Here are a few handy practice tips from John Petrucci, as originally published in the handy July 2004 issue of Guitar World.
01. 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.
02. 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.
03. 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.
04. 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.
05. Record yourself.
After you’ve practiced for an hour or so, turn down the lights and record yourself playing. Improvise and go nuts, then playback 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.
Recommended DVD: 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.
Recommended School: 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?
Recommended Book: The Inner Game of Music, by Barry Green and W. Timothy Gallwey (Doubleday)
Gallwey coauthored 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.