The amount of talent we have is not something we can change. Some people have a better ear than others, though there are ways to improve that too. However there is one thing we all can do to be a better instrument player: Practicing.
Practice makes perfect! When it is done right of course. How much you practice and how well you practice makes all the difference.
In the 20 years of playing, I worked with a lot of musicians with very different styles. Used quite few books written with great guitar players in my practicing routine. Browsed a lot of websites when I felt frustrated and needed help. I want to sum up what I gathered within my experience. Not everybody should use the same routine or have the same habits, but in my opinion there are some golden rules. And hopefully some of these tips will help some of the readers!
Practice with a metronome
No-brainer! But also something that can also be ignored quite easily. Heavy metal is a music style that requires speed. Even though you don’t need to be a shredder to be a good guitar player, there is no harm in having the technical capability to use when you want to use it! But being able to play with blasting speeds isn’t that impressive if you can’t keep it with the time. Maybe not every time you practice, but metronome should be a very important part of your routine.
You can’t play fast if you cannot play something properly slow. This is important to make sure you have the technique right. There are different methods when it comes to utilizing different tempos while practicing. Starting slow is crucial. You can increment the tempo one by one. Or you can go two levels up and one level down. After playing slow, you can try to increase the tempo to double the speed (this may not be possible for all exercises or tempos of course). This may give your brain a hint of what is expecting you at the end of the long practicing routine. Regardless of what method you are using, there is no point in increasing the tempo if you can’t play an exercise properly with a lower tempo. Be patient! It pays of…
Know when to move forward
Practice until you can’t play it wrong, not until you can play it right. Playing an exercise wrong for 50 times and managing to play it right on the 51st time is not the point you should aim for. If it takes that much to play it right, you should go back one step. This can be lowering the tempo, or splitting the exercise into smaller pieces until you pinpoint the problem and focus on it. When you can repeat an exercise properly for numerous times back to back, then it is the time to move forward. How many times? I generally use the one minute method.Try to play something properly for one minute straight without making any mistakes, wrong or missing notes. Made a mistake? 1 minute period starts from the top! Believe me, that 1-minute can take a pretty long time
Know when to stop
No pain, no gain is something you should definitely avoid when you are practicing guitar (or any other instrument really)! If there is anything wrong with your posture, you have to fix it first. Pay attention to how you are holding your guitar, whether there is any unnecessary load on your shoulders or neck, or whether you are using the proper strap or seat. If you are feeling muscle pain, stop and give it a rest. Don’t force it! We all want to be better players and we want it fast! But we also want to continue to be able to play it for long years to come.
Don’t practice for a few days and then leave a gap for a few weeks/months. Life will always be busy and there will be times that you canâ€™t reserve the time that you need, but donâ€™t fool yourselves. If you have time to watch a sitcom, you probably have time to play guitar.
Make it count
I have heard different approaches on this one. I will share my opinion, may not be in sync to what most think. I like to dedicate my time fully to practicing. Some people say they work on some exercises when they are watching TV, I personally am not in favor of that. I believe the attention should be on what you are playing, how you are playing and what you are hearing when you are practicing. That way, a shorter amount of time would be worth a lot more.
Color it up
There are a lot of things to work on. From scales to picking patterns, from using the whammy bar to different types of harmonics. It may be quite frustrating to cover the whole spectrum at the same time. Create a routine that you can follow, but also change it once in a while so that you don’t get bored.
Keep track of what you are doing
I am truly a nerd when it comes to documentation and organization, so this might not be very easy to do for most. I do find it very helpful to keep track of the exercises that I am working on though. It is a good thing to see the progress. And if you are also using the “coloring it up” method as above, it may be a good reminder of what you haven’t been working on for a while.
Don’t get frustrated
It is normal to have down days. It happens to everyone! There are quite a few books that you might find helpful. Regardless of what instrument they are playing, what style they are playing, or what gender they are, almost every musician goes through the same problems. Reading about them will make you believe that you are not alone and also learn some tips from them. We will have a section with some book recommendations in the near future. Most of the time you get frustrated though, there is probably something you can do to make the practicing experience better (hopefully most of them covered in this article). It is also OK to give a break if the frustration prevents you from being productive. You also have to accept that not everybody can or will be featured in Guinness World Records. You just need to find your style of playing and be comfortable with it.
Being a good musician requires a lot of hard work. Music still should be fun though. You may be a struggling artist, but you should always remember the goal and continue having fun doing it.
Written by: Metal Piggy