The Indisputable Laws of Good Guitar Practice

If you’re just starting out playing the guitar or bass, sure, you could just pick up your unfamiliar instrument and bash away, hoping to eventually make the jump from fledgling beginner to competent player.

And with enough determination, you might even get there. Eventually.

But by following a few guidelines you can get the most out of your practice sessions.

To make your journey a little easier, here is a list of tips and tricks that will help you reach the next level:

Warm Up
Just like you should stretch before going on a run, you should also warm up a bit before playing the guitar. A few simple workouts will improve your dexterity and strength. Stretch and wiggle your fingers wide and then form fists with both hands. Hold your hands out in front of you as if telling someone to stop and then gently pull your fingers back towards your body. Repeat. That’ll get the blood flowing and help avoid pain.

Establish Your Vision
What do you want to accomplish with your guitar? Do you want to be a technical wizard like Eddie Van Halen? Or do you simply want to be able to lead a group of friends in a campfire singalong? There’s no right or wrong answer. The most important thing is that you have a clear set of goals.

Then, it helps to break those goals down into digestible chunks. Maybe first tackle basic chords, then move on to scales, then pick a song you’d like to learn. It’s best to build a solid foundation of technique with incremental victories before designing your rock-and-roll castle.

Tune Up Right
Nothing can derail a practice session faster than an out-of-tune guitar, so make sure your instrument is tuned perfectly from the jump. Even if you’ve just played your guitar or bass an hour or a day ago, you should still check the tuning. Not only will this keep your playing consistent, it will also ensure that you don’t develop bad habits by overcompensating when you fret notes. All you need is a tuner app, a digital tuner or a trained ear.

Set a Routine
It’s always a good idea to establish good habits when learning a new skill. So having a regular location and time to practice will lead to better results. Find a place that is comfortable and free of distractions—maybe with some of your favorite records nearby for inspiration. Choose a time that fits in with your daily schedule that won’t stress you out, like after school or work.

Switch It Up
That said, it’s easy to get in a rut, so break the tedium by focusing on different techniques and new challenges. Stand up, as opposed to always sitting down. Try another genre of music. Explore new tones. There’s a reason people say variety is the spice of life, right?

Embrace the Mistakes
As with most things in life, you sometimes learn the most when you make a mistake. If you hit a note wrong, take a few minutes to analyze how and why that happened.

What’s more, if you’re not making mistakes, it means that you’re not pushing yourself hard enough. Remember, you’re a newbie at this, so you’ll have some slip-ups, giving you a good idea of what you need to work on.

Record Yourself
The ubiquity of smart phones and tablets means it’s easier than ever to record yourself. In real time, your ears are your best friends, but you might hear new things you need to address upon playback. It might be painful—after all, who really likes hearing the sound of themselves on tape?—but it’s worth it.

One of the best ways to stay motivated and expand your musical vocabulary is to play with other people. Getting together with aspiring musicians on your level can show you that your troubles aren’t unique. And working with more advanced musicians can push you to get better and perhaps offer some valuable insight into how they got to where they are. Check your ego at the door and embrace the knowledge.

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