The Holistic Practice Routine
While there is certainly no ‘one size fits all’ practice routine, there are some basic principles that can help you develop the best one for you, which is what this article is all about.
Over the years I have come across many different approaches but I have always favoured the ‘whole body’ approach to practice. Using the analogy of our own body, you wouldn’t want to go to the gym and work on just your weakest arm (or your favourite arm) and get it looking super buff, without looking at the rest of your body at the same time, would you?
I see the fundamental areas of practice falling into six areas; Ear Training, Knowledge, Technique, Repertoire, Improvisation and Time - depending on your goals, the type of music you want to make and your strengths and weaknesses you will want to manipulate the amount of time you spend on each (or potentially drop areas if they are not relevant).
Let’s have a look at each area and explore things you might like to add in each area.
Ear Training is often neglected by guitar players, but personally, I think it one of the most important and rewarding areas to study. I include all exercises that help develop the relationship between your ‘inner ear’ and your hand, which increases your ability to express oneself. You might start with tangible exercises like Interval Ear Training or Relative Pitch studies, or move into more practical methods like Transcribing and playing melody by ear.
Knowledge includes theory but also the application of it. Things you should know that will help you in the real world; keys, scales, arpeggios, modes, licks, chord grips… there’s a LOT of things you can put in this spot, so you need to choose wisely!
Technique is the physical mechanics you use to play. It’s very common for guitar players to spend far too long here and develop incredible chops but have nothing to say, no understanding of what they’re saying and no songs to say it in! It’s important but it’s just part of your development and without the other elements, it’s likely you will not feel satisfied!
Repertoire is really what it all boils down to! What do you want to play? The other practice areas will help you play the songs you put here! Without songs to play you can’t really perform, express yourself or even entertain friends at a party. You gotta have songs. So pick ones you really like, work on them, and allow these songs to influence how you choose the other areas in your practice routine.
Improvisation is important for those that want to do it. If you’re a songwriter and not interested in lead guitar it may not be as relevant (and so you might drop it) but if you want to play jazz or blues solos then this needs to be a priority as this is where you will put it all together with your band or a backing track.
Time. The longer I play, the more I think that time is really where the whole thing is at. All the greats have amazing time feel, solid time and ‘in the pocket’ grooves. Solid time makes people tap their feet, nod their head, get involved with the music. Beginners can work on making their strumming patterns feel good. Intermediate players can work on their riffs, scales, licks and everything they do feel good. Advanced players might be making sure that they get their septuplet subdivisions right on. When your time is good it gets people’s attention, and I think it should get yours!
* This article originally appeared in Guitar Techniques Magazine [GT257]
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