You might think: “How hard could it be”. Playing the guitar is fun and what could be better than spending part of your day getting better at something you love to do.
You have the guitar, you have the interest. No problem…So it’s time to get to work.
You get out the guitar and just start playing. It could be in your living room, family room, bedroom, or garage.
it’s so fun at first! But, in not so very long of a time, most of us start to realize something.
And that is that this thing is not so easy to learn, especially at first.
This realization is something that stops a lot of us in our tracks. Woah, ok what is going on here!
And then, if you keep at it, you start to realize that getting better at the guitar is going to take a lot of focus, so you need to get to work, and you are ready for the challenge. That is usually when the little distractions of daily life start to creep in.
It could be a phone call, or someone is watching TV, or you have to pick up the kids from school, or curious family members or roommates who are interested in what you are doing.
Whatever it is, these things can take you out of the zone. Take away the focus you need to understand how to move forward on the guitar.
Or your situation could be different. You might have already been past all of these things. You understand that learning the guitar takes time. And you want to do it, but it just seems that you never find the time.
Your guitar stays in the case out of sight. And you forget about it. Then… weeks turn into months and before you know it, guitar is the thing you used to do.
Or your situation could be that you try to practice all of the time but it’s an unorganized process full of distractions. It’s not very fun anymore and you usually end up frustrated.
These are very common situations. They are ones that can really easily lead to just putting the guitar down for good. Having a dedicated, thought out place to practice can go a long way towards fixing these situations.
Today I’m going to go over something that I feel is so important to a successful players time with the guitar….The Practice Space.
Having a place to be, and having it setup so that it’s ready to go at all times, in a super effective way, is one of the most important parts of moving forward with the guitar.
The practice space is the center of your time with the guitar. It’s the hub from which all of your great playing will flow. It’s home base. It’s the place to do your learning and to try out new things.
It’s safe and you don’t have to worry about the opinions of others. You can work on something that isn’t quite there yet and doesn’t sound so great, as long as you would like.
The problem is that finding the right space and then setting it up for success is no easy task. Sometimes it seems that everything in life is against it.
But, taking the time to really think about where you practice, what you need to practice, when you are going to practice, and how to go about practicing effectively can make all of the difference.
Taking these things into consideration can set you up for success on the guitar.
So today I’m going to go over:
The who: Not the band but you! This is your time alone with the guitar
The what: Which is the basic things you need like your guitar, tuner and metronome, notebook or computer
Some extras: Other things that can add a lot to your practice routine
The where: Which is finding the perfect location and how to set that space up.
The when: Which is finding the most effective time for you to practice
And finally the how: Which are some tips for making the most out of your time in the practice space
As you know, if you have listened before, I like to relate each episode to something that I have gone through in the past that applies to the show. But sometimes it’s not in my past it’s in my now. And, getting a practice space together has been an ongoing thing for me. Mostly because of all the other things that I do that go along with practicing.
My practice space has really grown over the years to a multipurpose room of sorts. I need it to be an effective space for:
Creating teaching materials and online content
Using both amps and direct guitar
Create and play over background tracks
Keeping my own practice together
silent practicing and recording when I need it.
Getting away from other things that are going on in the house
It’s been my challenge to incorporate all of these things together and it has had big changes over time
I’ve also has to work on how best to keep track of my practice. And, that changes all of the time as well.
I’ve used the traditional approach, which is with a notebook and even post it notes,when I got really busy.
I’ve also done a ton of experimentation with more modern things like using Onenote, Evernote, and Google docs and Spreadsheets.
And since I am constantly working on my practice space and the way I keep track of my practice, I thought I’d bring some of the things I’ve learned about practicing and practice spaces to you today.
As I was getting this together, and just throwing down ideas, I started to notice that it looked a lot like a Who what where when and how type scenario. So this podcast ended up structuring itself. I’ve done enough podcasts to know that usually a very good sign that I’m on to something helpful. So let’s go ahead and get started setting up our practice space!
That’s an easy one: You. That’s right just you! This is your time to work on things alone. And, this is very important. Yes, I do believe music is best shared, and you need to play with and for others. But, a lot of what we are trying to do requires a lot of thought, especially at first.
And, getting a lot of this stuff that we want to do basically on autopilot requires some focus.
And that is really the goal of this whole episode: creating a place where you can focus to knock this stuff out.
Then, when you play, you can really excel and have fun at the same time!
Just think of all of the things that go on simultaneously when you play out. Let’s just take a small bar gig for example.
You have to deal with:
getting there on time
worrying if anyone will show up
getting the sound right
remembering your parts
The actual performance
dealing with mid flight issues like broken strings, bad cables,feedback
not being able to hear yourself
The worry most have for playing in front of others
dealing with people
thanking people for coming
people talking to you during a song
depending on where you are playing, you could have yelling, screaming, fights, requests you don’t know, and people dropping things
And to top it all off you get tired after playing a long night
That is a lot of distractions, and, if you don’t know your guitar parts on top of all of that, you are in for one bad night. Spending the time to really get this stuff down cold is essential.
If you know your songs and your parts and are confident, nothing can take you out of the zone!
So having that time, just for you, to know your music backwards and forwards, is priceless.
Let’s go over where the best place to build your practice space.
It’s best to have some sort of separation from daily life. Someplace where you can think.
If you enjoy playing around the house, and your family or roommates enjoy hearing you play, that’s great keep that up. Feedback from others is super valuable.
But, also split that time up with someplace that’s away from everyone as well. Someplace that you feel free to try things without worrying what others think.
Look for someplace that is available to you that is:
As distraction free as possible
Very quick and easy to get to and get started
Fun to be in
It could be in a corner, or in a bedroom or office. Honestly it could be in any room of the house. Everyone’s situation is different. And situations change. And then your practice place may have to change as well. I know some students who practice in their garage, because it’s the only place they can get away.
Take the time to find a place that gives you some separation and try it out. It may or may not work for you, and you may have to try two or three different places before you settle on the right one.
What do you need to have close by to get the most effective practice?
Let’s start with the basics!
I generally recommend that you practice on your favorite guitar at the time. The one that inspires you the most. This can change a lot over time if you have several guitars. The most important thing is to have a guitar that makes you want to play.
If your guitar is difficult to play you most likely are not going to want to practice with it. If you find that it is painful to press the strings down or something else that doesn’t feel right to you, take your guitar to your local instrument store and ask about getting a set up. There are a lot of adjustments to the guitar that can be made to make it play great, even if it is not an expensive guitar.
My last recommendation, about your practice guitar, is to keep your guitar out where you can see it. Don’t keep it in the case… no cases. Once you put it in the case it’s all over. Find a nice stand to put it close by your practice station. Or, you can find a very inexpensive wall hanger to even put your favorite guitar on display. The stand makes more sense though, because you may need to pick up and put down your guitar a lot during practice.
You need a comfortable place to sit, preferably without armrests. Armrests that are too high can really get in the way of your playing. Try to find a comfortable chair where you can sit up as straight as you can, not leaned back, and not hunched over.
My chair here has armrests that can move up and out of my way when I need to practice and down when I’m doing other things.
Being hunched over a guitar for a long period of time can get very uncomfortable. And if you go to the complete opposite of that, standing up practicing can wear you down after a while as well.
So taking the time to find the right chair for you is time well spent.
Having a tuner close by is super important. Being out of tune is never good on the guitar. Not only is it painful to listen to, it leaves a lasting impression on your eventual audience. Getting in the habit of always being in tune is essential to moving forward on the guitar.
And you don’t have to have anything fancy. A cheap Snark clip on tuner will do the job nicely. There are a lot of free tuning apps and web pages available as well. Just type in ‘guitar tuner” and you will find a ton of them.
But having a dedicated tuner always ready for your practice space is essential.
This isn’t a big issue if you are only playing Acoustic guitar. You are good to go! But, if you are playing electric guitar, this gets a bit more complicated.
You are going to need to be able to hear yourself. I know a lot of players who love to practice the electric unplugged, very quietly. But the minute you want to play over background tracks or along with songs, you may need a bit of volume.
The old standby is the guitar practice amp. This is a great way to go. The low power power-amp and small speaker that is usually the norm for practice amps, make them a great way to hear yourself at a moderate to low volume and still get some great guitar sounds.
What is becoming more and more popular is practicing with amp modeling. Whether it is from an app or a dedicated floorboard, amp modeling is a great way to have cranked up amp sounds at extremely low volumes, if those are the sounds that inspire you to practice.
You can always use your headphones along with both of these. Practice amps almost always have a headphone jack. I don’t usually like to practice with headphones on, because they always seem to get in the way. I’m sure some wireless bluetooth headphones would be great to practice with.
The one big tip I have with whatever setup you decide to go with is that you don’t use the same equipment if you play out. Have a dedicated practice rig separate from your live rig. This always leads to the end of practice. Once you start playing out a good bit, it’s the last thing you want to do keep setting up your practice space over and over
Rhythm is everything, here’s why. You can play wrong notes all day and a lot of people wouldn’t be able to know the difference, but, if you are playing out of time, everyone notices.
Why is that? Well we all, musicians and non musicians alike, have something very important in common. At least I hope that we all have this in common. And, that is a heartbeat. We all naturally know what a steady heart beat feels like. And that is a rhythm. And when It isn’t right, believe me, you notice. So when your timing is off, it doesn’t take a musical genius to know that something is wrong.
So working on your timing is super important. I don’t know why so little time is usually spent understanding rhythm in guitar lessons. Maybe it’s not that flashy. But if you get it wrong it’s a deal breaker.
The best way to work on your rhythms and to have a solid sense of time is to practice with a metronome.
A metronome just give you a solid click at what ever tempo that you choose.
I love the old timey metronomes that have the arm that moves back and forth. They have a weight on the arm that, depending on how far up or down the arm it is placed, adjusts the tempo of the click.
But you don’t need to have one of these. There are digital metronomes everywhere. There are standalone metronomes, ones combined with guitar tuners, free apps, and free web metronomes.
Whatever type of metronome you have, just make sure that it stays in your practice space.
Make sure you have extra guitar picks, a capo, slides. Etc.. These things always get lost and having them kept in this hub of your guitar practice just makes sense. Also keep a few packs of extra strings there for emergencies.
Keeping your practice organized is the best way to continually move forward with the guitar. Luckily we have so many different ways to do this. The sky’s the limit, really. My suggestion is to use whatever way you are used to and can have easy access to.
There is nothing wrong with the old faithfuls:
Standard notation book
With a pencil
But using your phone, tablet, or computer has many advantages that could be the thing that keeps you going.
My favorite way to keep my students lessons together is really the simplest: Google Docs. And, usually that’s what I lean towards: the simplest approach that gives the best results.
With Google docs you can have a running document for your lesson material and add pics and even charts and tables if you want really want to get serious. It’s also a great way to keep a journal of your thoughts about your practice and guitar in general.
Using google sheets is a great way to keep track of your practice times and if you attach a Google form to the front of it, you have a super easy way to enter all of the things you want to keep track of, like:
What time you started practicing
How long you practiced
What you were practicing
What BPM are you working on.
Also in your Google drive, where you keep all of these files, you can store all of your pdf lesson files, tabs, screenshots, and background tracks together in one place. And all it takes to get this is a Gmail account.
I recommend keeping a list of goals you would like to achieve on the guitar. This could be just a list of songs you would like to learn, but I encourage you to go deeper than that. Go wild with this! Think Big!
Think of what you would really like to accomplish on the guitar and write it down. You’ve just completed step one on your way to achieving this wild goal, just by writing it down.
How about that, in a few seconds, you are already on your way towards something awesome. Now take some time to really thing about all of the skills that you would need to be able to do this.
These are your subtasks, the things that will bring you one step closer. Next, arrange them in the order that makes the most sense. At this point, you should have some idea of the things that you need to start working on and the order.
Breaking hard tasks into easy, manageable subtasks is the best way to move forward on the guitar. You will have a lot of small wins on the way to a big win. A great way to stay motivated and pointed in the right direction.
A part of your notebook or a Google doc would be an excellent for keeping track of your goals!
Something that I have found super helpful for my students and my own practice is being able to see what’s going on during a practice.
Being able to see how your technique looks or how your posture is can have you correcting detrimental things in no time at all.
Plus, if you get used to seeing the different chords and scales you are playing, you just might recognize them when you watch someone else play.
That’s a good head start when you are trying to figure out guitar parts from other players.
Using a mirror or the camera on your computer, tablet, or phone can really give you a good idea of how you are doing. And, if you are using a camera to see yourself that leads to …..
Documenting your practice is a great habit to get into. It is great for motivation, to see just how far you have gone. It is also a great way to look back and examine what you may need to work on.
It’s also great for when you have that great idea for a new hit song and you need to capture it. Also, you will have a lot of footage to share on social media if you want.
Being able to record audio and video both are good ideas and I do both.
For audio just having the voice recorder on your phone can get the job done. But, I use a small digital recorder (Zoom H1) that I keep close to my practice space at all times .
And for recording video, your phone or webcam will do nicely!
Here are a few extras that you might want to think about keeping in your practice space.
A good supply of background tracks is always nice. YouTube works great for this, but, there are many different ways to get tracks.
Loop pedals are great and have become indispensable for my practice routine. They are a quick way to put down some chords to practice playing over.
Guitar pro is a great tablature and standard notation editor that I use all of the time. It’s awesome for writing out your own parts or learning tabs from different songs. Just type in your favorite song and then guitar pro and I’m sure you will find a tablature file for your song. If you have seen any of my blog posts, then you have seen how tablature looks on guitar pro. I’m planning something in the future to show what it can do.
So there is all of the things that you can consider keeping in your practice space. Once you get everything laid out the way you want, you are set.
I have found that the most streamlined and effective setup is still the laptop with an audio interface. It can contain most of the things you need to practice with, with the least amount of stuff laying around.
Now that you have everything you need to have an incredibly effective practice space going, it’s time to do a little decorating. It doesn’t have to be much just a little something that inspires you to play.
I have a small block of glass that inside has a laser etched stratocaster that my mother gave me years ago.. I have kept that in my practice space in all of it’s different versions for years.
For me it just has to be there. When I see it, it I know that I’m getting ready to practice. It puts me in the right mood to get things done.
In our facebook group, every once in awhile, someone will share a pic of their space. The different ways guitarist set up and decorate their practice spaces always is fun for me to see. It’s great to see and to get new ideas from other guitarists practice spaces.
Ah, this is where the rubber hits the road. When will you use it?
now that you have your space just the way you want it, and you have everything you need to move forward, it’s time to get real When are you going to get to work? it’s different for everyone.
Some will spend a lot of time in their practice space and some will only have a small amount of time to be there. But, since we have made it so easy to get started, to just sit down with everything you need right at your disposal, a small amount of time may be all you need.
It’s impossible for me to recommend that everyone needs to be in their practice space everyday between the hours of 1 and 2 pm. That’s ridiculous But, what I can do is recommend that you spend at least 20 min a day there.
This repetition of shorter practice time, i have seen, can dramatically speed up your progress.
It kicks your long term memory into high gear and helps you retain the things you are working on.
If you have more time to spend… go for it. This is just a minimum recommendation that I have found to still give you great results even though you have a busy schedule.
In a perfect world, try to find the time when you are the most focused with the least amount of distractions. That is the morning for me.
The real key to this is consistency and repetition. Even if you only have 10 min a day, make sure you take it. In the long term, you will be glad you did!
How do we get started with this new space. How do we approach practicing. There are many many different ways to structure your practice.
From teaching a lot of students over the years, I have found a few good ways to go that have worked for a lot of others, So they may work for you.
First thing is to check out your notes, Check your way of documenting your goals and progress before you get started. Always do that first to make the most of your limited time.
With guitar, it is so easy to just pick it up and start playing stuff. Before you know it, you have noodled your way through your whole practice routine.
We are trying to use this time for dedicated practice to get better. It takes a conscious effort to work on the things that aren’t quite there yet. So, save the jamming for other free times that pop up.
Try to use this time wisely. Turn of your ringer and notifications and try to stick to your time limits. If you know you only have a set amount of time, make a quick breakdown of how much time for each thing you are working on should last, and stick to it.
If you only have 3 min for technique, don’t do 10. You may be better at that technique exercise but you are moving away from something more important: the structure of an effective practice routine.
Instead of going long, if you are not ready to move on with something, just revisit it the next day and keep it structured until you are ready to move forward. Just, leave it for your next practice session
At the end of every practice session, make sure that everything is left the way you like it.
Write out any notes you need before you get up and move on to other things. And,
if you need to get anything for your next practice session make sure you remember to make that happen
As well intentioned as your practice space and your practice time is, life, from time to time will get in the way. If you find you are getting interrupted or having schedule conflicts, don’t’ quit. Don’t give up! Just be flexible.
Deal with the things that you need to and just start back up the next day. There is no rush. The guitar is an ongoing process and having to miss a day is really no big deal.
But if it seems like you are pulled away from practice again and again, you may want to reevaluate things from time to time. If you find you are uncomfortable, have too many things pulling you away from practice, or are not interested in practicing.
Go back over this list to see if there is some change you can make that will make practicing effective again.
So,, taking these steps in setting up and using your new awesome practice space can dramatically speed up your progress on the guitar. To summarize, I went over:
Who: Your time alone with the guitar
What: The basic things you need like your guitar, tuner and metronome, notebook or computer
Some extras: Other things that can add a lot to your practice routine.
Where: Finding the perfect location and how to set that space up
When: The most effective time for you to practice
How: Tips for making the most out of your time in the practice space
…if you are setting up your new practice space or need to work on the one you already have is a checklist from this show that as all of the steps in an easy to use format to help you create the most awesome and effective practice space.
just go to www.playguitarpodcast.com/practice and sign up.
So, I hope that this helps you realize the importance of and give you some ideas about having a really fun but really effective space to speed up your progress on the guitar!
What is your practice space like. We would love to hear about it and even see it if you would like to share a pic. Just leave a comment in the show notes at playguitarpodcast.com/038