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Posts: 118
Reply with quote  #1 
Jascha Heifetz is suppose to have said "If I don't practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it."

Before my accident in July I was trying to do 10 hours a week of real, focused practice.  It was great.  I could see myself improving and my understanding of the guitar expanding.  Then I fell and broke my arm quite badly.  I'm finding that although I have range of motion problems with my arm I can work through that.  But having missed 4 months of practice is brutal.

So now that I'm able to play again and I can at least do some scales, some chord work, and as much right hand picking exercise as I can stand I'm amazed at how much I've forgotten.  But there's another side of this.  My wife and I went to Reno this weekend for a vacation and after just 2 days of not playing guitar I find that my arm is really stiff.  That's due to the accident and my continuing recovery. But wow, only 2 days and my hands are stiff and slow.

And that got me thinking that this could be a great topic of conversation.  What have you folks noticed about the benefit of consistency of practice vs. raw hours of practice?  We can probably agree that 30 minutes a day of practice is better than 4 hours at a time once a week.  But how much practice do you suggest per day and how often do you practice?  Do you also notice if you've lacked consistency? Is 30 minutes enough to really get better or is that just what it takes to remain stable?


Posts: 1,773
Reply with quote  #2 
Practice time - I think depends on your goals.  If you're a performing musician obviously you've got to keep your chops in tip-top condition, and daily practicing is necessary.  If you're playing for your own enjoyment, then there's less demands (unless you want to beat yourself down with self-criticism), and you should feel good about working on the things you love, enjoy, feel passionate about. 
I'm no longer a performer, so I'm not into playing tons of scale and arpeggio exercises, (although I've done a lifetime of that!).  I love songs, so that's what I play mostly.  I can't play everyday, but I try to make the time that I can get really count.  That's the key, as you said, "focused practice" or "focused playing."  I find that working through my "Ted book" of his arrangements challenges me quite a bit.
Just my 2 cents.


Posts: 16
Reply with quote  #3 
In my lessons I tell my students there are 4 ways you can play the guitar.

1) Performance in front of a live audience
2) Rehearsal
3) Recreational playing
4) Practicing


Let me briefly explain each...

1) Performance in front of a live audience
This is when you are playing a song, start to finish, at your "best".  It might be for pay in front of a crowd, it might be as part of a live combo or orchestra for some event (not always for pay, as we musicians know, ha...), or it might just be you want to show off around the campfire, but you intend to play at least one song, start-to-finish...  Intro, verse/chorus/improvised solos, then an outro.  When you play this way you come warmed up to play, you play the best you can play, you are performing with your instrument.

2) Rehearsal
When you know there is a performance coming up, or if you simply want to challenge yourself at home, you play a song start-to-finish as best you can.  You don't stop if you make a mistake, this is a "pretend performance."  During your rehearsal time you are taking something you already know how to do, and polishing it up from the beginning of the song to the end of the song.  Generally you do not have an audience.  However, you are attempting to play a complete song, or perhaps one specific section of a song over and over again until it is polished.  "Rehearsing" and "Practicing" are not the same thing.  I'll get to my definition of practicing in a moment.

3) Recreational playing
When you have begun to find things you love to play on your instrument, you tend to entertain yourself by playing those things.  One of my philosophies toward the guitar is "the more you play, the better you get"... and it doesn't necessarily matter WHAT you play (perhaps for beginners) as much as it matters how much you play every day.  Recreational playing might be that time when you sit in front of the television sort of zoning out, and just play some happy scales.  Or, maybe you have some favorite guitar riffs you like, and it seems like every time you grab your guitar you gravitate to those same few favorites.  You aren't performing, you aren't rehearsing, and you aren't (by my definition) practicing, you are recreational playing.  It is during these times when you develop your individual technique on the guitar, you play favorites and chords you love, you play stuff that is familiar and makes you happy to play.  You might not even play whole songs, you are just entertaining yourself with the guitar.  You are recreational playing.

4) Practicing
Practicing is the most and needs to be the most disciplined of all of your guitar playing.  It is during your practice time when you take something brand new (such as a great new Ted Sheet you might have found on this web site :-) ...&nbsp and you sit down with it on a music stand or it might be laying on your knee or a table top, and you do your best to start from scratch and get this new stuff into your head and hands.  You take whatever the material is one note at a time, one chord diagram at a time, one measure at a time, and maybe 1, 2, 3, or 4 measures at a time.  You disect whatever it is that you are about to practice until it is in its most raw form.  It is easy to confuse practice time with recreational play time.  Some folks might be convinced that they played for 1/2 hour every day, but when they picked up their instrument, they actual were swayed to play stuff they loved to play, they ended up entertaining themselves for a period, and what they were actual doing was recreational playing, not practicing.

When I started in music at nine years old the school band instructor made us PRACTICE our instruments 1/2 hour each day.  He was so strict about it, that all through school band (I played the trombone in school band, by the way...) that he had a practice card he sent home with each student.  We had to fill in our practice times, start time, and end time, and THEN we had to have our parents SIGN IT !!!!  Ahhhhh !!!!!

But, I will tell you, for a small midwest rural band program (my graduating class in 1980 was 149 people...), we won many first-place ribbons at the scholl band competitions throughout high school.  In fact, under that band director and his perfectionaits ways, we never scored anything but first place ribbons.  In my senior year, that band director moved on, we got a new more relaxed and layed back band director, and the school band received its first 2nd place ribbon at a band festival in many years.

I have an application for the difference between rehearsing and practicing as it applies to your jazz combo or rock band, or any combination of musicians who gather with the intention of playing as an ensemble of some type.

How many times have I heard guys and gals refer to our coming scheduled meeting time for the group as a "band practice."  It is actually a mis-use of the word (by my definition).  But, it is actually very true pertaining to what actually happenes when the group gets together.

Preferrably during the course of the week or time period in between meeting times each person takes their instrument home to learn their part.  Thus, they PRACTICE at home, and thus come together to REHEARSE.  Inevitably there is that lone wolf bass player, guitarist, drummer, keyboardist, or horn player (or fill-in-the-blank with a musician type) that leaves their instrument/amp/drum kit/keyboards/horn over at the place where the band meets.  I don't mean to pick on drummers, but let me give an example.

Let's say the drummer has a tiny car and its a drag to transport his kit back to his house every week.  So, he leaves the kit at the meeting room.  Everyone else in the band takes their stuff home and practices their parts, leraning the breaks, the new chords, the solos, if you have a vocalist, they learn the lysrics, etc.  But when you get together to meet, it is an unequal meeting.  The drummer thinks it is a "practice time" whereas everyone else is ready to "rehearse."

So, it slows the band down because during this scheduled meeting time, everybody has to wait on the drummer to get up to speed with his part, and once he sort of gets there, then you can commence with the rehearsal.  Prior to that, the guitar and keyboard guy go outside for a smoke, while the drummer is learning his part.  The bass players is over in the corner texting her boyfriend, and there is a certain amount of impatience and frustration in the air.

Pratice time and rehearsal time are different.

Practice is not the same as recreational playing time either.

It really doesn't matter so much when you are first starting out on the instrument.  As a bgeinner if you just get passed breaking the case open, getting it tuned and trying a couple of chords, you have just played a lot more than you were when you had no guitar to play on and you had not taken those first steps at buying a guitar and telling yourself you are going to learn how to play.  For the beginner, literally the more you play, the better you get.  For the advanced player, it works in a similar way, the more you play the more polished you stay.

Practice times are the opportunities we take with discipline, to add to our playing abilities.  We take something brand new, and we start to digest it, we disect it to a palletable and digestable form, then we commit the new stuff to our long term memory.

As part of this discussion, there is also a difference in definition between long term and short term memory.  I tell my students its like this... Short Term memory is like when you see a stop sign, you stop, then drive past, then you never think of it again.  Long Term memory is when you get stopped by a police officer for running a stop sign, he gives you a ticket, and you never forget it as long as you live.  Haha.

Repitition is a great tool toward the doorway of perfection.  Even in advanced players, the more you play the better you get.  If you attempt something very difficult for the first time, disecting it, and taking it to its most simple level is one way to gain control of the hand-eye coordination it takes to master this new task.

The begninner can also benefit from this philosophy.  Take it easy, take it slow, and repeat things often.  The key to bettering yourself on the instrument is to try NOT to play it as a mistake.  When you practice something, try to play it right right from the start.  The tendency is... if you play it with a mistake in it when you practice it... later you actually learn the mistake, and there is a possibility for playing the mistake in public during a performance. 

When rehearsing and performing this rule gets bent a little bit.  During those times, play straight through a mistake and act as if the mistake didn't even happen.  Most times the audience won't even notice if you  ake a mistake in performance, as long as you don't react to it with a huge, grimmaced facial expression (they might be more apt to notice it then...).  During rehearsal, take the song from start to finish, and keep on chugging along if a mistake is made.

If you are rehearsing at home, its easy enough to change gears and put on your practice hat.  Identify the problem section of music, disect it out of the entire piece and go over it again and agina until you can play it without making a mistake.

If it is a fast improve line, slow it down until it passes at a tempo wherein you can play it without a mistake.  Concentrate on yout hand-eye coordination, and concentrate and making the perfect, polished version that which gets commited to your long term memory.  Then as you can accomplish the hand-eye coordination of the single note line or possibly the chord progression you once messed up, control it at a reduced speed, then gradually practice it until you can play it up to the correct tempo. 

Then, you can shift gears back to your rehearsal hat, and rehearse just that section over and over again until you can play it perfectly from start to finish.  Then, re-assemble it into the piece of music you are working on, and begin to rehearse the entire song start to finish opnce again.

There is one last grouping of musical play time I can add.  This is called a "sectional".  When I used to play trombone in school band, our band director might call for a "trombone sectional" after school, if the trombone players seemed to need some extra work.  In a jazz or rock band, maybe just the two guitar players get together to work on their parts away from the rest of the group.  Or, maybe just the bass player and the drummer get together to hone their rhythm section parts. 

In this same way you can transform your personal private rehearsal time into a personal sectional.  I've already eluded to its use, but let me point it out more distinctly.  During rehearsal time let's say you are working on a song from start to scratch.  You find a "section" of the music you are having troubles with, so temporarily you disect those few measures out of the piece, and you go back to square one and filter them through the practice philosophy.  Once you can play the stuff with no mistakes, you re-assemble the piece of music with all of the other measures, and attempt to rehearse again.  You just had a personal sectional all by yourself.

I hope some of this helps folks out there in Internet land.



Posts: 16
Reply with quote  #4 
I just remembered a small parable pertaining to the difference between playing once a week for four hours, or playing for a half hour every day...


There was an archer who loved his bow and arrows and he entered into an archery contest at his village.  He was a busy man at his job during the week, so every Saturday afternoon he would take his bow outside and shoot targets for 4 hours.  He did this same acticity right up until the time of the archery contest.

When the day of the contest arrived, the archer took aim with all of his arrows, and shot the targets with the best skill that he could.  But he did not win the contest.  The love of archery and his high quality bow and arrows were not enough to win this contest.

The winner of the contest was from a village on the other side of the valley.  He approached the contest winner and asked him if he had any tips for becoming a better archer.  The winner told him that when he practiced shooting his targets, he did so every day for no less then ten minutes a day.  He said that even if he only had a short break of time in one day, he would go outside and shoot some arrows at the target.  Eventually he said it became a normal part of his life and his day was just not right if he had not yet practiced his archery.

During the next few months the archer took the winner's advice.  Every day he would practice his archery without fail.  In the fall, he noticed that they were having another archery contest in the winner's home town.  Excited to go, he packed his things and left for the contest when the day came. 

During the contest the former winner did his best but the archer shot better than the former winner.  The archer won this new contest and proudly strode home with the trophy attached to his backpack.  As he entered his small village, the whole town celebrated his victory in the archery match.

And of course he live happily ever after....   :-)


If you want to win on the guitar, practice every day.  Those of us who live professional lives might not have the time to practice for several consecutive hours in one day, so just try to practice at least some every day.

One trick I use is to leave my guitar plugged in to the amp and out of its case.  That way, part of the procrastination process is taken care of...  sometimes I must admit it is a struggle just to get the thing out of the case, plug the amp in, tune the guitar, plug it into the amp, and just go through those few simple steps.  Leaving it plugged in and ready to grab at any moment sometimes helps.

Plus, depending on how much space you have in your home, it helps to have a practice space dedicated to your guitar.  A comfortable, armless chair is nice, maybe enough room for a music stand and your amplifier.  Psychologically this helps to designate a specific practice location.  I think it does anyways. 

Then practice your targets every day, for at least some amount of time, and you will, like the archer, win the next contest.


Posts: 118
Reply with quote  #5 
Well this has certainly started a conversation

It's Thanksgiving so I can't spend the time I want to adding to the conversation today, but I really enjoy your thoughts on this topic.  I'll try to add to it later this week.


Posts: 63
Reply with quote  #6 
Greg, overall I seem to have practiced everyday, my whole life.  There has never been enough time to practice what I need.  I've never been able to be organized or disciplined.  It all seems to add up though, and not practicing is horrible.  Caution though: you sound like what you practice, watch out for that scale, and technique stuff.  Because of all my years with Ted, I can hardly get through a scale, he was all about making melodies (music). Ted, "Take just three notes, or four and make music.  Do you know how many possible choices there are in four notes?"  I never did; still don't.  But, Ted had it all worked out, of course. 

Posts: 16
Reply with quote  #7 

Practice, in any form, developes into a self discipline that opens avenues of exploration into the crafting of the results of the practice. That is, it is not an end to itself.

I tell my beginning students the "karate kid" he was told to wax cars but he had no idea that he was really learning karate. Scales, arpeggioes and chord forms are just beginning steps in, for some, a lifelong journey of discovery in the wonders of music.

The guitar is a difficult instrument to play..its awkward and illogical in its setup. Its hardly any wonder why it is a true challenge to many that go beyond the basics of playing it and dive deep to obtain its pearls..for they don't come to the shore by themselves.

When you meet a master of any discipline, the awe you are aware of is a natural response for recognizing that someone has dedicated their life to an ongoing study that has no end.

When Ted would it in all 12 keys..I thought "why..if I can play it in 4 or 5 keys that would be enough.." Later of course..when I did explore exercises or songs in all the keys I discovered new ways to play chords and discovered new melodic lines "hiding in plain sight"

This was a tremendous revelation..Teds other "suggestion" - experiment...don’t settle for what you can play - push yourself..go beyond what you what you haven’t learned yet..

There is always something new to learn and as the practice becomes deeper and second nature the more is revealed to you.

In some of the lessons with Ted..he would "explore" a way to show me something...and there it was..he would "discover" something for himself..he was always learning..and make notes to himself to follow up on it..and then return to show me what he wanted me to learn..of course the subtle process seemed lost to me..but now I have those learning a song or some idea I find an "open door" to a brand new to speak..a journey like alice in wonderland..."drink me"...and your suddenly in the key of E flat!

Play well


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