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The art of practicing, Part 5: Do it right

Kategori: The Art Of Practicing

I once watched a masterclass with the great Stanley Jordan where he explained his guitar philosophy, his practice routines and much more. If you know who Stanley Jordan is then you most certainly are interested in how he became such a great guitar player. If you don´t know who he is - go check him out! Stanley Jordan is definitely one of the best players in the world of two handed tapping and a true innovator. So besides from explaining why he think it´s better to tune a guitar in fourths all the way, Stanley also discusses in this masterclass how to practice in the right fashion. What he says? Stanley claims that you should practice at a tempo where you make absolutely no mistakes. And this makes perfect sense if you understand of how the brain works.
The brain is an organ that is both smart and dumb. It´s great at learnings things, but not very good at re-learning stuff. So if you program it with material that isn´t right, let´s say that you teach it that the colour red is called blue, it will be hard to later on re-program it with the right info. If you practice something sloppy over and over again, the brain will learn to play this material sloppy. But if you work early on to get it right, the brain will repay you later when you want to play something accurate. 
I learned to play the guitar by myself, without a teacher. The only help I had was an old book with some chords in it and free tabs on the Internet. Naturally, I learned a few things wrong. For an example I was a bit lazy when it came to the G major chord. I thought it was really hard to play it like the chord book told me to: with the second finger on the low E string, the index finger on the A string, the third finger on the B string and the pinkie on the high E string. So instead i used my thumb on the low E-String (Jimi Hendrix-style), muted the A string and barred the two highest strings with my index finger. It worked out pretty well for a beginner, and of course, necessity is the mother of invention. But sometimes it´s just a shortcut that in the end will bite you in the tail. Some years later I realized that i needed to play the G major chord right, and although I was a pretty decent guitarist at the time I had a very hard time to recalibrate my brain to play this chord in the right way. Yes, after a while I got it, but the amount of time wasted on this could have been used on much more useful things. If I had gotten it right in the first place I wouldn´t have to struggle so very hard with it later on. The only advantage I have from this story is that I still am pretty good at using my thumb in the unorthodox Hendrix-way, which sometimes can be beneficial. And also it became a lesson for me to pay more attention to try to get things right in the first place to avoid wasting time later.
Another example comes from the great pianist Staffan Scheja. When Staffan studied at the Royal Music College in Stockholm he noticed that many other practiced things in a bad way. When they played a classical piece and made a mistake, they played this part over and over again until they got it right. But once they played it right one time they moved on with the piece. When the same thing happened to Staffan, he also played the part where he got it wrong over and over until he got it right. But once he got it right, he started to repeat it more times, so that he played it right many times in a row. The mistake that he other pianist´s did was to play something wrong many times and right just once, programming the brain with more wrong than right. Staffan did it the other way, he programmed the brain with more right than wrong repetitions of this part, making the brain understand that it was this way it should be played. Today Staffan Scheja is a world class pianist, his old student companions isn´t.
I hope these examples will make you understand that you will benefit from practicing slow and accurate. Sure, it wont´be as much fun as to practice sloppy and fast, but in the end you will become a better guitar player, and then you will have more fun with your instrument than you would have if you took the lazy shortcuts to begin with. And if you need some inspiration, check out what Stanley Jordan does with a guitar - it´s pretty breathtaking.

The art of practicing, Part 4: Get rid of your weak spots

Kategori: The Art Of Practicing

We all have different things that we aren´t very good at. It can be cooking, singing, running, sewing, maths or something else. The same thing applies to guitar playing. Maybe you´ve got a great picking technique but a bad legato. Or maybe you know lots of scales but don´t have that many chords under your sleeve. When people are bad at something, let´s say sewing, many claim that they aren´t very talented in that field and by that legitimizes their lack of knowledge. It´s of course just a sweepstake and a reason not to try to get better - "I have no sewing talent, so what´s the point of practicing it?". When it comes to guitar playing, you more rarely hear this, but it sure does exist on some level. Maybe just in the back of your head where you´re constantly undermining your skills. 
What it comes down to in the end is lazyness. If I´ve got a good picking technique it´s often more fun to practice this than to deal with my poor legato. But if you´re already good at picking, why make small, small progress here, when you could make big progress with your legato if you just put down the same amount of time practicing it? Yes, of course it can be a good thing to make a niche, to be specialized in something, especially today when many people makes a career of being extremely good at just one thing. But it´s always good to have a broad knowledge, especially on the guitar. To be able to play more than one style of music, to have several different techniques under your belt, to be great at both rhythm playing and soloing. Some people would say that it might kill your pop career, but I don´t think that´s true. Let´s take a mailman for an example. What if one mailman is really good at delivering the mail but pretty poor when it comes to sorting the mail? Yes, he will be fast when he is out delivering, but it will take him long time before he can do this because he is so slow at sorting the mail. If he´d put down some work on his sorting he would be able to get out on his delivery round way earlier, and could by this get home from work faster.
Another example can be a triathlete, an athlete whose competitions is made up of three different elements: swimming, cycling and running. Of course every triathlete has a speciality, but the trick to be really good at this discipline is to be as equally good in swimming, cycling and running. If you´re a really poor swimmer but a great runner, you might run in a few places that you´ve lost in the swimming, but you will surely never win a race with this tactique. What you do need to do is to cut back some hours every week on your running exercise (a field where you already are good) and instead use this time to focus on your swimming. Don´t cut out all the running, you still need to train this to maintain your capacity, just don´t put in too many hours here when they´re needed somewhere else. The same thing of course applies to guitar practicing: if you have a good knowledge of chords, don´t put too much of work here when it´s needed more in other fields like sight-reading or alternate picking. The hard part isn´t knowing what you´re bad at, the hard part is to deal with it and practice it to get better. It will sometimes be hard to do this, but in the end you will benefit from this model. Don´t practice too much on what you´re already good at, put the work in at fields where you netheed to get better.