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Keys to Success #2 - Effective Practice

If you haven't read Keys to Success #1 - Being Consistent, take a minute and look that over.

Continuing with the Keys to Success, we're going to look at Effective Practice ... Or, practice that creates the desired or intended result.


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Practicing Guitar

First, you have to be honest with regard to what you NEED to practice vs. what you WANT to practice.

Often, what we WANT to practice is material we know well. It sounds good, is fun to play, boosts our musical ego a bit. However, this is not going to help you improve!

What we NEED to practice, on the other hand, is hard. Our hands and fingers have to learn, our brain has to think, the results we want come slowly. If you're practicing what you need to practice, you're addressing areas of weakness, be it physical limitations (ex. playing 16th note arpeggios at 120bpm) or mental (ex. "Is the altered scale the melodic minor played a 1/2 step about the root of a Dominant chord or what? I can't remember???"). And realize that if you are working on improving a weakness, you will not sound very good in the practice room!

Can you see why musicians would rather practice what they WANT to practice vs. what they NEED to practice?


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Working on a new piece of music...

Now, what do you need to practice?

That depends on where you are in your musical development. If you just bought your instrument, the world of practice is your oyster, so to speak.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you're a gigging musician, you may need to learn new material for the next band rehearsal.

Regardless of level, practice elements can be broken down into eight categories:

FUNDAMENTALS: Holding your instrument correctly, fretting notes correctly, picking, tuning, basic reading and counting, note locations on your instrument, posture etc.

This category will be primarily for beginners. But more experienced musicians sometimes have to return to the fundamentals to correct bad habits that are limiting their development.

TECHNIQUE: Developing facility on your instrument. Eliminating buzz from fretted notes/chords, progressing from down picking only to alternate picking, economy picking, sweep picking, legato, vibrato, slurs, etc. 

HARMONIC: Triads, chord construction and voicings, chord scales, extended harmony, substitutions, poly chords, voice leading, cadences, etc.

MELODIC: Diatonic scales (major/minor), Arpeggios, Pentatonic scales, Harmonic Minor, Melodic Minor, Diminished, Whole Tone, Modes, scale substitutions, etc.

THEORY: Chords in each key, substitutions, secondary dominants, non functioning dominants, modulation, scale and arpeggio application over chords, etc.

EAR TRAINING: Understanding interval relationships, transcribing, root movement, 3/7 chord connections, voice leading, etc.

NEW MATERIAL: Songs you want to play for fun, material for upcoming gigs.

REPERTOIRE:  Songs you've learned in the past and you need a refresher.


If you're honest with yourself, regardless of you skill level, you probably need to work on something from every category above. However, it just isn't possible to dedicate the time necessary to work on everything, every day. You'll also burn yourself out trying to do so.

With that said, pick the top 3-5 elements you really want to develop. Get your material together for those and look at your available practice time and give each element equal time.

As an example, let's say you want to work on sweep picking, extended arpeggios and quartal voicings ... in addition to reviewing your set material for your next band rehearsal. Now, you know you have 90 minutes total you can practice every day.

A good practice schedule would be...

10 minutes on the voicings - Strings ADGB

20 minutes on sweep picks and extended arpeggios (combined since your plan is to use them together)

60 minutes reviewing rehearsal material. (Side note, work on the difficult sections mostly. If you're playing the songs with ease, this becomes more of a WANT vs. NEED situation).


Blue Heron Music Studio is located in Panama City Beach, Florida.

Offering Music Lessons, Guitar Lessons, Bass Lessons, and Ukulele lessons.

Call or Email to schedule a free trial lesson.

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