Practicing is one of the most important things that we do as classical guitarists, so it makes sense that we would want to optimize the process as much as possible. After all the more streamlined our practice sessions are, the more information we can retain, the quicker we can move forward and the more we can enjoy reaping the rewards of our hard work.
Here are 10 tips for practicing classical guitar so you can be more efficient with your time in the practice room!
1. Take active breaks
No matter how urgent your practice sessions are, make sure you stand up and shake your body out at least every half an hour.
This isn’t just for your physique and to avoid injury, but also so that you can refresh your mind and concentrate on the goals you are trying to achieve in this session. That being said, it is also important that when taking a break you keep your mind active, bonus points if you can find ways to keep your brain active that aren’t obsessing over a change of fingering.
2. Never fail twice
I once heard somebody say this in the gym and initially thought nothing of it. But after some reflection (and musing over how practicing music is a completely different entity than working out), I realized that this is a really helpful practice rule.
After all, every single movement we make is made by a nerve impulse in our body, no movement is made without the control of our brain. So given that we are truly focused when we are working, there is no reason that we should be making the same mistake twice in a row.
3. Always warm up
This should really go without saying, but plenty of us are skipping this vital step of our practice.
Always warm up before practicing, even if it is just a few small stretches, the muscles must be warm to avoid injury. Not only this, but even one minute of concentrating on the physical sensations of movement really help you to align with your body and tap into those haptic nerves that are so important for practice.
4. Start the day with your hardest task
Here’s a tip lifted straight out of a self improvement business book! It works - getting this task you have been avoiding done first thing in the day, or at least making head way with it will put you in amore positive frame of mind than the mental load of procrastinating a task you know is important.
5. Prophesy or spend your life trouble shooting
So much of what we do in our practice is iron out mistakes and honestly it can get tiring and demoralizing to have the weight of so many previous mistakes in our fingers.
If your schedule allows - and trust me you will save more time this way in the long run - start prophesying where mistakes might show up before getting your teeth into a piece and mentally work out potential problems in a preventive way rather than a remedial afterthought. You will save yourself time, energy and its away to better get to know your hands and your strengths!
6. Write on your music
It’s something we’re so used to as young students, but somehow many of us fall out of the habit of writing our fingerings in as we get older.
We always think we won’t forget that right hand fingering, or that cool left hand cluster chord position that we spent hours working out, but after a few months or years, even the coolest things get lost in the sands of time. Save yourself the frustration of trying to recall those notes years later by writing everything in the score now.
Added bonus is that writing and reading on the score in your own writing is also a powerful memorization technique.
7. Find out what you want
Sitting in a room for hours on end working towards something that is undefined is similar to the torture methods employed by most dictatorships we know in our recent history.
Setting goals and achieving them (no matter how long it takes to get there) is an important way of measuring how successful your practice system is and it will help you have the feeling that you are getting somewhere in your work, which in turn will help you feel happier about your life.
We all know how to breathe, but how many of us breathe steadily throughout our practice sessions? If you think you do, but it is something you haven’t paid attention to then I can 100% guarantee that there are moments you are holding your breath, breathing shallowly or breathing excessively deeply.
It’s an occupational hazard and the culprit for it falls comfortable between being a manifestation of physical stress and excitation and emotion for the music you are performing. Get yourself a breath builder, try not to pass out and thank me later.
9. Record yourself
I heard this said a thousand times before I tried it, now it is one of the most important, tangible parts of my practice. It is so much easier to look at the movements your body is making when you can slow it down to 0.5 speed and zoom in to watch the trajectory of your left elbow.
Treat yourself like a student. Record yourself, then take a break and make a coffee and sit and scrutinize your physical movements and make notes. Not only will you discover so much more about the reflex movements you make, but being able to watch yourself back during breaks is a fun way to engage your mind in your playing whilst giving the body a rest.
10. Talk about it
Very few ideas in history have come to fruition through perseverance and work alone.
We need each other, whether that means talking with your teacher about how you spend your practice time, talking with friends honestly about thee things you find tricky, or going down to your local music society and asking musicians questions about how they prepare for concerts. Most good ideas and streamlined processes are through collaborative efforts, having one conversation about scales might save you 10 years of struggle or injury.
So put your pride aside and allow yourself to indulge in a little growth mindset once in a while, nobody is judging!