5 Ways to Improve your Practice Productivity

Monday, April 19, 2010| by Will Chen

You know, even the greatest players with out of this world levels of raw talent still required years of practice to hone their chops. If you’re like me, sometimes (more often than I’d like to admit) my time spent practicing could be way more productive. A while back I had a solo jazz guitar performance and really needed to work out a bunch of songs in a relatively short time frame, so I sat down and evaluated my practice routine and found a few areas which really needed improving.

  1. Physical and Mental Isolation – While strumming out some chords in front of the TV or while hanging with buds might be a bunch of fun, in order to fully concentrate on getting better isolation is necessary. Now this doesn’t mean you have to rent a practice studio or go out into the middle of the woods, but make an effort to get away from the distractions of the world. Also, check your life at the door. It took some practice but I found the most productive practice sessions to be almost Zen like where my mind had been completely and totally clear once I sat down to play. This is also great preparation for performing for those who suffer from stage fright.
  2. Set it and forget it – I’m a tweaker. Guilty as charged. Something about the myriad tones capable from an electric guitar just seems to hypnotize me. If I don’t stop myself, I’ll end up twiddling knobs for the entire practice time! So, I only allowed myself five minutes to dial in a tone. During this time frame I additionally allowed one full practice session a week to twiddle until I couldn’t twiddle any more to keep things from getting too stale.
  3. Use a metronome – I consider myself to have good time, but I’m not a machine. Playing with a metronome allows full concentration on my timing and more importantly my phrasing. Also, paying close attention to where to place notes around the beat (in the case of swinging jazz tunes, behind the beat) helped improve my approach to several tunes immensely. After a while, I could hear the metronome ticking in my head almost subconsciously, ensuring I’d be playing rock solid rhythms at the performance.
  4. Become Self Aware – One key to really kicking my game up a notch is practicing self awareness. Often when playing, we guitarists find a zone and the music just seems to flow from our fingers. Take a moment to focus on your posture, hand tension, and breathing when you’re practicing. You should typically practice in the same posture at which you perform, your hand should be as relaxed as possible, and you should be breathing regularly. Once you’ve found that point of passion in your playing, you want to make sure you can sustain it as long as possible. When I first started this exercise, I often found myself tightly gripping the guitar neck and holding my breath which would cause me to excessively tire out my hands force and/or slightly gasp, breaking the moment. Becoming aware of this tension subconsciously and releasing it has greatly improved my playing and performance stamina.
  5. Keep it fun – While serious practice time can become tedious, the payoff is immense. Including something challenging keeps my interest up, avoiding burnout but I always allow myself free jamming time at the end to simply go off and play whatever. Also, I tend to cycle through periods where I practice more and times when I simply want to play. After all, if it wasn’t fun what would be the point?

Good luck!

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