When it comes to practice there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is you have to do it. The good news is that practice will result in improvement. The more you practice the more you will improve. That part is obvious what what is not obvious is your desire to actually learn to play guitar.
The big question you need to ask yourself is, “do I really want to learn to play the guitar?” If the answer is yes then you need to practice and you need to practice with a purpose.
When I was younger I was a good athlete in that I was fast, I could run and skate like the wind. But I hated to practice, all I wanted to do was play. If I had put my efforts into practicing skills I may have been able to do something in sports. You can be the faster runner or the faster skater but if you don’t practice the basic skills you will not develop into a better player.
Learning to play an instrument is no different than any other skill and learning the basics of any skill is vital. In guitar for example you can be the best strummer or fingerpicker but if you don’t practice your chording techniques your playing is going to suffer.
Identify where you need to improve. No matter what level you play at there’s always something that can be improved. For example you may need more practice with proper poster, strumming techniques, fingerpicking techniques or chord changing. It may be all of these in which you can break up your practice into three or four five minute segments with ten minutes for putting into practice what you have just practiced with backing tracks or a favorite song.
Make some goals. When I first started fingerpicking I set a goal of a year to be at the place I wanted to be in my playing, namely being able to play along with other players and keep up. If you are just stating out then you may want to learn the major chords that will allow you to play along at the campfire or at a jam. Depending on the time you will dedicate to practice you can set some goals. Make them realistic like learn a new chord every two weeks. That means being comfortable playing that chord while strumming or picking. Sit down and think about it, write them out and check your progress. You can always update your goals depending on your progress.
Practice Rule #1
Practice the basics and never stop practicing the basics. I still practice changing chords and my fingerpicking technique. I do it very slowly with the goal in mind to be able to change chords smoothly and not miss my fingerpicking pattern I use. We all get a little lazy at times and that’s why a lot of people will just noodle around on the guitar. Noodling is not practice but at the end of a practice session it is fun. I practice the basics at least ten minutes a day.
Practice Rule #2
Practice the basics slowly. It is much harder to play in time slowly than play in time at a fast tempo. To develop your muscle memory practice in a slow tempo. Use a metronome to practice playing in time. Start at 80BPM and work your way up to a faster tempo. If you do this consistently you will find that when you start to play fast it will not be as much of a struggle. It works!
Practice Rule #3
Inject some fun into your practice and do it at the end of your practice session so you have something to look forward to. I use backing tracks that can be found on YouTube. I practice basics then I put on a slow backing track and practice with the music. Sometimes it’s just changing chords with the music or I play along. Most times after I have practiced I will noodle around and try some different things on the guitar.
The exciting part is that you will notice your playing getting better and when you get to the point where you are playing along with little effort then playing really gets to be fun. There’s nothing better than sitting down with other guitar players and pounding out some tunes and not feeling like you are constantly tying to keep up.
If you need a reminder to practice you can do a couple of things until practice becomes a routine in your life.
1. You can leave you guitar out on a stand as a reminder. However you should put your guitar back in the case at the end of the day or at least have some kind of hydration device in your guitar so it doesn’t start to dry out. This is especially important in the colder months when the heat is on.
2. Put a sticky note on a mirror where you see it everyday.
Here’s where I get to put my dig in for fingerpicking. I started playing guitar about seven years ago. Of course I strummed the guitar like most other players until I found fingerpicking. I have to say that my level of enjoyment and satisfaction has been taken to a new level. If you want to know more about the benefits of fingerpicking read my article 3 Huge Benefits Of Fingerpicking, it may just change your life for the better as it did mine.