My best advice

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.

Sometimes Soren Reiff has been practicing picking technic for hours. Copyright @ Rishi
Often I’ve been practicing picking technic for hours. Copyright @ Rishi

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.

Soren Reiff has also been practicing scales and inversions for hours. Copyright @ Rishi
I’ve also been practicing scales and inversions for hours. Copyright @ Rishi

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.

I have always thought it was fun practicing. Copyright @ Rishi
I have always thought it was fun practicing – but it’s paying off when I remember my best advice … always pracitce something you can’t play. Copyright @ Rishi

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.



9 Replies to “My best advice”

  1. Great advice, Søren, and it applies even if you are not practicing for hours every day. The basic method of starting a practice session with new material while you are fresh and able to focus 100% and then go to “flow” and “maintenance” stuff later is applicable to all types of players and all levels of ambition.

  2. Hi Søren!
    I think it’s a very nice advice, which i will start use from NOW!
    I’m 17 years old, and really want to be a musician, and i’ve been practicing lot…
    But i’ve got a question:
    You’re writing: “Always practice something you’re not able to play”
    But, is it weird scales you’re practising, when you’re warming up, or just some exercises that you haven’t seen before?
    If it’s scales, isn’t it hard to integrate it into my playing?
    It would be nice if you would send me an example on a exercise to:

    Best Regards

    1. Hi Lasse.
      Good question – I’ll write a post about this with details and examples soon. Till then a fast answer could be: new variatons of an exercise, or other positions of a scale you know, or rhythm variations of an exercise … hope it’ll give you a little inspiration till I’ve written a post with more details.
      All the very best

  3. Well, it is the famous 10.000 hour tile that applies in all crafts… Sport, music, any kind of skill…. You need to put in 10.000 hours. And then the golden rule: amateurs practice the stuff they are good at, professionals practise what they are bad at….
    Good advice Søren….

    1. Yes Steen …I guess I’ve practiced a bit more than 10K hours … and enjoyed most of them 🙂 … and I totally agree on your comment on pro/amateurs.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts

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