Home : Basics : Practicing
Learning to play guitar is about creating habits.  Habits allow you to perform quickly, easily, and naturally without
having to consciously think through every move you make.  
The way you develop habit is by repeating a set of actions many times.  Anything that you repeat numerous times
each day will become habit over a period of weeks.  Consciously repeating things on a daily basis, so that they
become habit, is the aim of practicing.  If you repeat mistakes, confusion, and error when practicing, then those
things will also become habit.  So, the process of practicing effectively is about identifying and eliminating
confusion and error, and repeating things the way you want to be able to play them.
To practice effectively:
1)  Repeat manageable sections of music.  You need at least 5-10 repetitions to notice any effective improvement, so
practice only as much material as you have time/patience to go through multiple times.  Going through a piece once
does very little to form new habitual patterns.  Likewise, the more you practice any section of music, the less you will
need to think about every conscious action, and the easier it will get.  Take breaks whenever you need to keep your
mind fresh, and always return to practicing the same section again (this is great re-enforcement).
2)  Identify spots that contain repeated mistakes.  Sections that you can't play at tempo (i.e., things that you need to
slow down to play correctly), or sections that you have to repeat to get right, typically contain the same errors time
and again.  Trying to perform or record the things you practice, and/or practicing with a metronome are several ways
to find those sorts of repetitious mistakes.  Without doing one of those things, your mind tends to get used to
practicing them wrong.  If you practice errors, they become habitual, and they begin to feel like a natural part of the
music (only to you not to your listeners).  Identifying those kinds of problems is a primary focus, from the
beginning of any learning process.
3)  Isolate practiced mistakes and repeat manageable portions of difficult sections slowly.  *** Anything can be
played correctly if you slow it down enough ***  You should practice each small chunk of a difficult section until
you can get it right 3-5 times in a row, then practice it back in context with surrounding sections, until you can do it
3-5 times in a row without stopping or slowing down, and without mistakes.  When you can do that, you have learned
it well - it will become a solid habit, and you will be able to play it quickly and cleanly over time.
4)  Repeat step 3 until you can perform the whole piece (the thing you are practicing) without problems.
A large part of any good teaching philosophy is centered around effective and progressive practice patterns.  As
described above, the main goals are to consistently identify problems, eliminate errors through slow repetition, and
repeat manageable chunks of material in and out of context, so that they become fluent over time in the quickest and
easiest way possible.
Most of the time in lessons and in practice is spent doing things based on the above concept.  My job is:
1)  to provide you the most effective and enjoyable materials to learn the kind of music you want to play (pieces of
music, conceptual practice patterns for technical and improvisational advancement, etc.).  You will be playing the
things you practice many, many times, so they have to be enjoyable and desirable - you have to like the things you
practice.  They have to be at a level that is achievable, and they must help you develop the skills required to perform
the types of music you set out to learn.  
2)  to help you overcome the technical and conceptual problems encountered in learning those pieces of music.
That's done by constantly applying the process described above.
We will go through this process many, many times in lessons, sometimes focusing on very small details, and
sometimes moving between different pieces to music to maintain variety and interest.  It's important to understand
and use the process above when practicing at home - it's what determines how easily and quickly you learn to play
If you practice things correctly, a little bit every day - and identify/isolate/eliminate confusion and error - you will be
able to play those things within a short matter of time.  The speed at which you progress is determined entirely by
how much time you spend repeating those things each day, and how effectively you eliminate errors.  Remember, it
only gets easier, faster, more fluent, and more enjoyable as habits develop and become more ingrained.

Copyright 2004-2013 Nick Antonaccio, all rights reserved.