’ve previously tried using a spreadsheet and found this works, but I’ve opted for something simpler; a whiteboard. You could use a mini whiteboard or just use a notepad. To do this, break your practice into components. I use the following:

·       Warm up/technique exercises

·       Arpeggios/outlining changes to jazz standards

·       Repertoire: AGU tunes or songs I’m learning for my band

·       Scales

·       Ear exercises – intervals/transcribing licks

·       Vocabulary- learning licks

·       Tricks and techniques – harmonics, stacked 4ths etc…

·       Chords – Gypsy jazz chords/rhythm practice

Obviously the content of what you practice will differ from person to person. I tend to practice for 1.5 hrs a day (minimum). I allow ten minutes for warming up and then pick four areas to work on and allow 20 minutes for each area.

Practice in short bursts

If possible, regular daily practice (no matter how short) is better than an epic eight hour session on your day off.  It also advisable to practice something for no more than 20 minutes and then to take a short break. That way your concentration and ability to commit what you’re learning to memory will be stronger. For example, you might do the following:

5 min Warm up exercises

20 min Arpeggios – outlining chord changes

Break 5-10 min doing something completely different. It’s good to leave the area of your practice.

20 min Repertoire- learning new a tune

Break and so on….

If time is hard to find…

Be creative. Andreas Oberg believes that you don’t need to have your guitar with you to practice. If you commute to work, use the time to listen to versions of songs that you’re learning.  Alternatively, listen to backing tracks and try and sing improvisations. I’ve even used car journeys to work on learning intervals.  If you learn visually, listen to something you’re learning and try and visualise the fret board.  This can be a useful way to commit pieces to memory.

Try changing your routine. Set yourself goals and try to be very specific about what you want to get out your practice before picking up the guitar. Planning your practice will help you to make the most of your time while learning guitar.  Both Martin Taylor and Andreas Oberg offer a fantastic range online guitar lessons using ArtistWorks Video Exchange Learning Platform. If you haven't already, be sure to have a look at these free guitar lessons for a taste of what it's like.  

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