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Practice, Practice, Practice

Unfortunately for all of us, there is only so much time in a day. We all are faced with things we need to do, like work or school, sleeping, and eating; things that tend to "get in the way" of all of the things we would like to do. There are also personal aspects such as relationships with significant others and family and recreation that help us to maintain healthy and balanced lives. So how and when do you find time to practice, and what do you practice?

Building a Routine
I have found that building a routine works best for me. I am lucky to have a teaching career at a school of music; if I get there a little early or if some students do not come in for their lessons, I can get some time to work on things. I can not always count on that, so I also make it a habit to practice in the morning when I get up. This routine works for me, and if I miss more then a day or two, I really miss it. It doesn't really matter what your routine is, as long as you have one. Can you squeeze in 30 minutes after school or work? Can you skip Leno or Pokemon or whatever your viewing habits may be?

What to Practice
It is vital to assess your goals in guitar and music so you will know how to best spend your time. There are a few things that I find are universal, but the degree to which you pursue and study them will depend on your individual goals.
  1. Technique - you will have a hard time playing those Jewel tunes (if that is your aspiration) if you can't get your fingers around a few barre chords and can't fingerpick. Likewise, forget about metal or jazz if you can't alternate pick with agility.

  2. Ear training - if your ears are underdeveloped, you will never know if you are playing the correct chords or not, and besides, do you really wanna shell out $5 for a magazine with transcriptions when you only want 1 of the 5 songs offered?

  3. Reading music - you don't have to be able to sight transpose alto clef up a fifth, but wouldn't it be nice to have a basic understanding of all those dots? And it makes it easier to understand the next item:

  4. Theory - music is based on melody and harmony. Melody and harmony are based on scales. Scales are the foundation of theory.

Keeping a Record
I am not an overly organized individual, (if you dont believe me, you should see my bedroom) but I have found that organization greatly aids my practice habits. Go to Wal Mart and buy one of those 75-cent notebooks. Each time you practice, write the date, duration of practice, and what specifically you worked on.

You may not have time to work on everything everyday (see above), but if you keep a record, you can say "I figured out 3 tunes this week, but I still only know 2 ways to play A7 - time to find my 'Chord Chemistry' book..."

Jeremy Cotton is a full-time guitar teacher, and Jeremy Cotton is your friend.