Guitar Practice: Bad Habits and Their Remedies
Ineffective Practice Techniques and Their Remedies
My last hub, Too Much Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect, was about common injuries guitar players run the risk of getting due to over-practice. I did not, however, talk about practice itself. This Hub will discuss poor and proper practice techniques.
1. Using the Stutter Method.
The Stutter Method (yes, that’s my term) is an all-too common procedure employed by guitarists—particularly younger ones—where the piece is attempted to be learned by ‘stuttering through’ the notes at irregular tempos and rhythms in the hopes that a polished, finished product will somehow be attained.
This is a very bad habit, hence its placement at the top of the list. The guitarist in this case is practicing nervous, erratic playing (as opposed to calm, relaxed playing), as well as poor rhythm. If you are a Stutterer, there is help. See remedy for #3 (below).
2. Playing a piece over from the start in order to practice a problem area within that piece.
I see students do this all the time (heck, used to do it myself until I knew better). Here the guitarist is walking through the whole park—over and over again--to analyze one tree. The better way is to go directly to the tree. The way out of this bad habit is to recognize that it is ineffective, not to mention time-consuming, then train yourself to identify and isolate the problem parts. But that’s only half of the story. Now the isolated parts need to be practiced with a metronome, and that is an art in itself…please read on.
3. Not practicing with a metronome.
The metronome—not the stand up, pyramid-shaped ones: those can become irregular after a while—is your best friend outside of your guitar, your teacher (if he or she is good), and your band. There is no way around this: serious practice means using a metronome.
A myth is that if you have good rhythm you don’t need a metronome. Totally false, since rhythm-training is just one use of the metronome. Simply put, the metronome is your best personal trainer. But it must be used wisely. Proper management of one’s tempo is the wise way to use this time-keeper.
To perfect a piece or section of that piece, begin at Starting Practice Speed, which should be anywhere from half to 1/3 of Performance Speed. Then move up no more than 5 bpm (beats per minute) at a time.
For example if the song / song section you’d like to learn is 160 bpm, your Starting Practice Speed should be 80 to 110 bpm (less experienced players should start practicing at or close to the lower bpm). So let’s say your ideal Starting Practice Speed for this song is 100. Play the part(s) perfectly at that speed, then move on to 105 bpm and repeat. Then on to 110, etc., until you’ve reached 160 bpm. Then play along with the recording to confirm your achievement. This process TAKES MORE THAN A DAY, so have patience. It could be one or two weeks or two months, depending on the piece and the guitar player.
4. (Not warming up and) playing along with the recording in the hopes that your abilities will somehow meld with the recorded guitarist’s, allowing you to (miraculously) play his / her song / solo, etc., at tempo.
This is a bad habit that lends itself to illusions of grandeur on the part of the player that has this habit. There is a time to play along with the target recording, but only after gradual, disciplined practice. See the remedy for #3 (above).
I might have missed other ineffectual practice techniques but these are the big four. Again, the remedies, in a nutshell, are: identifying and isolating all problem parts, then practicing them with a metronome, being sure to set a Starting Practice Speed so you can work up to the Performance Speed.
Go forth, now, and have productive periods of practice!