Five practice tips from Dream Theater's John Petrucci

John Petrucci performs with Dream Theater at Oslo Spektrum on May 19, 2022 in Oslo, Norway
(Image credit: Per Ole Hagen/Redferns)

For the July 2004 issue of Guitar World, we asked Dream Theater electric guitar titan John Petrucci to offer readers a few simple tips on how to get more out of their practice sessions.

The advice he offered is truly timeless, and can help guitarists of any skill level further their quest to better understand the instrument. Take it away, John! 

1. Have A Goal

Say to yourself, 'During this hour I’m going to master this passage.' There’s nothing wrong with noodling – it can actually produce some of the best ideas – but you’ll get a lot more out of your practice time if you have an agenda.

2. Vary Your Practicing

Don’t get stuck in a rut. If you started yesterday’s practice playing arpeggios, start today’s with scales. Also, try to make a song out of what you’re practicing to help break the tedium.

3. Use A Metronome

…or a drum machine or sequencer, if you have one. Whatever you use is fine; what’s important is that you learn how to play in time.

4. Go Easy (Even When Shredding)

It’s all about training the tiny muscles in your hands. Start slow, relax and don’t press hard. When you watch your favorite guitarists play, notice how little their hands and fingers move sometimes. The economy of motion can’t be overemphasized.

5. Record Yourself

After you’ve practiced for an hour or so, turn down the lights and record yourself playing. Improvise and go nuts, then play back what you’ve recorded and listen for your strengths and weaknesses. 

We record Dream Theater shows and I’ll sit on the bus and listen to my playing – what worked, what didn’t. A lot of times it’s embarrassing and humbling, but that’s what you have to do to get better.

Rock Discipline (Warner Music). I originally put this out in 1996, and I think it’s very appropriate for players of all levels. It includes segments on warming up, developing speed and accuracy, chromatic exercises – all the things you’d pay an instructor hundreds of dollars for.

The Berklee College of Music. It’s where I formed Dream Theater. The whole environment of the school is very inspiring. It’s in Boston, which is a great town; everybody’s walking around with a gig bag or a saxophone. For a musician, I can’t think of a better atmosphere. Did I mention I formed Dream Theater there?

The Inner Game of Music, by Barry Green and W. Timothy Gallwey (Doubleday). Gallwey also wrote another book, The Inner Game of Tennis. What’s great about this book is how it helps to train your mind to look at music. It’s not so much about actual playing as it is about concentration and expanding your senses. I can’t recommend it enough.

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