“Practice makes perfect.” is an often repeated phrase in the world of music lessons, but it’s a misleading one at best. Truth is, practice doesn’t make perfect. If that were true the person who practices the greatest amount of time will achieve the most. However,there are many students who “practice” diligently but never make progress in the ways that our necessary. There are others who seemingly practice little but progress in great strides. What’s happening?
The reality is, “Perfect practice makes perfect.”
What’s the difference?
The difference is in the quality of practice, not quantity, and it makes all the difference.
Here are examples of bad practice:
Consuming study material as fast as possible without completely internalizing the lessons within.
Continually repeating mistakes with the hope that it will work itself out eventually.
Always starting from the beginning of whatever study material.
Trying to play fast without being accurate.
Practicing without an understanding of rhythmic placement.
While you might make initial progress while practicing badly, you will quickly plateau if you never address the core problems. Worse yet, you may learn bad habits and will have to spend more time fixing those than had you practiced properly.
Here are some examples of perfect practice:
Extracting as many musical lessons as you can from a single piece of material.
Practicing good technique slowly, and gradually increasing the speed as the movements become internalized.
Extrapolating problem areas in a piece of music and fixing them before reintroducing them into the full context.
Practicing with a metronome click placed on different beats to reinforce your internal sense of rhythm.
Perfect practicing will make sure that you address all of your problems and ensure steady musical progress.
Perfect practice is also a great time saver! This is a powerful motivator for me, or anyone who finds limited time for practice. If you don’t practice perfectly, you will inevitably have to correct the bad habits you pickup. As a result you will be spending more time on material that could have been conquered if you did it correctly from the start.
I hope that my “How to Play Fast” series has been helpful to you.
Part 1 was about relaxation. Part 2 was efficiency. Part 3 was about playing accurately.
Now we will talk about the practical applications of the three principles.
The first application is to play as quietly as possible. Electric guitar players should turn up their amps to compensate. This accomplishes relaxation and efficiency because people will lighten up on their touch when trying to play quietly. Once you gain enough control over this new way of playing, you will find it easier to control the volume and tone you get from the strings. You will be able to make it “yell” or “whisper” for example.
The second application involves using a metronome. This will improve your accuracy. Start slowly, around 60bpm if you are playing eighth notes. After no less than three perfect repetitions of a piece of music, increase the tempo by 2bpm. Within a half-hour, you will be reaching tempos you were unable to before. At a certain point you will no longer be able to keep up with the metronome. Take note of this tempo and aim to break the record next time, even by 1bpm. With daily practice, after a month you will be playing 30bpm faster! I also encourage the use of various metronome exercises that involve placing the clicks on different beats (2&4, only 4, etc.)
It can be hard to remind ourselves of all of the principles as a practice session progresses. A full length mirror is a useful tool to observe these principles being applied to ourselves. If you don’t look relaxed, you likely aren’t relaxed. Make sure no matter which angle you observe yourself, that you always look and feel no tension. Be patient with yourself as your body learns these new approaches and practice them until they become a habit.
That’s it! I hope you found this useful and good luck on your journey.
Hi, and welcome to the third and final installment of a three-part series called “How to Play Guitar, Fast”.
In part one, we talked about relaxation. In part two, we talked about efficient movement.
Part three is about playing accurately before trying to increase the speed of your playing.
Sometimes people tackle the speed issue by trying to muscle through it. In other words, they keep slamming into the same mistakes over and over in the hopes that they’ll make a breakthrough one day. As a result of making the same mistake over and over, this eventually becomes “muscle-memory” and you’ll be stuck having to break these habits before you can progress. Why not avoid this situation and wasting time? Get it right, at the start.
Start slowly. Impatience is the biggest enemy here but it actually doesn’t add much to your practice time. In some situations, you can see a dramatic increase in your ability to play fast even after 30 minutes of focused practice. Make sure to articulate each note, avoiding fret-buzz and incomplete notes. If you’re using alternate picking, then make sure your pick stroke directions are correct.
When people play fast but inaccurately, it is the musical equivalent of talking in a fast and slurred speech. It can be distracting and take someone out of the moment of an amazing musical experience. However, there are some musicians who are not technically accurate but still manage to convey strong emotion. Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) comes to mind. While he may have figured out a way around his technical limitations, it’s important we don’t use it as an excuse to be lazy about our own playing. He is an exception to the rule.
Thanks for reading part 3! Next time, I will follow up with a few practical exercises that apply the three principles we’ve talked about.