Bored with practising?
Here’s 10 Ways To Spice Up Your Guitar Practice!
Regular practice is the only thing that is absolutely guaranteed to speed up your progress on the guitar (besides regular lessons, of course). By “practising”, we’re not really referring to just picking up the guitar and having a strum – a proper practice session should be pre-planned and include elements like technical work such as scales or chord exercises, work on challenging material, and also some fun, easy-to-play stuff. The problem some of us have with fully structured practice sessions (or at least covering the “boring” stuff as well as the fun in each session) is that doing all your exercises and plodding through difficult material can feel tedious. This article will show you some ways that you can add some spice to your practising, making it more interesting and giving you some inspiration to perhaps do it more often. Some of them may sound a bit silly, but once you try them, you’ll see how these methods can make a huge different to the way you interact with the guitar and perceive what you are playing.
1. Plan your practice
If your practice session is not already planned out, then this is where you should start. Planning out your practice streamlines the less enjoyable parts of your practice session and maximises the impact of all segments. Members of The Guitar Gym have it especially well in this department, as you can talk to your coach about using the practice planner in your online journal to plan out your practice time. Usually, it is best to do technical work first, followed by challenging material that you are currently working on, followed by playing some material that you are already familiar with. Of course, your coach will know what best suits your needs and interests and will be able to give you the best advice in regards to your practice plan.
2. Set yourself micro-goals
This can be applied to any part of your practice routine, and is an excellent way to get some instant gratification into your session. Time-related goals are an easy way to give yourself a measurable target to aim for. Time yourself playing that exercise that you’re working on. Now do it again, and do it half a second faster. Write down what time you managed. Next time that you practise that exercise, beat it by another half a second. These kinds of challenges give you a convenient way to measure your improvement, while simultaneously giving you that immediate thrill of doing something better than you did before. You don’t need to make things too hard for yourself – remember, they are “micro” goals. You can apply this time-trial type game to anything that you are working on, whether it’s getting to a difficult chord, playing a scale, playing a chord sequence, or playing a certain part of a song.
3. Practice in a different spot
Where do you normally sit when you practice the guitar? Are you always on the same chair in the same room facing the same direction? Try changing any one of these things. Turn your chair around so that you’re facing a different part of the room. Sit in a different chair. Try moving into a different room, and try different spots in that room. Even though where you are sitting may well have no effect on the way you physically interact with the guitar, there mere fact that you are in different surroundings and can see different things from where you are sitting will make your practice feel different to how it did before. You will also find that different rooms have different acoustic qualities – your guitar may sound completely different to how it does in your usual room. Have a good listen to the differences in the sound – is it better or worse? What do you like or dislike about the sound in the new room? Does it expose any weaknesses or interesting qualities in your playing that you couldn’t hear in your usual place? Moving your practice location is especially effective if you’ve been practicing in the same spot for a long time.
Do you find scales fun and exciting? Even if you did answer “yes” to that question, changing up your technical exercises can add new life to your technical component. There are a number of ways that you can go about it. First up, you can try adding some new scales to your routine. Look up some new modes, or ask your teacher. Some scales have some very interesting tonal characteristics, and hearing some new and more interesting sounds in your scales can make your session more exciting, and also help you to appreciate the character of the scales that you already know. As for those scales you already know, try playing them new ways. Do you always play your scales up and then down? Try playing them in ascending and/or descending threes or fours, or try playing them with a swing feel. Play them upside-down or inside-out. Try this with your finger fitness exercises as well. Try coming up with your own finger fitness exercises – come up with a neat pattern, or one that your brain finds hard to imagine, and try to get it to the same standard as your usual workouts. It’s possible to come up with some pretty wild ideas for these kinds of exercises, and you might even find something that you’ll turn into an original song one day.
5. Practice in front of a mirror
This may sound a bit ridiculous, but there is actually a number of reasons why it is beneficial to practice in front of the mirror every once in a while. One reason is that you can see the way you are sitting. Use this opportunity to check your posture and make sure that you are sitting the way that you should be. Posture is often something that can slip when you are playing by yourself, since you can’t see what you are doing wrong and your teacher isn’t there to inform you. Being able to see yourself also helps you work on your stage presence. It’s interesting to try and play your material while also making it good to watch. Practicing in front of a mirror will also help you to work on your “guitar face” – you know, that awful face you pull when you’re concentrating really hard. While this doesn’t directly affect your playing, there is a good chance that it will make you more comfortable playing in front of others without having to worry about your guitar face.
6. Play some of your older songs
Remember those songs that were so hard to play back when you were first starting? The ones that you found ways around playing properly because you weren’t advanced enough at the time? During the “fun” stage of your practice session, try digging out some of the songs that you played when you first started learning. See how much of them you can remember without looking it up. Do some parts seem really easy now when you struggled with them before? Do some chords sound different to how they did before now that your fingers are more capable on the fretboard? How easy you find older material is another good way of gauging how much you’ve improved since you first looked at those songs.
Try playing standing up. Being on your feet does wonders for your stage presence, and it also provides a whole new set of challenges. Spend some time getting your strap set to a height that you find comfortable (ask your teacher for advice, as well), then have a go of some of your technical work or a song that you enjoy playing. Once you get used to the spatial sensation of playing standing up, have some fun with it – take a power stance, walk around the room, jump along to the beat – anything you like. Doing some of your practice standing up will also mean that when you go to play a performance standing up, you won’t suddenly feel as though you can’t play the guitar anymore.
Think of all the different scales you know. Instead of doing additional runs of scales that you feel you know well enough, try pulling up a backing track on YouTube that fits some of your scales and use those scales to rip a huge solo. This not only helps you get even more familiar with your scales, but is good for your senses of melody, phrasing and dynamics.
Put all the songs that you know how to play in a playlist on your computer or your iPod/MP3 player and put them on shuffle. Play each song as it comes. This works even better if your repertoire covers a couple of contrasting styles. This activity builds on a couple of different skills. As you would expect, this tests how well you have memorised your repertoire, as instantly recalling how to play something requires a level of familiarity with how the song is played. This is especially true if you are taking an improvised solo over the song, as you also need to recall what key the song is in and what chords you are playing over, and what scales, arpeggios and licks work over those chords. If a song comes up and you can’t remember how to play it, try to work it out as best you can from listening to it. This is great practice for your aural skills, and something you pick up by ear might jog your memory for the rest of it. If not, you get to listen to a song that you like – it’s a win-win!
Music is a social activity, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be practiced that way. There’s lots to be gained from having another person to practice with, whether or not they are better than you. You can go through scales and exercises together, provide constructive feedback on weaknesses, discuss approaches to various techniques, or even challenge each other to see who can do certain things faster or more clearly. For a more in-depth discussion of the many benefits of practising and learning in groups, read this article.
Practice is something that has the potential to be a bit boring, but by no means does it have to be. The next time you feel a bit down about your practice, try one or more of these strategies to spice up your practice sessions. Ultimately, you play guitar because you enjoy it, and practicing it shouldn’t be any different.