Although practicing the classical guitar is an incredibly challenging endeavor, the beautiful music that ensues is worth a million arpeggio exercises.
So how can we ensure our practice sessions are effective?
Gathering knowledge from our previous discussions on practicing, we will explore how to best set yourself up to have consistently productive practice sessions on the classical guitar so you can make and share music with confidence.
Alongside this, considerations of physical and mental health are taken into account for the guitar can be a very lonely instrument most of the time, and an awkwardly shaped one at that!
Now let's jump into specifics on how to practice classical guitar effectively.
Structure & Consistency
Structure can be introduced into your guitar practice sessions to facilitate consistency and reliability in your work.
This not only includes common guitar techniques such as effectively building a guitar practice schedule, but also consistency in your seating position, the order and content of your warm-up routine, and even seemingly trivial things such as your clothing fit can help create an equilibrium between practice and performance.
For example, if you practice guitar in your pajamas it will feel shockingly different to play in formal concert attire.
Remedying this issue could mean practicing at times in your concert clothing to build familiarity with the fit, or finding clothing more similar in fit to your house-clothing.
Some musicians go as far as creating rituals that include opening the case and picking up the instrument the same way, playing the exact same thing for the first time such as a certain chord or a small melodic line. They may eat the same breakfast or have the same cup of coffee next to them during their session.
Small details like this can help lessen the effects of performance anxiety.
More importantly, considering how we can create that consistency in variable situations can help us be more adaptive to different performance spaces.
We can still start with the same routines and certain physical sensations such as being well-rested or doing the same meditation/yoga exercises before playing.
The possibilities are endless!
Practice with Purpose
It can be easy to get distracted while practicing, and we don't even need to make a list to prove it! Is there an instrument at your side as you read this ;)?
Jokes aside, there are many techniques to ensure you are practicing with purpose and a clear intent.
Muscle memory can be both a gift and a curse; once a piece becomes very familiar we are able to become more removed from the physical aspect of guitar playing and pour more energy into experimenting expressively in the moment, especially on stage.
BUT to get to this point, very deliberate practice from the very beginning is important.
Practicing away from the guitar can be accomplished through tasks such as score analysis, visualizing the fingerboard, or practicing the hands apart. These "challenges" ensure the music is concretized clearly in your mind and not a linear pattern from just your fingers.
Customize your warm-up routine
Depending on which repertoire is currently in rotation, our warm up routines can be tweaked to address specific issues presented in the music.
Playing a highly contrapuntal Bach fugue? Work in the BEST Finger Independence Exercises into your routine.
Learning a piece with some challenging slurs? Start Practicing Slurs Like a Boss!
In the classical guitar world we are not wanting for arpeggio exercises and patterns, which is good because they are a core technique in our repertoire.
Choose from Giuliani's 120 Right Hand Studies to match your repertoire; these can be applied literally or to improve issues in RH finger independence.
Just like packing for a camping trip vs. a 5-star resort, you want to be ready with the correct tools to make your journey to an incredible performance as effortless as possible. Customized warm-up routines are great because you can always make necessary changes based on the transformation of your guitar playing over time.
Every instrument presents its own set of risks for injury so it is important to acknowledge our individual struggles and learn to practice guitar healthily.
These actions can be taken before, during, and after your practice sessions including taking breaks and doing bodily warm-ups before picking up the instrument.
Other factors in the longevity of your practice include using ergonomic guitar supports to relieve stress on the upper and lower body (see my tonebase Livestream "Let's Talk Guitar Supports!."), or using Alexander Technique for posture.
Exercising the upper body to help in the support of the arms can also help prevent injury.
It may not be obvious to ensure any physical exercise or other activities are not posing a risk for your hands' health, but both big and small problems can be caused by repetitive or extreme movement.
For example, many classical guitarists have had to give up rock-climbing for the sake of both their ligaments and their nail health!
Caring for your nails is also a surefire way to have the best practice sessions. When our tone is beautiful we feel more powerful, boosting our confidence levels and motivation.
Since we have to shape our nails before every practice session, having a method for your nail care along with quality tools is necessary.
Another aspect of safety that is indispensable to all musicians is being mindful of our mental health.
Our quality of practice is directly related to how we are doing mentally. If we are exhausted during practice, this poses the risk of building mistakes into our guitar playing due to fatigue.
Depression and anxiety can negatively affect practice routines and productivity due to avoidance or apathy.
Reassessing your approach to practice, or even giving yourself permission to take a break (even if it is over a longer period) can renew our motivation and interest by providing new contexts.
Learning to practice well can take your guitar playing further than you may expect.
Playing the classical guitar requires an intense amount of concentration and physical exertion; knowing how to navigate the conflicts of time, energy, and our health can help us practice well throughout the variables of life.
Good and consistent habits of preparation and targeted execution paired with self-care and self-awareness allows longevity in our guitar playing, which is good because we want to be able to play guitar forever, right?
As renowned classical guitar pedagogue Aaron Shearer puts it: "Although learning any musical instrument is not easy, the classic guitar seems to be especially challenging..[because] it offers so many possibilities for mistaken approaches.." - Aaron Shearer, Learning the Classic Guitar
Whether Shearer's comparative observation is true or not, amongst guitarists the feeling is entirely valid that practicing our instrument is a giant task.
But most importantly, never forget the aim is to make and share music!
Did you learn something new?
And there you have it, that's the gist of how to practice classical guitar!
Feel free to click this link to check out our in-depth courses on classical guitar, taught by artists including Grammy winning guitarists and professors from schools such as Juilliard, Eastman, and more.
On tonebase, you will find in-depth courses and workshops with some of the world’s top guitarists, covering a wide range of subjects such as repertoire-specific lessons, classical guitar technique, and more.