On Practice: Planning Practice Time
By Daniel Roest

To progress in music, you need four skills:

  1) Scales
  2) Arpeggios and Chords
  3) Reading
  4) Repertoire

plus two more areas of study:: Theory and Listening

1) Scale technique: going from one note to the next to the next smoothly, like a melody  melodies come from scales, so it makes sense if you want to play melodies to play scales. Examples of scales to learn are
·The C major scale. It's just the white keys of the piano  no black keys  and starts and ends with C: C, D, E, F, G, A,  B,.C.
·Natural Tones in the First Position Scale. This scale is the same as the C scale, but starting with the open 6th string E and going up to the 3rd fret on the 1st string: E, F, G on the 6th string; A, B, C on the 5th string; D, E, F on the 4th string; G, A on the 3rd string; B, C, D on the 2nd string; E, F, G, F, E on the 1st string, and back down to the 6th string: D, C, B, A, G, F, E, D, C, B, A, G, F, E.
·Moveable two-octave major scale*
·Chromatic scale*
·Modified chromatic scale*
·Pentatonic scale*
·Blues scale*
*See Scales or your teacher for more specific information on these examples

2) Chord technique:  having a repertoire of chords your left hand can snap to and some skills in using them:
·Arpeggios: Literally meaning "broken chord"  - the separate notes of a chord in a regular order. For example, a C chord is the group of notes C, E and G; and you can play them like this: C,E,G,C,G,E,C.
·Strums and other right hand effects
·Moveable barre chords  where the index finger of the left hand holds all the strings down across a fret and the other fingers hit certain notes as well. The whole shape can be played all up and down the guitar neck for many different chords from the same shape.

3) Reading Ability: this gives you access to music and allows you to better communicate with other musicians. It's an essential skill, and you just need to spend some of your total practice time with some sheet music in front of you  both new, unfamiliar and old, unfamiliar.

4) Repertoire:  this is what you wanted to do when you decided to play guitar  this is the collection of tunes you know. Again, play the old stuff, and also spend time learning new stuff.

  Neglecting any of the first three areas directly affects the success of the fourth. And of course, neglecting the fourth in favor of the first three leaves you without a substantial and balanced repertoire. Tremelo falls under the arpeggio category, and vibrato falls under scales. Tone falls under both. Reading is essential to access the music that you want to learn. And a balanced repertoire is a reward in itself- a product of time well spent in the pursuit of beauty.

5) Theory the what and why of how music is put together. You just got some theory in the explanation of what a scale is, or what a C chord is. Theory includes music reading skills, so as you learn how to distinguish between quarter notes and half notes, you're learning theory. You can get more concentrated explanations of music theory from a book. Skill and knowledge in music theory enhances everything you do in music and amplifies your other skills. And if you can get to a piano with your guitar, some of these topics may be easier to relate to the keyboard. The piano works with the same system as the guitar  it's just laid out differently. Try a simple scale on piano, a chord, an arpeggio.

6) Listening: you need inspiration and example. Stay in touch with the feeling of being "called" or drawn to playing music. The library has CD's for loan. What the sports superstars of the NBA, the NFC and AFC, the NHL and ABL are to their sports, you can hear the same level of musician playing guitar  and you should get to know their names.
The Internet is loaded with free downloadable music. Check out my solo classical guitar samples and my lute and guitar duo samples at www.danielguitar.com, along with my recommended links to other guitar sites like www.worldguitar.com. By all means stay out of a rut listening to and appreciating only one kind of music  pop, classical  whatever - how boring!

So, to sum up, if you're practicing for an hour  - try a routine of ten minutes each on each of the six areas mentioned above. If you have two hours, double that; half an hour, fives minutes, etc. The idea is to get a balanced practice session so that you don't leave out these basics.

Before leaving the subject of how to practice, it should be stressed that music is a social activity, meaning it's shared between people, right? You can practice with friends, help each other out, and enjoy that special experience of communicating with music as you think about performing music for an audience.
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