Guitar Practice (Part 2) - Does Practice Make Perfect?

You've probably heard the saying "practice makes perfect" and it sounds true enough, but is t really? We all know the importance of practicing a new skill in order to become proficient at it. This is especially true when it comes to playing the guitar, or any other musical instrument for that matter. But, practicing incorrectly can actually be a detriment to your progress.

How is that you say?

Because you will continue to reinforce whatever it is you practice. So, if you always practice doing something the wrong way, you will end up with the wrong result. For example, if you practice holding your hands in a poor position, it will eventually become a habit that will be difficult to correct. Poor position of either your right or left hand when practicing the guitar can create tension, thus making certain techniques more difficult to execute. Poor hand position can also increase the possibility of developing injuries that are somewhat common to musicians, such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. This is a very debilitating injury of the wrist which can bring your guitar playing to a complete halt. When practicing, use a "cupped" hand instead of a "flat" hand to help promote a good relaxed position.

Another problem area for some students regarding guitar practice, is rhythm. Rhythm is so foundational to every aspect of music that I really can't stress its importance enough. Whether or not you know how to read music isn't the issue. But you absolutely should try to learn how to count the beats within a given measure of music in order to play the piece correctly. If you can't keep time, no one will really be able to tell what you're playing anyway. It will also be very difficult for you to play along in a band, or with other musicians who just want to "jam."

Speed is one of the biggest practice obstacles I see among my students. When speed is king, rhythm and timing are often sacrificed. It is absolutely necessary to SLOW DOWN in order to interpret the timing correctly, especially if it is a fast lick or strumming pattern. Speed also affects articulation, which simply means "to pronounce distinctly." What good is it if you can play something real fast,but do it poorly? Who is going to be impressed with that? Instead, take your time and practice playing each tone clearly, at a speed that is comfortable for you. Try using a metronome or drum machine to set a tempo. Then practice short "speed bursts" one section at a time. Keep increasing the speed until you can play the entire lick, riff or measure, etc. at the desired tempo. But, do not sacrifice hand position, rhythm or articulation in the process. These three things should receive top priority when practicing the guitar. After they are well established, work on the speed or tempo of the music.

Knowing what finger position to use when playing notes on the guitar fretboard is also important. If you use a haphazard or random approach, you will likely become confused and disoriented as you begin to move around. I tell my new students that the guitar is "upside down and backward" to give them some idea of what they're facing when it comes to learning the notes on the fretboard. Meaning that the guitar is played both horizontally and vertically, as opposed to the piano which is a linear instrument. When learning to read notes on the guitar, you must flip it upside down to match it to a fretboard diagram. Down is up and up is down when referring to direction and how it relates to the pitch of each string.

To sum things up:

1. Start Slowly
2. Develop a relaxed "cupped" hand position
3. Learn how to interpret the rhythm (timing)
4. Emphasize articulation (clarity)
5. Gradually increase speed (tempo)

So, it is true that "practice makes perfect" if you learn to develop a "perfect" practice routine. In order to do this, you will need to work on establishing your priorities and developing good practice habits. Realize that it takes time to become a good musician so don't rush the process, instead, embrace it and enjoy it.

If you keep these ideas in mind you should see a steady, progressive improvement of your overall playing in a relatively short time. You will also discover that when you develop good habits, you automatically develop good technique. Once you have established good technique, playing the guitar will seem much easier and that will make it all worthwhile in the long run.

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Kathy Unruh is a singer/songwriter and webmaster of ABC Learn Guitar. She has been writing songs and providing guitar lessons to students of all ages for over 20 years. For free guitar lessons, plus tips and resources on buying a guitar, songwriting, recording and creating a music career, please visit:

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