Practice Tips Part Two: Create an Effective Practice Plan
You know you've got a good practice plan when you look forward to your practice sessions, you notice progress, and you feel a sense of accomplishment after you complete your session. Every music teacher will tell you that quality daily practice is important, so let's make a practice plan that works for you!
1. How much time can you commit to practicing your guitar each day?
Pick a reasonable amount of time you can practice, even on your busiest days. Maybe that's just 10 minutes, maybe it's 2 hours. Be realistic. This is the amount of time that you will practice even when you come home feeling tired, and there's a new TV show you want to watch with your girlfriend/boyfriend/cat.
2. What are the weak areas in your playing that you want to improve?
Make a list of all of them. Your list might be really, really long, and that's ok. There's no need to be too specific right now, big topics like these are cool:
- Chords and Groove
- Ear Training / Transcribing
- Learning Tunes
- Reviewing Tunes
3. Do you have good exercises/studies to improve those areas?
If you've been practicing a technique exercise for a while and it hasn't helped your playing, you might need to evaluate its effectiveness. Your time is valuable, so make sure you are practicing things that lead to real improvement. A lot of people don't pay attention to the material they are practicing to decide if it's actually effective or not. Do you want to save a lot of time and energy? Get a good teacher. Good teachers know tons of exercises and can help you figure out the best ones for you.
Write out the exercises you plan on using for each major area. Here are a few examples:
- Technique: Play-A-Long Studies
- Reading: Guitar Lesson Companion, Volume One
- Chords and Groove: E minor groove lesson
- Soloing: Chord Tone Soloing
4. Create Your Plan.
Let's say you can commit to an hour or daily practice. Pick 6 areas to work on, choose your specific exercise for each area, and plan to practice each exercise for 10 minutes. (Use a stopwatch and a checklist if you are into that kind of thing.) This is the strategy I use to practice. I go through each topic for 10 minutes, and then I take a break to rest my hands. If I have time to practice/play more, I go wherever my curiosity leads me. (Fun!) I feel great when I fulfill my daily practice promise to myself, and this plan makes that easy. By practicing each topic for just 10 minutes, my required practice session feels fresh and exciting, and then it's over and I get to play whatever else I want to play.
Another option for folks who have an hour would be to pick fewer areas to focus on, but practice on them for longer. Practice your reading for a half-hour and your chord grooves for another half-hour. By spending more time on fewer areas, you'll see greater improvement in those areas.
There's nothing wrong if you only have 10 minutes a day to practice. As long as you are honest with yourself, and you can commit to daily practice, we can build an effective practice plan. Here's how you can get the most out of it: Pick 1-2 areas and alternate between them. (Example: Work on reading studies for 10 minutes one day and chord grooves the next day.) Yes, it'd be best if you could practice each area for at least 10 minutes, but if you don't have that kind of time, there's no need to feel bad or throw in the towel.
5. Do it! And keep track of it.
I use the timer on my phone to ensure I practice for 10 minutes on each topic and I give it my all in each 10 minute segments. I don't check or answer my phone during those blocks, and you shouldn't either.
I also use a checklist that I have modified over the years. You can download a blank copy here: Susan Palmer's Guitar Practice Log
You obviously want to keep track of the things you practice and the time you practice, but don't forget to note the way your practice plan makes you feel. If you are bored, fatigued, excited, or inspired, make note of it. Ideally, you will find your Flow when you practice and lose track of time in a good way. Noticing how you feel before, during, and after your sessions will help you make changes so that occurs more often.
6. Who is holding you accountable?
Humans love being a part of a community, so getting support from other people can help you stick to your plan. Do you have a friend (or better, a good guitar teacher), who can hold you accountable to your daily practice? Is there someone you can text each day when you complete it, who will respond positively?
7. Measure your progress and adjust your plan.
I have made and used probably close to 100 practiceplans for myself over the years, and each one has been 100% effective in helping me learn more about myself and my guitar. I might create one and use it for 3 days before I realize that it's not working, and every now and then I try something that works for 3 months. I don't think I've had one that has worked for more than 3 months before I needed to adjust it. So, don't be afraid to modify your plan to meet your changing needs and observations.
Ok, if you've got your plan in place, get to it! If you are having a hard time making one or sticking to it, contact me about lessons. I teach in Seattle and via webcam (Skype/FaceTime).