On Practice: How to Practice a New Piece
By Jerry Snyder
HOW TO PRACTICE
There is a saying that practice makes perfect; practice also makes permanent, so the quality of practice is very important. Develop good playing habits. Practice with good posture and correct right and left hand playing techniques.
FREQUENCY & REPETITION
Frequency and repetition will bring results. You are developing muscular and coordination skills that benefit from repetition. Beginners especially benefit from short and frequent practice sessions. Break up longer sessions by including short breaks where you actually change your physical position or location (i.e. get up and stretch a bit). Develop a kinesthetic feeling for the guitar; that is, learn to play notes, chords and strums without looking at your hands (muscle memory).
SLOW IS FAST
Practicing in "real time" is more beneficial then the "stop and start" method. Practice with a beat. A metronome is a valuable tool for practicing in real time. Don't practice it wrong! Don't play wrong notes, leave notes out, or play wrong rhythms. This just teaches you to play it wrong. If it's too difficult to play right, slow it down enough that you can play all the notes in rhythm, correctly, no matter how slow this is. When you can play it correctly slowly, start speeding it up, but never practice it at a speed that you can't handle.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
Focus on the problem areas. Break down the problem. Skip the easy parts; they're easy! Find the hard parts, slow them down, and practice them until you can play them correctly at the right tempo. Work on small sections at a time. Isolate the few measures or musical phrases that are difficult for you and spend time practicing and repeating those areas.
Establish a place and schedule for practice (i.e. use the same practice location, perhaps the same time slots on each day that you practice). The environment in which you practice is of great importance. The practice room should be quiet and comfortable, the acoustics should be pleasant, and you should be undisturbed. If you experience physical pain at any point during your practice then STOP what you are doing; evaluate the physical aspects of your playing for a cause for the pain AND change what you are doing - playing an instrument should not be painful for you.
Begin each session by completing a review of what you will be working on before you pick up your instrument. Review what you want to accomplish, establish at least one goal for each practice session. It is easier to concentrate and practice if one knows for what he or she is practicing. Develop daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals, etc., clearly and with practicality so that your practice has 'direction'. Perhaps divide the practice time into warm-up exercises, scales, chords, new repertoire, sight-reading and always end with something you know and enjoy playing.
Most people are not able to maintain an effective concentration span of more than 35 to 40 minutes at a time. Practicing while tired, either mentally or physically, is wasted practice.
Include short 'mental practice' units in each session (i.e. play the music or review fingerings 'in your head', without touching the instrument). Slow-motion practice is a definite aid to concentration. It enables you to grasp, mentally digest, and physically execute each individual movement that goes to make up the whole.