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The Art Of Practicing, Part 7: Boredom and distractions

Kategori: The Art Of Practicing

You will sometime probably encounter one of the most common problems with practicing - it´s boring. What shall you do when you don´t want to practice, but know you need to? There´s solutions of course, and I will present some of them here.
 
Sometimes it´s all in your head, you´ve built an image in your mind that when you´re going to practice your instrument it´s going to be boring. Why not hang out with friends, play video games or something else that is fun instead? The trick here is to sit down, grab your instrument and start practicing. Because once you do, you´ll often find that it isn´t boring to practice on your guitar, it´s just the road to get there that can be hard. So whenever you feel that it´s hard to take those steps to your practicing area and pick up your guitar, think about how great it usually turns out once you start practicing. Erase the image in your mind that equalizes practicing and boring, get down to business and start having fun with your instrument. And if you don´t succeed, think about the fact that it will always be more fun to play an instrument when you´re getting better at it. There´s few ways to get better at playing an instrument than to practice.
 
But when you´re stuck in a rut and the practicing in fact gets boring? Try to think out new ways and be creative with your routines - play a scale backwards, jam with some new backing tracks, discover new sounds, change the rhythm of an exercise. Be creative! Practicing isn´t boring, you´re the one who´s making it boring. Now make it fun again. Switch on your inner child and explore your instrument and it´s possibilities. Maybe you´ll find new ways to practice that will create great results or maybe you´ll see that your old practice routine wasn´t that boring after all. Creativity isn´t forbidden when practicing, it´s instead often rewarding.
 
Sometimes it´s easier to practice when you build certain routines around it. One example could be to always wash your hands before you´re going to practice. Then your mind will get into the mode when it knows "Okay, now I´m going to practice the guitar" and already before you´ve picked up the instrument you´ll be in the right frame of mind. Also make sure to sleep well and eat well, take care of yourself. A famous commercial says "You´re not you when you´re hungry", and there´s a truth there somewhere. 
 
Sometimes it´s the feeling of knowing that you´re going to practice something hard that makes you not wanting to pick up your guitar. This happens to the most of us. Try to think that this is the natural state of things - before you can do something it seems hard to do out. But once you´ve mastered an issue it´s easy to do it. A child will think it´s hard to walk before it learns to walk, later on it´s a piece of cake. It´s hard to swim before you´re mastered it but once you do, it´s easy. That doesn´t mean that you´re finished though. You can always get better at swimming, and in fact walking too, and every time you do it you could consider it practicing. You will pass this hard musical passage too, just put in enough training and do it in the right way. Pick up your guitar and start mastering it.
 
Also, get rid of distractions. They can be caused by whatever - a messed up room, a computer or people. Clean up your room where you´re going to practice, so that it´s all about the guitar. When you´ve learned something new from a piece of paper, make sure the paper gets filed in somewhere. Presuambly somewhere where you can find it easy again if you´ll need it. A system where you know where everything is will benefit you, then it´s up to you to create a system that works for you. And turn off that computer, or cellphone, or whatever. If you´re not using it in your guitar practicing then it´s just a distraction. When it comes to people it´s a bit harder. People will always distract you in different ways. Something that someone has said to you can go round and round inside your mind. Negative people can bring you down (and should be avoided as far as possible). Different emotions created by people can distract you from what you´re doing. When you´re practicing the guitar, try to wipe all of this out. Get into a mode where it´s only you and the music that matters and lock out all other thoughts for the time being. Focus on what you´re playing and not on thoughts of other stuff. This can be really hard and takes a lot of work, but it´s worth it. After the practice session you will come out fresh with a new frame of mind, which hopefully will be better than the one you wiped out before you started playing. One great way to do this is as I earlier stated - create rituals around your practicing. Before starting out, do something that you always do. It could be whatever, like tuning the instrument, feel the instrument, wash your hands or drink a glass of water. The important thing is that it works for you.

The Art Of Practicing, Part 6: Goals

Kategori: The Art Of Practicing

A great way to develop your guitar playing is to set goals. This is a method that can be applied to many things in life and is used by many companies and athletes - a goal canfor an example be to reach a budget or to jump over a bar at a certain height. This works well for the guitar as well, both for technical issues and more theoretical stuff. Here´s a few things that are noteworthy when working with goals:
 
Measureability
Your goal needs to be something that can be measured. For example to play a lick at a certain tempo, to know where every D note is on the fretboard or to nail a song without a single technical miss. More vague things, like improvising, doesn´t apply that well when working with goals. If you can measure your progress it´s easy to follow it up, and you will know if you´ve nailed the goal or not.
 
Time
To work efficiently against a goal you should set up a deadline. If your aim is to play an A major arpeggio in 16th notes at a tempo of 140 Bpm, then decide when you should have reached this goal. To work against a deadline will make you more motivated to make the progress and put in the work needed to achieve the goal.
 
Realism
Your goal has to be realistic. If it´s too far over your head you won´t have a chance to reach it in time and you´ll only get frustrated. Know your strengths, know how good you are (if you don´t know, measure it with the aid of a metronome or ask someone with knowledge) and then set a goal that is possible for you to reach.
 
Small goals
It´s better to set man small goals instead of a large one. Sure, many small goals can lead up to the big one, but it´s the little steps that counts. So instead of making a big goal with a timeplan of six months, make six smaller goals, one for each month. Or even better, make one for every week. Smaller steps are easier to take, and when you count them all together they will make one giant leap in the end.
 
Make a plan
Make a plan for how you shall work to reach your goal. How much time do you need to put in every day? What tools do you need, do you need help from anyone and what is the best way to practice the problem you want to solve? And don´t use all your time on this issue, you still need to practice things you already know to maintain your knowledge that you´ve acquired on your instrument in the past.
 
Follow up
Follow up your goals when the deadline has passed. Did you make it? Or not? Why? Was the goal too hard or too easy? If you failed, make a new plan for how you´re going to reach the goal. Maybe you´ll need more time, maybe you´ll need more focus or maybe you need a different angle on the issue. Don't despair if you fail, deal with it. And if you succeed; great, now set a new goal!
 
To work against a goal is a great way to get better at an instrument, so instead of aimless practice that will only lead to slow progress - set a goal today, get to work and make that progress!
 

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.