The Practice Routine: A ReBoot

One of my students on TrueFire asked about how to improve his Practice Routine. There are many things we do wrong with our practice time, so I thought my answer to him would be fitting here for other musicians as well.

Here is a portion of his note to me:

“Now that the semester has started, I am thinking I need to get focused on my playing in a more serious way. I would like to keep working on the tunes and improv. I also think that it would be cool to develop an effective practice routine. I do a lot of sub (Substitute Guitarist.) gigs where I have to play some fairly technical stuff, so I have to keep my chops together. My technique practice ends up taking up several hours and puts me in a rush to get my musical work in. I try to cover bending, picking, legato, and hybrid picking every day to maintain my chops. My practice tends to be a ton of exercises for each topic, which may be wasting a bunch of time. I think it would be cool for us to start from scratch and come up with a more effective and time conscious routine, where we cover the topics we need to, but more quickly and focused. As we work on new stuff, we can add it to the routine. Does any of this make sense? ”

Here is my response:

I pulled some phrases from your last communication which I think are most relevant to the subject of your Practice Routine.

They are:

“…Focused on my playing…”
“…More serious way…”
“…Working on tunes and improv…”
“…Effective Practice Routine…”
“…Sub gigs…”
“…Fairly technical stuff…”
“…Keep my chops together…”
“…Technique practice takes several hours…”
“…In a rush to get my musical work in…”
“…Every day to maintain my chops…”
“…Ton of exercises for each topic…”
“…Wasting a bunch of time…”

All of these are the right words, but we need to adopt a different order and priority for them.

Let’s try:
“I need to get my musical work in while being focused on my playing by working on tunes and improv, doing the fairly technical stuff that I need for sub gigs first, every day, by which I will maintain my chops without wasting a bunch of time as my Effective Practice Routine.”

Feel free to print that in a huge font and place it in an easily seen location.

Notice I tossed ‘Serious’ and ‘Several Hours’ and ‘Ton of Exercises’ and ‘Technique Practice’. These are currently useless to you.

Music is fun and we can have ‘Serious’ fun, but do children buckle down and have ‘Serious Play’? No. They just play and learn and develop. We need to do the same.

Why did you want to play guitar? Music. “Technique Practice’ develops skills, but you already have the skill of playing guitar. You only need to practice music, or a specific technique you don’t have for a specific piece of music. The ‘Ton of Exercises’ are now in the music for you.

Nobody learns or develops ‘Several Hours per Day’; we just don’t. It’s too much for our bodies and minds to process. Feel free to spend several hours per day with the guitar, but be aware of what you are doing: Learning Music, Playing Music, or ‘Exercising Guitar’.

In my opinion, if you are exercizing without the concrete goal of developing a specific technique for a specific song, you are wasting time. Sometimes I play through exercise types of books, currently ‘Jazz Guitar School’ by Ike Isaacs, but I just treat it as a musical ‘Snack Time’. Just something light and fun to do while not engaging in the ‘Serious Work’ of learning music.

I hope this helps you and I want you to know that I have struggled with the same issues. It’s too easy for us to ‘Exercise Guitar’ because learning music is actually harder.

Let me know your thoughts.



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