The key to improving at any instrument (or really anything) is practice – but we as guitarists often devote more time to looking at pictures of cool guitars and arguing over pedals when we should be busy woodshedding.
According to Brian at KillerGuitarRigs.com:
Nothing is more motivating for a good practice lesson than setting a routine and coming up with the little techniques that keep us engaged and help us to move forward as quickly as possible.
Progress is addictive, and with these five lesser-known practice technique tips, you’ll find your progress hit a whole new level.
Tip #1 – Practice Standing Up
Practicing your guitar at home almost always means sitting in your bedroom or office chair with guitar in lap, but if you plan on playing the guitar standing up (e.g., in a band), this isn’t the optimum position.
When you’re sitting down, the positions of your wrists are going to be different than how they are when you’re standing up.
Many guitarists find themselves in an awkward situation where they nail a riff sitting, and then go to play it at a band practice or in a live situation and can’t get it right – because their hands are at a totally different angle, and it’s harder to do the same things correctly.
If your goal is to play in a band where you’ll be standing, devote at least part of your practice time to playing standing up, so you’ll be adequately prepared for your performance.
While you do this, pay special attention to the angle of your guitar, and get the strap height right to where you can comfortably play all over the neck.
Tip #2 – Practice Not Looking at Your Fingers
When you start out playing guitar, it’s natural to stare at your fretting fingers to ensure they’re in the right place. When you’re first getting started, it’s crucial that your fingers are in the right position – that your finger hits the string on the tip and not the pad, and that you’re as close to the fret as possible.
But once all the above is nailed and you feel like you can get in and out of chords comfortably, you’re going to want to get into the habit of finding notes on the fretboard without staring at your fingers all the time. After all, when you watch videos of your favorite bands, you’ll see that they’re often looking out into the crowd – not staring at their fingers.
Once you feel comfortable switching between chords and can play them without hearing any strange squeaks and buzzes, start practicing the same thing while looking away from the guitar. Start with chords, then move on to scales and single note phrases. Once you’ve got that down, work on your fingerstyle phrasing.
The final step in learning any new scale, phrase, or technique should be learning to do it without looking at your hands. As the saying goes, you need to be play with your eyes closed.
Tip #3 – Learn to Sing While Playing
As a guitarist, you’ll make yourself infinitely more valuable to bands if you can provide backing, or even lead vocals.
Many bands want to have as few members as possible, so if you can only do one thing (play the guitar), they may end up passing on you for a multi-instrumentalist who can also sing.
Same for if you want to play solo gigs, or even pull out a guitar at a campfire. If you can sing, you can lead a crowd.
But singing while playing guitar isn’t something that just happens – it takes practice to detach those two activities from each other. Your hands are doing one thing and your mouth another, often at different times and rhythms, and your brain will be preoccupied with remembering the lyrics to the song itself.
To master this skill, start off with some easy songs – it’ll pay off in dividends once you take your first steps towards playing out.
Tip #4 – Don’t Jump Right to Solos
A lot of people think you must be able to play solos to be a good guitarist and forget that 95% of the time they will be playing rhythm.
You also need to walk before you can run, and nothing could be more like running on the guitar than busting out a killer solo.
Some beginners try to learn lead parts way before they’re able, and honestly, it’s a waste of time. Focus on the fundamentals, focus on the parts that you’ll spend the most time playing, and then move on to learning scales and lead techniques when you’re ready.
Tip #5 – Learn Songs Appropriate for Your Level
One of the key components of learning the guitar is learning songs. Playing along to a recording will teach you how to play with other musicians, and it’s a great substitute for playing to a metronome. In addition, it teaches you how to cover your mistakes, instead of stopping and quitting.
But there are two mistakes you should avoid – 1) starting off on songs that are too hard, or 2) playing for years and only learning easy songs.
When you’re starting out on guitar, set your sights on songs you can learn and maybe even master, but once you get better – challenge yourself with harder material.
Final Thoughts on 5 Unique Ways to Get More Out of Guitar Practice
Practice doesn’t have to be boring – a varied practice routine will keep you engaged and make you look forward to practicing instead of dreading it.
Be sure to follow the fundamentals of setting goals, documenting your progress, and practicing to a metronome. To add a little spice to your practice sessions, sprinkle in some of the above advice – and enjoy!