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Three simple steps how to make any guitar exercise insanely efficient

guitar practice exercise

Everyday I am becoming more and more interested in clever guitar practice design.

I find it quite fascinating how fast you can progress if you know what you are doing. Being strategic and intentional really pays off.

We all know that we need to work hard to get better, but I want to do it in a smart way. And smart for me means getting the best results possible while enjoying the process.

A lot of aspiring guitar players’ practice a lot but they don’t get any better. And when they see no improvement, they start to believe they don’t have what it takes to become a professional guitar player. They give up on their dreams and resign to take guitar as a hobby or quit playing altogether.

But I don’t believe that lack of talent or innate abilities is the reason why they cannot get any better. There is a bunch of other reasons that are actually stopping them:

  1. Poor practice habits
  2. Lack of clarity as what to work on
  3. No priorities
  4. No ideas how to break down big goals into smaller, achievable chunks
  5. Etc.

These are just a few of them. I could go on and on, but that’s not the point of this article.

I want to show you a simple three step process how you can design your practice exercises to be more efficient and more fun at the same time.

We are talking about smart guitar practice design, right? Let’s dig into that.

How to design your practice routine so you are not bored to death?

By now you know I am all for results and fun. The question now is, how to do that?

You may argue that it is not possible to always have fun when practicing guitar. Practicing requires lots of concentration and effort; lots of mental fuel needs to be burned if you want to get good at something. And I do agree. Sometimes it is hard to enjoy what you are working on, but this is almost always because you haven’t spent even one minute thinking about how you can make it more enjoyable. Repeating the same thing over and over again is definitely not fun.

The more you learn about how the brain works, the more relaxed and patient you’ll become.  You don’t need to haphazardly try different approaches; you don’t need to go by trial and error. Understanding the inner workings of brain will enable you to design your practice sessions in ways that can produce extraordinary results (I will talk about the latest research on brain in my future articles, so watch for them or subscribe and I’ll let you know when they are live).

When we talk about clever guitar practice design, the keyword is design. It means that somebody has intentionally and deliberately designed the practice to produce results and be fun at the same time. And that can be quite challenging if you lack proper knowledge and experience. This is where you can greatly benefit from having a superb teacher or coach.

But since the goal of this site is to educate aspiring guitar players how to improve their practice habits and get exceptional results, I want to show you a real-world example of a great practice session.

Let’s take a look how one of the world’s best football goalkeepers practices.

Pretty amazing, right?

There are few things that are quite fascinating to me.

  1. There are two different kinds of balls, coming from three different angels at him all the time.
  2. He is always working with two balls at the same time.
  3. It looks much more like a fun game than a serious workout.

I think it is quite obvious that no goalkeeper in the world needs to face two different balls during a match. Why is he doing it then?

Because variety of practice conditions keeps us more focused and concentrated. Brain has to work really hard to control all those movements and synchronize them.  After this kind of drill, facing one ball is a piece of cake.

The key point here is to make it harder than what would a regular situation require. You raise the level of difficulty so you have to constantly reach out of your comfort zone, but not so high that you will end up overwhelmed or frustrated. That’s where learning sweet spot is.

How to design your guitar practice exercises to produce outstanding results?

Now that we’ve learned how a great practice exercise may look for goalkeepers, let’s take a look how we can use this example for guitar practice.

Below is a three step process that I use with my students when they get stuck or when they need some extra boost to overcome plateaus.

  1. Isolate the skill or problem area that you want to improve
  2. Make it harder
  3. Come up with fun ways how to practice it

Here’s how to apply these three simple rules into real-world situations.

One of my students had problem with the intro riff of Sweet Child O’Mine.  No matter how hard he tried, no matter how many repetitions he did, he just couldn’t play it without a mistake. He was playing this riff for months almost everyday and yet he couldn’t do it right.

Here’s 3 step process in action:

Step 1: Q: What skill is causing you troubles? A: Inconsistent alternate picking

Step 2: Q: How can we make it harder? A: Here are five ways that I’ve suggested him to incorporate into his practice routine:

1/ Completely reverse the pick directions. Instead of playing it this way:schom1

schom

 

 

 

 

 

 

Play it this way:

schom2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2/ Change the riff rhythmically. It can sound something like this.


3/ Play it somewhere else on the fretboard, not only in 12 position.

4/ Practice without looking at your fretboard. Look in front of you, don’t rely just on your eyes, use your ears and touch as well.

5/ Practice in various tempos. Jump from slow to fast, don’t increase the tempo gradually.

Step 3: Have fun. Come up with 3 more variations that make this riff more fun and more challenging at the same time. You can do whatever you want as long as you are focusing on alternate picking.

I told him not to add any more time, just 15 minutes a day for one week. These were the only instructions I gave him.

After one week of doing this, he was able to play this riff without looking at the fretboard and in full speed. Since then I have used these 3 simple steps to solve many long-term burning problems for my guitar students. I am always amazed how with right instructions we can accomplish fantastic results.

To me, these are 3 simple rules to make your practicing much more efficient: make it harder, make it fresh, and make it fun.

What twists do you use to make your practicing fun and efficient at the same time? Please let me know in the comments.

Hat tip to Daniel Coyle for Petr Cech video.

Image courtesy: Jason Garber

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2 Responses to Three simple steps how to make any guitar exercise insanely efficient

  1. greg June 6, 2014 at 12:37 am #

    Great article Lukas! It felt like it was written for me personally haha.
    I have two questions for you though:

    We have heard it is easier to learn something right for the first time rather than learning it wrong and having to re-lean it right.

    What if you move your exercise to a new position or invert it or play it in parallel thirds and start actually leaning it in your practice way an not its original? This is one thing that has always stopped me from moving it around the fretboard.

    My other question is when you are early on building your foundations for proper practice is it better to use the same guitar all the time or is it ok to use another guitar that might have thicker/thinner strings on it? We all know having multiple guitars is great, but is this slowing progress?

    Greg

  2. Lukas Kyska June 6, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    Glad that you liked it!

    Here are the answers:
    1/ I would not worry too much about that as long as you always end up with the original version. You start with the original riff, find the problem area, isolate it, come up with few ways how to have fun with it and then you check again your original version.

    2/ It can slow progress temporarily but from my own experience it will pay off in the long term. Test it and see for yourself. A lot of research confirms that although it may seem counter intuitive, variability and “desirable” difficulties will produce a better long-term results.

    Hope this helps.

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