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How to get more out of your guitar practice session – The difference between srimmage and drills

It is a long-known truth that practice doesn’t make perfect. 2601242688_7200400161_b

Practice only makes permanent.

In order to get better results, you’ve got to improve the quality and quantity of your practice time.

I believe that the difference between a mediocre player and a great one is in the quality of their practice habits. Sure, quantity matters but unless you have 5 to 6 hours a day for your guitar, you are screwed.

And as far as I know, most aspiring guitar players don’t have that kind of luxury. That’s why it is crucial to focus on the quality. If you can get one or two hours of really focused practice session in one day, you can accomplish great things.

You can get better results without putting in more time. But you have to put more focus and attention into what you are doing during your practice hours

Yes, this is deliberate practice in action here.

If you have never heard of it, here’s a brief definition:

Deliberate practice is a set of various activities that lead to improvement of your performance.

To practice deliberately means to practice at the edge of your abilities where things are not too easy, nor too difficult. You’ve got to find the sweet spot as Daniel Coyle might say. Sweet spot is the magic place where most of the learning happens. The more time you spend there, the better you can get.

The reason why most aspiring guitar players won’t move past mediocrity is that they don’t push themselves hard enough. Consciously or unconsciously, they don’t want to get out of their comfort zone. It just doesn’t feel very good to be constantly reaching out of what you find comfortable. But we need to realize that this struggle is really the key to our progress.

Since it is not very pleasant to constantly push yourself, most guitar players will stop improving at some point. It is not that they don’t have enough talent or they are not smart enough, they just stopped refining their practice strategies. They don’t challenge themselves anymore.

The most overused guitar practice strategy

Probably the most typical practice strategy I’ve seen among aspiring guitarists, is to play the song(or whatever they are practicing) from beginning to the end, as if they are performing it. Doug Lemov calls this kind of practice scrimmage. (If you haven’t checked his book Practice perfect yet, definitely do that.)

Scrimmage is designed to replicate the performance. It is a legitimate practice strategy but most guitar players use it for wrong purposes.

Scrimmage is really good for evaluation of your performance, it is suited for recognizing weak spots and mistakes, it is a great strategy to find out what we need to work on. But it is definitely not designed to improve our performance. Repeating the same thing over and over again is not a good way to master anything.

This is where drills come into place.

A drill deliberately distorts the setting in which participants will ultimately perform in order to focus on a specific skill under maximum concentration and to refine that skill intentionally. Drill strive to maximize the amount of mental energy focused on a skill. Doug Lemov, Practice perfect

Isolating problem areas is crucial if our goal is to improve the performance. We cannot improve everything all at once, but we can definitely get better if we focus on one problem area at a time.

Scrimmage helps us to recognize what we need to work on and then we can use drills to deliberately work on the weak spots. Once we have worked through all of the problem areas, we can use scrimmage to check if our performance has improved.

Combining these two strategies is a great way how to get more out of your practice session. By constantly working on the problem areas we are broadening our comfort zone and that means we are getting better.

What other strategies do you use to get more out of your practice time? Please, let me know in the comments.

Image courtesy: malias


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4 Responses to How to get more out of your guitar practice session – The difference between srimmage and drills

  1. Greg February 23, 2014 at 9:30 pm #

    There are some good tips here and the further reading looks very interesting.

    If I need to get practice going and am feeling sluggish, I will listen to a song or album that inspired me before. You can usually pick up new things that you have not noticed before and that helps boot your moral. Something as simple as saying to your self “Hey, I know that, that’s the circle of fifths!” helps you realize the progress you have made even on days when you are feeling stuck.

    • Lukas Kyska February 27, 2014 at 3:42 pm #

      Thank you Greg for your comment.

      You are right, listening is a great way how to boost motivation and it is also crucial for your growth as a musician.

  2. Alex Flores February 24, 2014 at 12:41 am #

    Excellent Article! In every one of my lessons, I am constantly trying to teach students to learn to isolate problem areas and set those areas as their top priority for practice that week. In the case of a mess-up, their default is to start passages/phrases over from the beginning to end. Some are so married to this idea that they only create more pressure on the problem area, which inevitably results in a mistake which in turn causes them to sink into a depression regarding being able to play the song. One of my tricks for helping students troubleshoot problem areas is by using the almighty one-minute change, seeing how many reps they can get in one-minute. More often than not, it solves the problem.

    • Lukas Kyska February 27, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

      Good job Alex! Thanks for sharing your experience.

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