The Practice Atmosphere

What a silly title!

I think it is fitting though because I have been asked to make some points about practice that will affect our progress in ways that we may not be aware.This subject is less about the ‘How’, and more about under which circumstances.

Let’s think ‘Who, What, Where, When and Why’.

I want to start with the ‘Who’ because of some statements that I have heard entirely too much of this week.‘Well, my mom didn’t tell me to practice’.Well, did your momma tell me she wanted to play guitar, or did you?

If you want to play guitar, then play it.Don’t just fool around and think you’re going to wake up one day and be a rock star.Oh, and by the way, a shiny new instrument doesn’t make you play better either.Granted, we might be more motivated to play a new instrument, but the instrument itself usually does not make us better players.Spending time on the instrument while paying attention to what you are doing, and working on what your weaknesses are will make you a better player.

Here is another comment that drives me bonkers: ‘Everything’.This is what I hear from certain students when I ask them what they worked on during the past week.It is better to work on one area for a large amount of time rather than a number of areas in small amounts of time.By the way, remember that we can only practice what we understand.

So, unless you know ‘Everything’, I bet you didn’t work on it.

Maybe I am being petty, but I think that the words we choose are very important to clear communication.

That is just my opinion.

When we practice should be daily.I am certain that I have mentioned this at least once to every student when they start taking lessons.Do you watch TV everyday?Do you play video games everyday?I watch TV as well as play video games.I do it a little bit each week, usually on the weekends.

We do not need to practice for hours at a time.Just a few minutes each day is better than skipping any days.Playing something one time is not practicing.Mindlessly noodling through a part with mistakes forty-five times in a row is not practicing properly.

Remember: Practice makes permanent!What you do repeatedly is what you will do automatically.The purpose of practice is to create the skill of playing something exactly as we intend to with little effort.

Many times we have heard: ‘Practice makes perfect.’


I believe that we can play anything perfectly if we are working carefully and slowly.Of course, we should always make time to play our instruments with complete abandon.No thinking, planning or care during this time on our instrument is important.I need to do more of this myself.

Think about where you practice.Is it in a room with the TV on?Is it in a room with screaming wives, husbands or children?Is it in a room next door to a stone-deaf forty year-old playing the same blues-rock riffs to an ostinato bass figure with his amp on 10?

Does he know what ‘Ostinato’ means?What about ‘Obnoxious’?

Ideally, we should practice in a space that is free from distractions to our hearing and vision.This means we should be able to concentrate on what we are trying to hear and see during our practice time.This is not always possible, but we should strive for an ideal practice space just as we should strive for perfection with what we are practicing.

Wouldn’t that make the world a much better place?



P.S. I didn’t forget the ‘Why’; that is for the individual to decide.Why do you want to play?

How to Practice II

In last week’s installment, I mentioned that I will give more detail of point one of the ‘How to Practice’ rules.Remember: 1. Know what you are doing.The reason this is rule #1 is because unless we understand what to do, we cannot be successful.It is impossible.

Our brains tell our bodies what to do.At least that is the process for most of us.

Recently, I have been working with a few students who are either struggling with playing a specific rhythm, or we are just working on some basic rhythm ideas.So, I will use rhythm practice for the examples in this article.

There is much confusion concerning written music’s notation of rhythm.I will not get too involved in my usual debunking of common thought concerning music’s notation of rhythm, while at the same time, hopefully creating a basic understanding of the concept of rhythm and its relationship to an underlying pulse.

First, let’s define ‘underlying pulse’.What I mean by ‘underlying pulse’ are the points during a song where we feel the need to clap, snap our fingers, and tap our foot.Perhaps not all three at once since we all have different levels of coordination.

Most of the music we hear on ‘Pop Radio’ is in a time feel of ‘4’.What I mean by ‘Pop Radio’ is everything other than jazz or classical that one would hear on a public radio station.Then again, what we hear on public radio does not always challenge our sense of time either, but I digress.

By the way, I certainly do not use the word ‘Pop’ in any condescending manner.I enjoy all music that is constructed and played well.I am just old and cannot keep up with all of the labels that seem to multiply exponentially.

Concerning the time feel of ‘4’, one could listen to nearly any radio station and count the beats where we would clap, snap our fingers, or tap our foot: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4 …Try it; I’ll wait.

See what I mean?Now, here is the next exercise:Listen to an instrument in the song that you can hear very easily.Does this instrument play one thing per beat?How about two things per beat?Usually we would hear combinations of one, two, or more events per beat.As an example, if you listen to the bass instrument, we might hear one note per beat, two notes per beat, and sometimes four notes per beat.

This is the relationship I mentioned above.We have a beat in the music that we want to react to that is constant and we have other musical activities that are interacting with the beat and are usually in between the beats.This is where we start to understand the concept of ‘events per beat’.These are usually: 1, 2, 3, and 4 events per beat in most of the music that we hear.

When I start working with a student on playing in ‘time’, or with rhythm, we usually start by strumming one note per beat with a metronome.This is easiest because we hear the beat and we are playing a chord or note each time the beat happens.For those of you who have tried this, it is not quite as easy as it may seem.After this, we would play two strums of a chord, or two plucks of a note per beat.This is where the beginner usually has difficulty.

At first, we are playing at the same time as the metronome.The metronome clicks; we play our chord or note.With two events per beat, the second event is to be played while the metronome is in between beats.

What do we hear in between the beats?Well, we hear nothing in between the beats.That is what makes this difficult to do.We must listen to what we are playing in the silence and its relationship to the beats and hear that these are evenly spaced.Keep in mind, that as discussed in How to Practice I, we have no inherent ability to judge the passage of time.So, we are listening to the relationship of what we play and when the metronome clicks to hear whether or not we are ‘on time’.

Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

Here is how to practice this concept of two events per beat:Play one chord or note per beat at 100 BPM (Beats Per Minute – Use a metronome!).Then change the metronome speed to 50 BPM and play at the same physical speed you were at 100 BPM (One event per beat at 100 BPM = Two events per beat at 50 BPM).Then, to eventually move to four events per beat, bring your skill up to two events per beat at 100 BPM and then change the metronome speed to 50 BPM and play at the same physical speed that you were just using at 100 BPM (Two events per beat at 100 BPM = Four events per beat at 50 BPM).

Please remember that if you are rather new to playing with a metronome, or you are new to playing in general, this process could take several weeks.Again, we must first understand what to do before we can develop the physical skill required to actually do it.

So, to summarize: Know the concept of events per beat; start with what is easiest – One event per beat; and move up in tempo until you can play just as fast and evenly with the metronome set at half the speed you were just playing.

Now let’s see who can achieve eight events per beat!



P.S. If your mind is completely boggled by these concepts of time, or you would like to see this process demonstrated, let me know by e-mail or by comment below.I am chomping at the bit to have a subject to make a video of for my YouTube account.

How to Practice I

I was recently having a discussion with a group of students concerning the definition of practicing. We only came up with two points.Simple, eh?

How to practice: 1. Know what you are doing.2. Do it correctly.

Most of what causes our practice to be unproductive is simply being wrong in one or both of the areas.

Let’s start with point two.You think I’m kidding?Break the mold.Be daring.Start with number two.

This is where, in my opinion, we all get it wrong.Yes, this includes me.

‘Well, I tried.’Have you ever thought this, or said it?This is the greatest obstacle for all of us.Have you ever heard the quote: ‘There is no try, only do’?We either do something, or we don’t do something.Sure, we can do poorly, and we can do well.In both instances we are doing.

We should give ourselves some room for error when we do something, but we should be certain to limit how many times we make errors.

If, for example, I play something wrong fifteen times in a row, what will happen the sixteenth time?Will I play it perfectly?No, absolutely not.Something about our approach is causing us to fail so many times in a row.If we do something incorrect more than 4-5 times we should stop immediately and examine what is wrong in our effort.99% of the time the issue is trying to do something at too high of a tempo.In life, it is doing something within too small of a time frame.

The first step we should take when we realize that we are attempting to play something at too high of a tempo is to reduce our tempo by 50%.Most students, not mine of course, attempt to play as fast as they can and without a metronome.Fiction you say?Hardly.

How do I know this?Have I ever asked you to play what you worked on during our week apart and you did not ask me to turn the metronome on?Yeah, that’s right, sad face now.

Here’s a news flash for some of you: Humans are unable to be aware of the passage of time without a system of marking it.Think: Watches, Clocks, Calendars, Seasons, and etcetera.This is why we have these things.We don’t know what time it is.

(It’s 12:18 AM, What does AM and PM mean anyway?)

Still don’t believe me.Here is another example: One hour of math; one hour of TV or Playstation (Xbox, Wii, whatever.)Which hour is faster?

Neither.Each hour is 60 minutes in length.Of course you knew that, but to us it doesn’t feel that way.

The point is that no matter how difficult something is to do, if we allow ourselves to work as slowly as necessary we can play absolutely anything well.The reason we start with easier things and progress to the more difficult is because we want to play anything well and soon.Even I do this.See point four of ‘Practice vs. Rehearsal I’.

We must play things within our reach in regard to our current level of skill.This is related to point one in the above definition of practice.‘Know what you are doing’.Not only do we need to know what we are doing, but also what we are currently capable of, so that we don’t make ourselves crazy trying to play something too far beyond our reach.

I will write in more detail about point one in the next installment.

Until then, thanks for reading and have a great week.


Cheap Music Lessons

Practice vs. Rehearsal II (Again)

Note to self: Autosave. (I hate crashes!)

I will start with pointing everyone to a website by Ms. Jamey Andreas that covers the art of practicing guitar to a degree that you might not have dreamed possible:

Here are some thoughts I have about practice that I will label as rules. I only do this because we usually consider statements labeled as rules to be more important than those labeled as opinion. I think everything is an opinion, of course, that is just my opinion.

For the web-hip: IMHO.

Practice Rule #1: Practice everyday. Even if only for a little while, you should pick up your instrument and do something. Imagine applying the answer I get concerning your practice for the week if I had asked you: ‘Did you brush your teeth this week?’

Practice Rule #2: Know the difference between practicing and playing. Both are important, but should be separate. Practicing is getting better at a particular skill, as defined in the Practice vs. Rehearsal I installment, and playing is enjoying what you are able to do. We should all be sure to do both. I need to play more; some of us need to practice more. We all struggle with balance.

Practice Rule #3: The notes we play mean nothing if they are played at the wrong time. Use your metronome when you are supposed to use it. I could name names, but you know who you are: the metronomeless. I know some of you have a metronome but simply can’t find it; look under your bed.

Practice Rule #4: Every practice session should end with you being better than when you started. If not, then something is wrong. It could be that you are trying to learn something too far beyond your current skill. You could be trying to play the material too fast.

 (Again with the metronome you say!)

Practice Rule #5: Don’t bore yourself. Yes, some of what we have to do is boring, but don’t let things get to the point that you don’t want to play music. For the beginner, almost everything is boring compared to what you want to be able to do right now. It is important to make what you are doing as interesting as possible. Sometimes, I have practiced playing just one note. I often show this to advanced students who play too many notes and do not make a distinct musical statement. If you want to know more about one note practicing ideas, let me know and I will be happy to show you.

Keep in mind that these ‘Rules’ are simply what I think are: “Some of the Most Important Things about Practice That Students and Players Get Wrong.” That’s just too long of a title though.