The Art Of Perfect Practice

Common sense can out trump a college degree any day. Remember taking a spelling test back in school? I do. I remember learning how to misspell a word. Guess what that word was?

“Mispell”.

I just did it again!!!

It’s “misspell”- desntr:&vdsnje#si… (as I bang my head against the keyboard ).

DOH!

I continue to do it today and will probably go on doing so until… I have another spelling test. Should this happen, I will employ the use of this tactic:

Perfect Practice.

The problem was not me. I did practice.

A lot.

A whole lot, and that’s the problem.

If one practices he/she will achieve a result. Intention doesn’t matter. In fact, it seems (at least with me) that the brain craves trash and will hold on to it until we beat it out of our heads with endless repetition. Whenever it comes to practice, it’s best to avoid mistakes altogether.

Perfect Practice.

How? The answer will save you endless hours of frustration.

The cost? A little pride and self inspection.

The reward? Results.

It doesn’t matter what you have done to this point. Even if you’ve learned some bad habits, you’ve still built some muscles that we can use. All we are doing is overwriting the bad stuff with good stuff.

For instance, the chord changes C-Major to G-Major have plagued you from day one. Let’s undo years of endless hacking in a few weeks.

Question… When you drive do you watch your speed odometer? If you’re driving in the rain I bet you do. Knowing how fast you are going can keep you in control. Switching between chords is no different. How fast do you practice this passage that has been giving you trouble?

You don’t know?

Hmmm, I’m willing to bet if the passage requires you to switch chords at 200 beats per minute, that’s what you do right? And you do it often. It seems logical on the surface. I mean, if you want to be a pro you have to play fast like a pro, therefore you practice fast!

Right?

This is a self destructive strategy and I see this mindset all the time at the studio. We need to address this.

Get out the metronome (speed odometer), set it to 30 beats per minute even if you can do it in your sleep, and practice the passage ten times at this boringly slow tempo.

I know, it requires a bit of patience but guess what? Doing that passage ten times in about 5 minutes made you a far better guitar player than two hours of endless hacking mistakes.

Now just imagine what you could do with the extra time. Here is an idea. If that passage was easy and perfect at 30 beats per minute, bump it up to 40, then 50, 60, 70 bpm until you finally make a mistake. By this time you will have played the passage perfectly for 40+ repetitions until you had your first mistake at 70. 40:1 is a good ratio.

Go back to 60 bpm and give me 10 perfect repetitions before going up to 70. If you can play 70 bpm perfectly then bump it up to 80. If not then go back down to 60. More than likely you will hit a wall for the day. If you go more than 10 minutes without trending upward move on to something else… you are done.

Do not try to force progress.

Funny thing about fingers. They have small muscles. When they get tired you don’t necessarily feel it… they just get sloppy. On the contrary take your legs. They have big muscles. When they get tired you know it because you get dizzy, you breathe hard, and they burn.

Fingers do burn and cramp up, but they recover quickly too. It might seem like you can do a certain exercise all day long because you don’t feel tired. When you’ve hit the wall, continue to practice, and start to trend downward, it’s not lack of progress. It’s your body telling you enough is enough.

Perfect practice has limits and this is actually a good thing. It allows you do your reps, get them done, and move on to something else.

For this very reason I divide my guitar practice routine into 6 segments:

Right hand picking 

Strumming drills 

Scales

Chords

Songs

Music Theory

Of course each category has subcategories and so on. Within each category I have set goals using the metronome. At home I have notebook papers full of goals for the metronome. Some of these goals are written and accomplished within minutes., others within days, some take years!

Yes years!

Some goals I may never reach no matter how much I practice them. The point is that I no longer obsess over things I cannot control. All we can do is feed our mind with doing things right more then wrong and knowing our physical limits.

Working less and accomplishing more.

Perfect Practice.

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