Search for the proper material to practice, material that will improve your playing skills, increase your musical knowledge and inspire your creativity. You should have a systematic study plan that will take your playing and knowledge to the next level. It is also helpful to have 2 or 3 different study materials to work on to avoid boredom and frustration. Organize the materials you want to practice for the next several practice sessions so you don’t waste time daily looking for something new to work on.
Studies show that using a music stand while you practice helps you learn faster. Probably because it is the most comfortable and effective way to view your material and avoid cramping in your neck, back, shoulders, etc.
Have your materials and equipment ready to practice before you sit down to begin. Don’t wait until practice time to hunt for your book, strap, pick, practice log, etc. If at all possible, find a little tucked away area where you can leave your gear and material set up, so you don’t have to waste your time and hassle with setting up every time you want to practice. This will give you much more time to actually practice if you don’t have to set up and take down before each practice session. Make your practice nook cheery and pleasant. Add a plant (relaxing) and pictures (CD or LP covers) of your music heroes to motivate you. Try to keep things neat and organized so you’ll look forward to your time there and it won’t be an eyesore to others.
Use a practice log or journal to keep track of how much you’ve practiced and what you’ve practiced. It also seems to make you more accountable for your practice times if you get into the habit of journalizing the times. You can see what times and materials are most productive for you and re-adjust if necessary to maximize effectiveness. Keep track of metronome setting also to use as a starting point for the next practice and to gage your improvement.
Practice daily whenever possible. Some of us have different routines on different days of the week and can’t practice at the same time each day. Study your schedule for a week and chart out the best times each day for you to practice. Plan your practice time and material for at least a week at a time.
Small consistent units of time provide great results. It’s been proven that we retain more information from short regular periods of study than from long irregular intervals. If your goal is to practice an hour a day, three 20-minute sessions is the most effective plan. After 20 minutes of practicing your retention decreases steadily. Short multiple sessions reviewing the same material increases retention. It’s usually easier to squeeze in two or three 20-minute practice sessions throughout a busy day than finding a full hour. Sometimes it’s a refreshing 20 minute break throughout the day.
Once you get started practicing it’s a real temptation to keep going even when it interferes with important things. Don’t let your practicing cause you to neglect other daily tasks or responsibilities, and you certainly don’t want to feel guilty about practicing. Use a timer. When the bell rings the session is over. If you haven’t finished, don’t spend more than a couple minutes wrapping this session up. Put your guitar down and move on to your next task. If you have more practice time available now, take a 5-10 minute break before resuming, or start with fresh material. Next session pick up where you left off.
A metronome is essential for measuring your progress and necessary to developing good time, which is so important for playing with others. You’ll need a good electronic metronome with a deep tone. After you’re familiar with a piece start practicing it with a slow pace like 70BPM. When you can play the piece through without any mistakes put the tempo up to 76BPM and try it there. Whenever you make a mistake reduce your tempo and stay there until you can play it through again perfectly. This reinforces all the correct moves. Then increase the tempo and try it again. Reduce the tempo again if necessary to reinforce again and continue this process as needed. This is the most effective way to learn a piece correctly. PRACTICE DOESN’T MAKE PERFECT, PERFECT PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT. When your practice time has ended write down the date and the tempo setting on your music or practice log so you’ll know where to start next session.
Move on if you get frustrated. Don’t spend too much time trying to perfect things, if it frustrates you. Work through it a sufficient number of times and then move on. Some students prefer to work through an entire book 2 or 3 times to avoid getting stuck on something and becoming frustrated. The difficult parts seem easier when you come back to them. You may learn something new in the meantime that will make that tough part easier to learn and play next time through.
Make your tape recorder your best friend. You’ll need a cassette, CD or other type of recorder to record yourself practicing. First, listen to the lesson while you read along in the book, then play along and after practicing the material, record yourself. The quality of the recording is not important; go for the ease of one button recording with no level checks. This way you play something short and play it back easily. Make sure your metronome is audible when you record. End each practice session recording and begin the next by listening so you can work out the rough spots. Listen for improvement. Save some of your practice tapes and when you feel like there is no progress, go back and listen to some old tapes. You’ll hear the progress! Keep it up, consistency is so important. You’ll get results; just don’t give up.
I advocated these concepts to thousands of students in my business and the hundreds that actually put them into practice have improved ten fold. Will you be the 1 in 10 who follows them and succeeds? That’s up to you. Just remember as a worship musician that the time and effort you put into improving is the sacrifice that you can lay upon the altar on Sunday mornings.