John Petrucci: Practice Tips, Part 1
We revisit John Petrucci's classic Guitar World column, "Wild Stringdom."
Of all the things that can frustrate a guitarist the most, it's the nagging feeling that he's not reaching a certain level of proficiency as quickly as he should. If you are one of those players who plays for hours on end yet doesn't see the desired results, then this lesson's for you. It's all about the most overlooked aspect of guitar playing: practicing.
Before you start a practicing regimen, you have to be aware that the study of music is a lifelong process-it's a discipline. And the key to mastering any discipline is consistency. It's much better to play the guitar a half hour a day, every day, than not practice for a week and then jam for five hours one day.
Getting the most out of your practicing regimen depends on not only the quantity, but the quality of time you put in. If you practice in a focused, concentrated manner and make efficient use of your time, you will progress a lot faster than if you were to use the same time noodling without any specific goals or direction. That's not to say that you're guaranteed to get good without putting in a lot of time-that just won't happen (I still remember how I sometimes used to shed up to 10 hours a day!). But if you apply yourself to the work and use your time efficiently, you'll see very gratifying results-you'll retain a lot more information and bolster your technique.
Without reservation, I feel that time management is one of the major keys to developing a successful practice schedule. It's actually quite simple-if you structure what you have to practice ahead of time, chances are you'll put in the required work. Conversely, if you pick up your guitar without having a clue as to what to play, you'll probably just rehash a few licks you already know, quickly get bored, and lament your lack of progress.
I learned how to make the most of my practice time early on. Here's what I did: first, I figured out how much time I had for my session. Then I would parcel out specific blocks of time for each subject that I wanted to cover. For example, if I only had allotted two hours for practice, I would divide that time into eight 15-minute chunks and practice scales for 15 minutes, then move on to arpeggios for 15 minutes, etc.
Giving yourself small time parcels to learn specific topics makes the broader subjects more manageable and less intimidating. For example, being faced with the prospect of learning all the modes in all the positions can seem to be an insurmountable task. But if you say to yourself, "For the next 15 minutes, all I'm going to learn is the A Dorian scale in the fifth position and nothing else," all of a sudden the task becomes a lot more manageable. And once you master that small bit of information, it gives you positive reinforcement to go on to the next topic, such as learning the A Dorian scale in the seventh position.
We all know that practicing can get kind of boring. It's very similar to working out-you know that it's good for you and you're getting a lot out of it, but sometimes it's hard to motivate yourself to get started. That's why practicing in 15-minute increments can be psychologically very freeing. Instead of being faced with the prospect of sitting in the same seat and staring at a music stand for two hours, you only have to concentrate for 15-minutes at a time. And 15 minutes goes by in a flash! And of course, if that's too long for you, you could divide that 15 minute parcel into three five-minute sections. And c'mon, five minutes is nothing-it would take you almost that long to read this column!
So how do you start a regimen for yourself? Simple: List your goals and be specific. Instead of saying "I need to learn some scales and arpeggios and get my chops up," figure out exactly what scales and arpeggios you need to learn. Is there a picking pattern giving you problems? Target it and work it out! The best piece of advice I can give you is to always practice what you don't know, not what you do know.
With all that in mind, let's take a look this sample schedule depicting the first hour of a practice session. It only covers a couple of subjects that you should be practicing, but it should give you enough of an idea of how detailed your daily practice plan should be. Next time, we'll look at how to organize the overwhelming quantity of music you can choose from. See ya then!
SAMPLE PRACTICE SCHEDULE
Right- and left-hand synchronization (20 min.)
Figure 1 (5 min.)
Figure 2 (5 min.)
Figure 3 (5 min.)
Figure 4 (5 min.)
Scales (20 min.)
G major, third position (5 min.)
G minor pentatonic, third position (5 min.)
G Dorian, third position (5 min.)
G Mixolydian, third position (5 min.)
Arpeggios (20 min.)
Am7, second position (5 min.)
Am7, fifth position (5 min.)
Am7, seventh position (5 min.)
Am7, twelfth position (5 min.)