Episode 14 of the Bite-Size Guitar Podcast looks at how the way you practice changes you as a guitarist in ways that aren’t obvious at first.
Once you start to notice the things that are covered in this episode, you’ll notice it everywhere in your playing as well as every other guitarist’s playing styles.
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Here are some helpful guides covered in this episode:
- Mindless vs Deliberate Practice – Podcast Episode 4
- How to Plan Your Guitar Practice Routine
- How to Practice Guitar Scales
- How to Practice Guitar Chords
After you listen to this episode (or read the below transcript), take some time to take a close look at what you’re practicing and how you’re practicing those things. You’ll likely find that making a few changes gives you far better results.
Podcast Episode 14 Transcript
Hi, I’m Aaron from guitargearfinder.com and this is episode 14 of the Bite-Size Guitar podcast.
In this short and to-the-point episode, I’ll talk about how the way you practice something influences the guitarist you become in ways that aren’t obvious at first.
What I’ll cover in this episode is so important to understand and once you learn to recognize the effects in your playing, you’ll start to notice it everywhere.
It’s like when somebody buys a red car, then they start seeing red cars everywhere.
Once you start noticing what I talk about in this episode, it’ll change the way you see and think about your guitar playing and other people’s guitar playing.
You Are What You Practice
You’ve probably heard the saying “you are what you eat”. Everybody gets the basic idea that the type of foods you eat have a direct impact on your physical health.
It’s probably no surprise that professional athletes have carefully planned diets to ensure that they get the right nutrients to keep them at peak physical performance.
An NBA player needs a different diet than an Olympic swimmer or a MMA fighter. If any of those athletes switched diets, their performance would suffer.
A fighter needs a diet suitable for fighting, a Basketballer needs a diet suitable for performing on the court, and so on.
Well, it’s similar with guitar.
When it comes to guitar, you are what you practice.
The things you practice every day and how you practice them, will determine not only what type of guitarist you become, but how you play.
I can’t drive this point hard enough.
I’m not just talking about mindless vs deliberate practice like I did in episode 4. That does play a role, but the way you practice and the things you choose to practice also matters.
This can seem confusing at first, so I’ll go through a couple of examples, then I’ll cover some practical steps you can take to make sure you’re on the right track.
As a simple example, somebody who practices nothing but scale runs all day long will end up as a guitarist who plays nothing but scale runs. Over time, they’ll start leaning towards music that uses a lot of scale runs. It becomes a repeating circle – they practice scale runs, so they listen to music that uses scale runs, which reinforces that that’s what they should practice.
Somebody else who practices a lot of complex chords and studies a lot of advanced harmony theory ends up playing music using a lot of chords and advanced theory. That guitarist probably doesn’t play many scale runs, but you can guarantee they’ll throw in a lot of interesting chords while improvising.
This might seem obvious when I say this, but it’s something that flies under the radar of most guitarists. It’s something I didn’t even really think about until I started noticing it in my students.
The best example I can think of with this in action is with Joe Satriani. He didn’t learn chords like most guitarists.
He has said in interviews when he started to take guitar seriously he would practice chord shapes from a Joe Pass book. The book would have a few pages of grouped chords under one heading such as C Major, with different voicings all over the fretboard. Joe committed to practicing every chord in that book every day. While most guitarists only learn one or two shapes per chord, Joe would practice as many voicings for each chord as he could play every day.
Now if you listen to his music, you’ll hear him use these chord fragments and voicings all the time. Practicing different chord voicings all over the fretboard every day eventually became a core part of how he writes music.
If you went back in time and took that book away from him, his music and playing style would be significantly different today.
The main point here is that the way he practiced chords shaped his playing style. He may have thought that this practice was just to memorize the chords, but it changed the way he thought about and played chords.
What Are You Practicing?
So what does this really mean for you?
Well, start by looking at what you’re currently practicing and how you’re practicing it. If you look close enough, you’ll start to recognize how the way you practice something influences the way you play without you realizing it.
As an example, let’s say somebody has been learning scales over the last few weeks. Like many guitarists, they’re learning the scales by breaking them down into positions, then walking up and down each position over and over. This guitarist has got to the point where he can fly up and down each position with ease.
So let’s say we put on a backing track and ask him to improvise using that scale. Have a guess what he will play.
You don’t even need to hear him play to know what he’s going to do. He’s going to start in one position, play up and down that position for a while, then shift to a different position and do something similar.
In other words, he will improvise by playing in positions and a lot of what he plays will be walking up and down one position at a time.
Now let’s compare this to somebody who has been practicing the same scales, but she’s been practicing them one string at a time. She’ll start on the low E string and walk up the scale to the highest point, then walk back down to the open string. Then she’ll do the same thing on the next string and so on.
Compared to most guitarists, this is an unusual way of practicing scales. Now if we put on a backing track and ask her to improvise over it, what do you expect to hear?
You can probably already imagine her starting on one string and coming up with licks up and down the string. At some point, she’ll move to another string, but she’ll spend a lot of time playing up and down each string compared to moving across the strings.
Her playing will sound different because the way she has practiced scales has shaped the way she thinks about and plays scales.
If you haven’t seen anything like this happen before, you might think I’m exaggerating. But I have seen this exact thing happen over and over.
The way we practice something matters far more than what we tend to think.
Even something as simple as practicing scales in positions versus string-by-string significantly changes the way we play guitar.
We tend to think of practicing as a way of getting better at something, but really what we’re doing is training ourselves to think and play in a certain way. The guitarist practicing scales using shapes and positions is training himself to think about scales in positions. That practice isn’t just for memorizing the notes. He’s actually training himself to use the scales that way.
The guitarist practicing those same scales string-by-string is training herself to think about scales string-by-string.
Shape Your Playing Style
That’s just one example using scales, now think about every other technique or aspect of playing guitar. How you practice chords trains you to think about chords in a certain way. How you practice bends, vibrato, slides, picking, strumming, and every other technique trains you to think about these techniques in a certain way.
So once you take a look at what you’re currently practicing and how you’re practicing it, ask yourself if you’re happy with how those things sound. When you practice scales, does it sound like boring exercises? Well, do you really want to train yourself to think about scales in this way? Or can you think of a different way to train yourself to practice scales in a more musical way?
Also ask yourself why you’re practicing the things you’re currently working on. Do you really want the exercises or topics you’re working on to become a part of your playing style?
From now on, when you work on something, just remember that you are what you practice. If there’s something you want to learn, don’t forget that the way you practice it will train you to think about it in a certain way to the point where it can change the way you play guitar.
Look over every aspect of your guitar playing and think about whether you’re happy with it or not. For example, do you like the way you play bends? Are you happy with how your bends sound? If you are, great, move on to something else. If you’re not happy with them, have a listen to some songs with bends you like the sound of. Practice playing those bends over and over until you figure out why you like the sound of them. Once you figure that out, simply practicing those bends over and over will change the way you think about and play bends.
It’s simple, but doing this with every aspect of your playing allows you to shape the way you play and sound. Simply changing the way you practice something can completely change the guitarist you become.
I’ll give you one more example of how the way you practice shapes your playing to make it clear this is something you should spend time thinking about. Whenever a new student starts lessons with me, I ask them to play something to get an idea of their current skill level. One of the first things I’ll notice from listening to their playing is whether they practice with a metronome or not.
Obviously, the students who have been practicing with a metronome tend to have a tighter rhythm and timing compared to students who have never practiced with a metronome. But it goes deeper than that. Practicing with a metronome changes the way they pick the strings, the rhythm patterns they come up with, even the way they improvise and come up with riffs and licks.
When I say you are what you practice, this is what I’m talking about.
Even something as simple as choosing to practice with or without a metronome can completely change the way you sound as a guitarist. Do you want to have a tight and rhythmic style? Then it makes sense to practice regularly with a metronome.
Do you want to have a loose and flowing style? Then maybe it’s better for you to avoid the metronome completely.
Of course, I’m simplifying things here, but when you listen to somebody play guitar, there are clues to how they practice in their playing. So think about the direction you want your playing to go and whether the way you’re practicing matches that direction or not.
This week, spend some time taking a closer look at what you regularly practice and how you’re practicing those things. Does the way you’re practicing those things match up with how you want to sound as a guitarist? If not, look at changing the way you practice those things or you may not enjoy how that practice shapes your playing style.
If you ever catch yourself getting bored while practicing or you don’t like the sound of the exercises you’re playing, change the way you practice. Hopefully I’ve made it clear how important it is to practice in a way that suits the type of guitarist you want to become.
I know this is an abstract way of thinking about practice, but hopefully, I’ve made it clear how important it is to think about it. Have a look at the guides on practicing I’ve included on the page for this episode at guitargearfinder.com/podcast/episode-14.
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I hope this episode has helped you think about practice in a different way. Take a closer look at what and how you’re practicing guitar this week and I’ll talk to you next time.