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Guitar Practice: Bad Habits and Their Remedies

Updated on June 15, 2011

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.

Maybe he should evaluate how he's practicing.
Maybe he should evaluate how he's practicing.

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.

Got one but it's collecting dust? Better for you if you used it.
Got one but it's collecting dust? Better for you if you used it.

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!



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    • profile image

      Tina 4 years ago

      Boring article, not worth the time spent to read it.

    • 6 String Veteran profile image

      6 String Veteran 6 years ago

      Thanks. I figure if I can't play the way I want (who can, really?) at least I can give the best advice I can. That way, some meaningful contribution is made. what I can't play Strat-o-various by Greg Howe (LOLs turns to frantic sobs).

    • TTC12 profile image

      TTC12 6 years ago

      Nice article! I have been playing guitar over 30 years and still do not use a metronome much. I should really start to do that. Good advice for any student.

    • 6 String Veteran profile image

      6 String Veteran 6 years ago

      rwelton, glad you came around to it (it's never too late). Though I've been playing for more than 3/4 of my time here I'm learning things now that nearly make many past musical efforts obsolete. So the fun--and education--never ends!

    • rwelton profile image

      rwelton 6 years ago from Sacramento CA

      Great article- saw myself in each paragraph. Just starting bass after 50 years of thinking about it..recently played in public in a little pizza parlor with my guitar teacher and a pick-up band...I am hooked ... doubled my practice time...after hearing me repeat "Smoke on the Water" 1000 times, my wife bought me a metronome...single best thing I've done since the start...


    • 6 String Veteran profile image

      6 String Veteran 6 years ago

      PlatinumOwl4, the story you related (about Grover Washington, Jr.) is amazing...if he wasn't already famous that criticism could have been devastating.

      Telling someone 'not to quit their day-job' isn't a comment a mature instructor would make. The decision to pursue an artistic career--or any career outside of one's current vocation--has less to do with talent or skill than with the need for self-expression. Instructors should focus on students' skills, not their desires to express themselves.

    • 6 String Veteran profile image

      6 String Veteran 6 years ago

      Anusha15, thanks for your comments.

    • 6 String Veteran profile image

      6 String Veteran 6 years ago

      Princess... I'm glad you found this hub useful. Let me know if you plan on implementing any of the suggested remedies. I'd like to know if you notice any differences.

    • platinumOwl4 profile image

      platinumOwl4 6 years ago

      There are two types of criticisms, one is constructive and the other is destructive. This is constructive. I had an opportunity to meet Grover Washington Jr. After his performance he gave a small talk about setting your goal and don't allow people to deter you. He gave an example. He decided after becoming famous and selling a large number of albums worldwide to enroll in some music classes. After a few sessions the instructor informed him "what ever your day job is you should keep it, you are not very good" Mr. Washington brought in some of his million dollar Seller albums. The instructor held to his original opinion. This is an example of destructive criticism.

    • anusha15 profile image

      Anusha Jain 6 years ago from Delhi, India

      That's what I'll call a constructive hub. With solid good advice. Knowledge sharing is important, but to focus on its constructiveness is equally crucial.

    • princesswithapen profile image

      princesswithapen 6 years ago

      What a nice read this has been. Unfortunately I make all these mistakes. Time to learn a thing or two I guess.

      Great hub 6sv!