As Blood Runs Black Guitarist Dan Sugarman on Optimizing Your Practice Time, Part 2
The Un-Comfort Zone
My idea behind this concept is to remove yourself from the things you are most comfortable with. For instance, many players feel more comfortable when playing in the middle of the guitar neck (somewhere between fret 5 & fret 15). For some reason, guitarists tend to avoid the more extreme areas of the neck such as frets 1 through fret 4, or anything above fret 15. I want you to work these areas of the guitar neck as much as you would work on the middle area of the neck, if not more.
You can play the same exercises that you would in the middle of the neck, just move it either up above the 15th fret, or down to the 1st fret. Try playing scalar passages and arpeggios in these extreme parts of the neck as well. This idea will actually expand the possibilities of what you can do on your guitar, as well as show you how to take full advantage of the entire guitar neck while soloing or riffing.
By playing on the lower frets, you will be expanding the reach and flexibility of your fingers, which will in turn make the other areas of the neck seem much easier to play in. By playing on the higher frets, you will be challenging your fretting hand technique as well as the precision and coordination that the higher notes require.
- You can also take an exercise and shift the entire thing to different strings. Changing up what strings you're used to playing the exercise on will force you to pay attention to new details and remaster it all over again. By changing strings you are also changing the positioning of your right hand, or as I call it - your "home position." What I mean by that is the right hand needs to be positioned in a way that is most beneficial to your picking angle (the angle of the pick in relation to the string - which effects the overall tone of the note you play) economy of motion, as well as keeping the picking movement coming from your wrist and not your arm.
Each string's thickness also plays a huge roll in your picking response as well as your fretting hand's control over those strings. These are only some of the details you will need to be aware of. I'm sure you will encounter more as you experiment with this idea such as unwanted string noise, finding the right touch in both hands, and controlling your dynamics and the overall tone.
- Mix it up! You think you've mastered an exercise? Try starting it with an upstroke instead of a downstroke this time. This will literally reverse everything that you're used to and force you to pay close attention once again.
- Also try this: Add legato to the exercise if possible. Now you are working on your fretting hand's strength as well as the muting techniques that are required to achieve a clean legato sound.
- You think you've got that scale/exercise down? Try playing it with a swing feel now to challenge yourself rhythmically once again. Once you've become satisfied with the progress made - shake things up a bit so that you are challenged once again.
- Don't only practice what you're good at, either! That would be going against everything that you're working for - becoming a better musician. Remember that you're practicing so that you can become the best guitarist you can possibly be. You're not trying to be the best at exercising. Change it up! Challenge yourself! The goal is to turn all of your weaknesses into strengths - ALL OF THEM. Don't forget about ear training, theory, song writing and composition, chord knowledge, improvisation, jamming with other musicians, analyzing songs or chord progressions etc. etc.
Do not ignore your real weaknesses because you are so blinded by your strengths. Write all of your weaknesses down on a piece of paper, prioritize them, and then begin the process of turning those weaknesses into your strengths.
The whole point of The Un-Comfort Zone is to constantly challenge your mind and your fingers to keep you from becoming bored or too content with where you are as a musician. Remember that there is ALWAYS something to work on - even when you think you're at the finish line! But don't beat yourself up over knowing that this never ends...music is an art, and art is constantly and endlessly growing and evolving. It's a beautiful thing.