How to practice 

This is something that will definitely be different for every person and I’m sure it will evolve for me throughout my life. But here is a nice listicle for you:

  1. Have a list! I don’t care if it’s a mental list, physical list, iPhone list etc… But have one! I personally like physical lists because I can cross off things. My process is sitting down once a week on Sunday night and planning my weekly goals in music. Example weekly List: Finish learning Jesu Joy of Man’s desiring on guitar, practice Bill Withers cover several times, practice at least 1 vocal exercise a day, learn a new guitar technique….and the list could vary in size. Next have a daily list. I usually make this right before I practice and it takes around 5 minutes to think about what would help work towards my weekly list. Example daily list: Practice measures 20-25 of Jesu, work on “I know I know” part of Ain’t no sunshine, look up claw hammer guitar videos etc… Monthly goals can be good, but I find my self too overwhelmed with goals like ” learn 20 new songs this month or “get better at guitar” which could totally work for some people. But I find weekly goals enough.
  2. My personal favorite amount of time for a practice session is 30-60 minutes. But I usually have 2 or more of those per day. And I break up those times into different musical segments. I’ll do 30 minutes of guitar (fingerstyle, classical, scales), 15 minutes vocal work/songs and maybe 15 minutes with a new instrument or watching other artists. Many times people think they are being “unproductive” by watching youtube videos. But if planned into the music process, I find myself being able to look up great videos of players I admire (concerts, interviews, demos etc). This always leaves room for some inspiration/improvisation work.
  3. Always have space in your practice session for “whatever” time or “creative” time. Just sit down and write a melody, song, or make interesting sounds on your instrument. I love watching Jack White make the most unusual sounds on his guitar, or watching someone like Bobby Mcferrin do some amazing vocal improvisations. And once I finish watching those videos I try and mimic or create my own sounds.
  4. Take breaks, some musicians think it’s necessary to practice 3-4 hours a day (sometimes straight through). But I would argue that when planning a practice session, taking breaks and staying consistent is better than muscling out a 3 hour practice session. This is similar to cramming late at night for an exam the next day. A good indication that you need a break is if you get stuck in a piece and feel yourself getting frustrated. At this point stretch, go on a walk or do some deep breathing. All these things usually help me regain focus.
  5. Don’t play through the same piece of music the same way a million times. Once you have learned a piece of music close to the original way, try and mixing it up. Maybe that means putting the song to a swing beat, or if it is a swing beat, doing it straight. Or maybe that means increasing or decreasing the tempo or volume. Be creative, try new things.
  6. Use a metronome or practice with recorded songs. For the first 5 years of learning my instrument I was never told to practice with a metronome. But towards the end of college and in the past 2 years I have added a metronome to my practice sessions. I try to practice with a metronome at least once a week, if not once a day. Try practicing scales, or a song at a certain metronome tempo, then mess around with increasing and decreasing tempo.

First of all, I am a 23 year old who graduated college two years ago so in no way am I an expert. But I did major in classical guitar, lead music for a student group, a church, run track and I had a long distance relationship, almost all of which at the same time one semester. I am here to tell you some tips I’ve learned and how to hone in on some creative juices. I’ll be posting this as different tips and there will be several of them. Hope you enjoy 🙂

Tip 1: The Place You Practice Matters

Here is the scene: it is my freshman year of college and I am sharing a room with not only a messy roommate but a suite full of athletes…old socks on the floor, pizza boxes (with a few leftovers) on couches or behind trash cans, staying for days (if not weeks). Not only was the space smelly and messy, but I just didn’t have much space. My guitar was under my bed in its case and I had a box with some music supplies (picks, music books etc). I was taking private lessons, but I practiced for around an hour A WEEK as a classical guitar major. The practice rooms were a 10 minute walk away or so and I would go occasionally but 10 minutes became dreadfully long (especially in the winter). Needless to say, I didn’t advance very far that semester.

It is no wonder that there are entire careers for interior decorating and space creation. Those two things can really make or break practice time and space. Luckily I had a roommate the next year as a Sophomore who wanted to be an interior decorator (now he builds and sells amps) and helped me pay more attention to my music/practice space.

There isn’t a perfect fit for everyone but here is what I learned about the space I practice in:

  1. Making instruments organized and accessible helps. You’d be surprised how just having my guitar in its case can prevent me from grabbing it and practicing. Put instruments on their stands and have them near where you sit/work a lot.  If you have a small apartment or house try wall hangers (that’s what I have).
  2. Make time to organize music/practice material and define where things go. One thing I’ve learned in order to clean up or start a practice session efficiently is to have and know where everything goes. For example; I have a small milk crate for capos and tuners, an Altoids can with picks, nail files etc. But I always keep those things in it. That way I’m not rummaging around a drawer or behind a shelf thinking “where did I put my sheet music.”
  3. Have a designated music space that has things that inspire you or that help you get in the practice zone. I love certain lighting and color, so in my music corner (in my living room) I have a cool tree light and some art work on the wall. I’m in search for a good rug to further help my mind say “this is a creative zone.”
  4. Don’t be afraid to go somewhere else that inspires you. I love big church sanctuaries or stair wells. Also going outside is nice. I recommend having at least one practice session a week in a different space than normal. And treat it like a performance (unless you perform on a regular basis).

The point of this is to find something that works for you, make note of it and make the rest of your space like it. I often rearrange my music space if something isn’t working. Sometimes that’s all it takes. But don’t get to caught up in the process….because you still need to practice 😉