Recently, during a 10-hour flight to Europe, I took the time to reflect on my guitar playing.
In 2014, I want to make some big changes to my approach to practicing. I've felt recently as if my current practice routine isn't challenging enough; I was beginning to become stuck in my "comfort zone." So I decided to make a list of changes or improvements I would make to my practice habits in 2014.
Here they are:
01. Always turn off the TV when practicing. Sitting in front of a TV and running exercises to a metronome is something many guitarists get into the habit of doing. The only benefit you gain from is this sort practice is purely mechanical. I would argue that there is little point to this style of practice due to the fact that your mind is not actively engaged. From now on, I'm going to make sure everything I practice is a challenge for my brain as well as my fingers.
02. Improvise for an hour a day. I'm a big believer in improvising and the benefits it can have on a player's ability to express him- or herself musically. I try to improvise as much possible, but this year I want to really push myself to improvise regularly and in different styles. I would advise you to record yourself improvising and analyze what you play. Be critical and listen for areas you can improve on.
03. Learn songs by ear instead of TAB. This is something that will help any guitar player. It's a simple fact that the more you train your ears, the better a player you will be. A great exercise is to pick one of your favorite solos that you don't already know how to play and try to figure it out by ear. Depending on the complexity, it might take several days just to learn the first bar, but the more you work on it the quicker you will progress.
04. Learn a challenging piece every month. This could be an extension of the previous point, but learning a challenging song or classical piece every month is a good way to keep growing as a musician. You might remember my classical lessons (Paganini and Mozart); these are good examples of pieces you can learn to challenge yourself. Learn just a couple of bars each day — and learn it by ear for an extra challenge!
05. Think outside the box for everything you play. Maybe this is a bit "generic," but this year I want to question everything I play and ask myself, "Can I do this in a different way?" If you read my columns, you'll know how much I value being able to express your own style and character through guitar playing. Having a unique approach to learning will help to define your own "sound."
Will Wallner is a guitarist from England who now lives in Los Angeles. He recently signed a solo deal with Polish record label Metal Mind Productions for the release of his debut album, which features influential musicians from hard rock and heavy metal. He also is the lead guitarist for White Wizzard (Earache Records) and toured Japan, the US and Canada in 2012. Follow Will on Facebook and Twitter.