|Ok, so here’s a question that comes up a lot. What do I actually practice? Problems with organizing your practice usually come down to doing not enough (i.e. just practicing songs), doing too much (trying to practicing everything you know everyday and getting overloaded), or just picking up your instrument and fiddling around (no direction).
I personally organize my practice into what I call The Three T’s. Technique, Transcription and Tunes.
Technique is a means to an end. It’s doing the work that allows you to actually be able to physically play the guitar (i.e. the exercises from your G4 book).
Transcription is learning music by ear. I know transcribing usually has something to do with literally writing something down, but that’s not what I mean here. I’m talking about turning on a track, picking a part (could be a specific riff, or a solo or whatever) and trying to listen and learn the part completely by ear. I’ve had some transcriptions take me 15 minutes, and I’ve had some take years. It depends on where your ears are and how difficult the piece is. I’m currently working on a Wynton Marsalis solo that I anticipate will take me well over a year. Many of you on this email list are beginners, so transcribing a solo will be practically impossible at this stage (don’t worry, that can change). In this case transcription for you could be just trying to figure out the strumming rhythm to one of your favorite songs. Or even playing along with a song you don’t know and just poking around with certain notes and chords to see what sounds good. It’s all about training your ear to connect with the music.
Tunes. This section of practice is about building a set of songs that you can play. This differs from transcription in that you can learn a song several different ways. You can learn it by ear (like transcription) or via instructional video, sheet music or (gasp) TABS, etc.
So how do you divide your practice? If you’re an absolute complete beginner your practice should probably be 100% technique. If you’re a beginner with a couple weeks to a couple months of regular practice under your belt it could look something like this:80% technique (i.e. your G4 book)20% tunes
If you’re Senior Level 2 and above you can probably start fooling around with some transcriptions. A sample practice session could look like this:50% technique (i.e. your G4 book)30% tunes20% transcription
If you’re a more advanced student with a lot of really strong technique under your belt your practice might look like this:20% technique50% transcription30% tunes
If you’re a gigging musician your practice could look something like this:10% technique40% transcription50% tunes
If you’re REALLY trying to nail a specific thing it could be:90% T__(fill in the blank)5%__5%__
At the end of the day what I’m trying to say is that you should deliberately divide your practice into timed sections before you start practicing. The Three T’s have helped me get there. Shoot me a message and let me know how you’re dividing your practice!