Practicing. What is it and how do you do it?
I think developing good practicing habits and a good practicing schedule is a must. My practice schedule changes, as I am constantly working on new different things.
Never be Stagnant
I think one of the biggest things I should point out is to never have a stagnant practice routine. Having a routine itself should be the only thing that is a routine. What you do within the time you can practice should always be evolving or changing. One of the many mistakes I made during my first couple years was developing a ridged practice routine that didn’t account for expanding ideas and concepts, but rather running the same scale/arpeggio over and over to get faster. Faster is a product of effecient practicing, not under development.
Practice different things, every day.
Develop an Evolving Warm Up
When you first pick up the guitar run through some of the things you use daily. Sometimes that’s all the open chords and barre chords you know, sometimes that’s open scales, sometimes that’s basic arpeggios and scales or sometimes that’s exotic modes and extended arpeggios and inversions. It all depends on your skill set.
What I mean by evolving is don’t work on the same thing everyday. Maybe you’re really trying to internalize the Minor Scale. One day run it straight through the positions, next day work on an interval exercise through it, next day, run through diatonic triads or a 3 note pattern. I have a lot of technique building video lessons that are there to fluctuate with what you’re working through.
You’re “Warm Up” shouldn’t be more than 1/6 or maybe 1/5 of your practice time you have that day. A little longer if you’re learning a new concept (ie: a new exercise).
Work on Musical Ideas
No, not just turn on a backing track and start playing the same things you always do. A portion of your practice time should be devoted to developing your musical ideas. This can involve singing along with your improv, setting limitations on your scales (only can use certain frets/strings) and singing something and then playing it. Your ear should dictate where your fingers go, not the other way around.
If you’re a beginner, take time to explore chord progressions you’ve seen a handful of times. This might entail using barre chords instead of your open chords and start getting a handle on exploring the instrument so you become more comfortable with it.
Learn New Things/Develop Recently New Things
This is how a lot of people find my site, looking for a new thing to spark their interest. There’s not a linear line that all guitarists follow and what you choose to work on is ultimately up to you. I like to teach in concepts, as most of music follows general concepts. Start looking for one that interests you. I have plenty of things on here, with walk-throughs (Beginner, Intermediate & Advanced) to help guide you.
The important thing is don’t get lost in the black hole of youtube looking for something to grab your attention. I have a list of things I’d like to get better at and keep it on my computer as a list. I can generally do some thinking about my next step when I’m not practicing so that when my guitar’s in my hand, I already know what I’m going to be working on.
Sometimes learning something new isn’t always the answer, sometimes it’s really making sure you know the older stuff extremely well. For a long time I tried looking for a strange sounding scale I could learn that could start setting me apart, really what it came down to was spending way more time on major/minor triads. I broke everything down into triads and really worked on them. My playing improved 10 fold when just focusing more on things I knew, but maybe not well enough.
Learn Songs/Analyze Songs
Take a song you really like, not one you think is most impressive and learn that one. You are what you eat, and your musical ear is only as good as what you put into it. So listen to songs you want to learn. Try as hard as you can to learn them by ear. If you can’t, double check the tab/chord chart your using by playing it with the song.
When you know a song well enough, start analyzing it. What makes this song stick out from the others? What makes this song tick? Try to make sense of every song you take the time to learn.
Review Previous Work & Be Critical of Yourself
Don’t forget to take time to review stuff you’ve spent time on in the past. Make a list of songs/concepts you’ve worked on and try to run through them.
Don’t forget to listen to yourself honestly. Record yourself and analyze what you do like and what you don’t like. If you can’t diagnose the problem, ask someone’s opinion. Once you diagnose the problem, you now have something to work on for next time. Plus, it’s great to have documentation of how you sounded in the past to remind you that you are making strides.
I’m not going to tell you how long you should practice, exactly what to practice or how long to spend on what. I’m more interested in giving you guidelines to make you grow as much as you can. Taking time to learn how to practice is one of the most important things to learn. More important than scales, weird chords or arpeggios. Learning guitar is a series of plateaus followed by sudden bursts of “Ah-ha!” moments. Take your time and be patient. A good practice routine is all you need.