The other day a student from Berklee College of Music asked me if I could give him an advice. Not just any advice – but my best advice to a young guitar player, who wanted to “live my life” and play the type of jobs I’ve done.
That was a tough one. There’s so many things I can think of depending on what you’re focusing at – I mean should it be concerning networking, education, playing gigs, recording sessions, getting the right guitar or practicing … well “practicing” – that’s a god place to start. So here it is … at least one of them 🙂
Everyone who is thinking of being a professionel (musician) knows that you have to practice/study (hard). Personally I was told this the very first time by my brother when I was around ten years old. From that day I started to practice a bit more seriously. Later on I practiced many hours every day.
Did it pay off? Yes … my playing improved – and that motivated me to practice even harder.
Did that pay off? No … but that motivated me to practice even more – sometimes I could practice for ten hours a day.
Did that change anything? A bit … but not as much as I wanted it to. Actually that was very de-motivating. Maybe my overall speed became a little faster or my timing a little better, but I didn’t feel a big difference between practicing a couple of hours and ten hours a day – very frustrating. But one day everything changed.
My practicing routines
Before this change, I would start warming up by slowly playing some scales I knew well. Then I would continue repeating some of the exercises I did the day before – slowly speeding things up and move them around in all keys. When I’ve done this for some hours I would play to minus-one tracks or cd’s I liked to play along to. Then take a break and after that return and do some other exercises. Often this would be variations of the things I’ve practiced earlier that day. And then I would end my practice by playing a bit more to tracks or cd’s I liked again.
After the change
I warm up either by playing scales or inversions of a scale I don’t know. Things I haven’t played before. Very slowly, since it is new – but that’s cool since I want to warm up anyway. When I’m ready to play a little faster, I use the new scale or inversion I just have been practicing for the exercises of the day. I will change those every day, even if I don’t master the exercise 100 procent. When I have played an exercise for maybe 30 minuttes, I allow myself to have fun and play along to a track … but every day a new track, not one I’m used to play along to and I’ll force myself to use the exercise I just have been practicing “for every second bar” … so it is implemented in my playing.
When I practice like this it is hard to practice just for a few hours – I become mentally exhausted. If I have more energy after a 15 minuttes break, I’ll find another scale, inversion or rhythmically way to practice the same scale or inversion, and after 30-45 minuttes of practicing that, I’ll find another track to play along to – again with the intension to implement what I just practiced into my playing.
when I started to practice that way, it maked a change … a big change – suddenly my playing improved much more, even though I was practicing half the time I did before.
My best advice
Therefore … my best advice: “Always practice something you’re not able to play”!!!
If it sounds great while you’re practicing, you’re are not practicing. It’s supposed to sound bad when you’re practicing, just like it’s supposed to sound great when you’re playing for real. If you are able to play a certain riff, scale or exercise: move forward … either to another exercise or to integrating the stuff into your playing. If you “practice” stuff you’re able to play … you are actually NOT practicing – you are only enjoying how great you are, and repeating stuff you already know.
If you aren’t exhausted after a couple of hours exercising, you are not practicing. Imagine you’re going to the gym and workout for 4 hours but with no weight added, you won’t sweat, and your strength won’t improve … “but I’ve worked out for 4 (four) hours”! … right 🙂
Of cause we all need an hour or more to “keep in shape” every now and then … doing exercises to keep the speed up or something like that – that’s ok, if you’re doing it at the end your rehearsing day. It’s to keep your muscles “warm” and keep your flow running – that’s fine and great to do – but don’t expect your musical language to improve by doing this 8 hours a day.
Start with something that need your focus – 100% concentration – and when you’re tired you can do the no-brain-training 🙂
So: Always practice something you’re not able to do … and you will without doubt experience seriously improvements.