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How Do you Practice "Correctly"?

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(@chris-c)
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Hi all,

Over the years I've seen a lot of advice about the need for "correct practice" - including some fairly silly slogans like "Practice Makes Perfect" - but not too many really useful tips about how to achieve it. As many people have pointed out, practice alone doesn't make perfect, it simply entrenches whatever you're doing, whether it's good, bad or appalling. The amended version - "Perfect Practice Makes Perfect" seems almost as unhelpful. After all, being less than perfect is the reason why you're practising in the first place. It's a musical Catch 22. :?

So what is Correct Practice, or simply Good Practice? How do you see it?

This is not a simple question. The HOW of practising is a much debated topic, especially on some of the piano forums I've visited, with scholarly (and even quite heated) debate on the merits of various approaches. For instance, some might favour concentrating on note order and fingering first, by practising each hand separately - very slowly and carefully - until it's all been memorised. They may advocate not putting hands together or trying to lift the tempo until you have the notes and fingering order set in stone. However, others convincingly argue that if you take that approach you're simultaneous entrenching the wrong information about rhythm, tempo, expression, etc. which you'll then have to ‘unlearn' later.

It's not hard to see what the detractors might mean. Not only does music sound different when you change the speed, and evoke a different feeling, but aspects of the way it blends and elements of the way you finger things actually change too. (As Chang points out in his book about practising, walking, trotting and galloping are all different gaits - not simply speeded up versions of the same thing. And he insists that the same idea applies when playing music.) All musical learning inevitably seems to involve compromising a number of aspects while you concentrate on another one.

I'm definitely no expert, but I'm slowly developing a collection of practice strategies that seem to work well for me. But how do you see it? I don't mean how do you timetable it by minutes per day, I mean how do you deal with the general process of making and correcting errors, and the whole slow progress towards mastering the skills? What do the rungs on your ladder between being lousy and becoming reasonable look like?

We're all a bit different. So what have you found works for you?

Cheers,

Chris


   
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 cnev
(@cnev)
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jamie Andreas covers this all the time in his newsletters etc. That's what his method is all about Perfect practice and the techniques you need to adhere to in order to have a perfect practice.

To paraphrase some of his ideas is he is a beleiver to start learning new pieces at no tempo and just go through the individual finger motion or whatever while you constantly check yourself for tension etc at every step. Then you slowly start playing the riff or peice that way until you can increase the tempo.

Ok there's way more than that to it . But I did buy his Principles a few years ago and while I think his logic has merit I was not as disciplined with his methodology. I'm impatient and tend to try and play some things faster than I should to begin but lately as I have been practicing more difficult solo's (at least for me they are) I have found myself going back and using his no-tempo approcah to just walk through the lines to get a feeling for the muscle memory and to try and be sure I am being as ecomical with my pick/finger moverments as possible.

It's hard to tell whetjer it really makes a difference or I'm just slowly learning it but either way I'm improving.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!


   
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(@unimogbert)
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+1 to cnev's posting.

Andreas offers both philosophy and techniques which I think are quite valuable.
My playing has improved from using the techniques to conquer difficult passages and barriers I had.
A foundation in it is to pay attention to what you are doing. Sounds simple but the quality and intensity of the attention is very high- higher than most people are used to doing.

Unimogbert
(indeterminate, er, intermediate fingerstyle acoustic)


   
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(@noteboat)
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"correct" practice is pretty simple to explain, but the explanation has to be general. There are a lot of different skills involved in playing the guitar, and each one needs to be internalized by practice. So before you can answer "how do I practice correctly" there's a more basic question: "what am I practicing?"

The answer isn't a song. It's a skill. So you need to identify that first.

Let's say you want to be smoother at a chord change. That's your goal. Now identify the skills that are lacking... are you placing your fingers down at the same time? Are you landing them in the right place? Are you lifting fingers that don't need to be moved? Is there a more efficient finger motion you could use? Are your fingers being lifted too high? Are your fretting and strumming hands coordinated with each other?

Pick one weakness. That's the skill you want to improve in this practice session or practice cycle.

Now practicing "correctly" is pretty simple - are you executing that skill? (If not, slow down and do it right!)

You'll get the most progress when you build core skills first - the ones that apply in every situation (posture, hand position, etc). But there are some skills that don't overlap with others; sweep picking arpeggios is a completely different skill set than strumming hand chord damping. So what's "correct" depends at least in part on what you're working on. But as you acquire new skills, you'll want to keep an eye on the old ones... make sure you're not backsliding in something like hand position just because you're focused on speed (or whatever)

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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(@chris-c)
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A foundation in it is to pay attention to what you are doing. Sounds simple but the quality and intensity of the attention is very high- higher than most people are used to doing.

That sounds spot on to me. I've been reading a bit lately about research into what separates the really good from the merely OK and the quality and style of attention seems to be a big factor. It's the age old debate between 'Nature and Nurture' - i.e. are greats in any field born or made? The current thinking appears to be that there are a few factors - firstly you need the right circumstances to give you the opportunity that you need to follow your passion/interest, and you also need to put a lot of time in. So with music that might mean being brought up in a musical or supportive environment, getting a good teacher, or simply having the freedom to spend hundreds of hours listening to good players, whether it be live or on CD. But in all cases it was suggested that the quality of the learner's concentration was a huge factor - it wasn't just sheer number of hours or getting a good teacher alone. So it wasn't so much being born a "natural" musical genius in particular as having a natural ability to pay the right sort of attention, and for longer, than most others, and then putting the required time and focus in.

I suppose that does give some hope for the rests of us - who didn't turn out to be child prodigies - that we can to some extent develop that ability to focus. A crucial part of that (for me at least) is keeping things alive and interesting.
Ok there's way more than that to it . But I did buy his Principles a few years ago and while I think his logic has merit I was not as disciplined with his methodology.

That must have been a while back if she was still a 'he' when you bought it. I never bought the book but I did read a bunch of interesting stuff at the site (also back before his/her change-over). I found some of it useful but didn't really go with the whole error free and 'perfect' thing.

My feeling is that error is not only inevitable but that trial and error is a fundamentally necessary and useful way to learn. I'm definitely no expert, but so far, I believe that the key probably lies, not in stressing out about being error free, but in the quality of attention you pay to the errors, what you learn from them, and how well you go about the process of adjustment. I don't fear the mistakes themselves, and indeed I feel that they help show me where the edge of the road is, and even sometime illuminate potential new paths. Trial and error has served me very well, in a number of fields over the years. I firmly believe that the key isn't to get too anal about being error free, but in working on paying quality attention both in picking them up as they happen, and then being able to react to what you hear. A very famous violinist once said that he makes as many mistakes as anybody else, but the differences is that he corrects them before most people can hear them. :) I think there might be a bit of truth in that...

Cheers,

Chris


   
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(@chris-c)
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"correct" practice is pretty simple to explain, but the explanation has to be general. There are a lot of different skills involved in playing the guitar, and each one needs to be internalized by practice. So before you can answer "how do I practice correctly" there's a more basic question: "what am I practicing?"

The answer isn't a song. It's a skill. So you need to identify that first.

Thanks for another of your great replies NoteBoat. :D

The drills for skills versus wanting to learning songs seems to be an issue for nearly every beginner. I was recently talking to a friend who teaches guitar and he laughingly said that one of the first things that all the kids ask - often within minutes of beginning to learn music - is "Can I learn a cool song?"

Indeed, many people seem to think that doing drills is the boring and off-putting part of learning, and determinedly try to fit it all into the context of learning particular songs. But that seemed just too stressful and messy to me. Too many new things going on at once.

However, I certainly do find doing repetitive drills, exercise, scales etc very dull and aversive if I do them 'straight' - as if they were necessary chores, and the concentration just doesn't stay at the level it should. Yet I do believe that it's essential to try and build skills outside of just working on songs. So part of what seems to work for me is doing most of my learning via ‘made up for the occasion' tunes rather than by trying to learn other people's songs. Exercises with attitude if you like... :wink:

So I currently do a lot of improvised style of playing that focuses on one aspect (for which I have an intended 'right' answer to shoot at) and I leave everything else free and open. So, if it was a new chord change then I'd usually not try and learn it in the context of the tune or song that I'd eventually be using it in. Instead, I'd make up my own new tune around the change - at whatever speed and style I could handle comfortably, and have some musical fun along the way, as I slowly worked my way up towards the standard I'd need if and when I tackled a song from a songbook or CD. I never do drills, exercises, or scales just straight - I always turn them into some kind of tune. Dull drills effectively turned me off music (and thousands of others of my generation who had school piano lessons inflicted on them) for over 40 years. I'm not letting that happen again.

:mrgreen:

Cheers,

Chris


   
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(@davidhodge)
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...I certainly do find doing repetitive drills, exercise, scales etc very dull and aversive if I do them 'straight' - as if they were necessary chores, and the concentration just doesn't stay at the level it should. Yet I do believe that it's essential to try and build skills outside of just working on songs. So part of what seems to work for me is doing most of my learning via ‘made up for the occasion' tunes rather than by trying to learn other people's songs. Exercises with attitude if you like...

You're far from alone in that, Chris. In fact, a lot of the old masters of classical guitar (Carcassi, Giuliani, Sor, etc.,) created wonderful studies for their students which are quite often mistaken for songs because of their melodic and harmonic beauty. They're just too wonderful to be heard as simply an exercise. The late, great teacher Frederick Noad put together many good collections of classical studies, and they are an excellent way for fingerstyle guitarists to expand their skill levels. They also are great for teaching students how lead lines, melodies, chord shapes and scales all fall into place.

It's kind of cool to find that guitar studies written over two hundred years ago can still be incredibly useful.

Peace


   
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(@noteboat)
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Chris, I'm with you on applying the skills - "drills for skills" can be very boring, and it's best if a student sees an immediate application.

I do give drills for skills if there's a generic weakness (usually in finger strength or dexterity), but most of the time I'll try to create a drill that ties into a song a student is learning. The drill might only involve a couple of beats of a song, but the student can see how practicing it fits into the whole.

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(@hyperborea)
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I've been reading a bit lately about research into what separates the really good from the merely OK and the quality and style of attention seems to be a big factor. It's the age old debate between 'Nature and Nurture' - i.e. are greats in any field born or made? The current thinking appears to be that there are a few factors - firstly you need the right circumstances to give you the opportunity that you need to follow your passion/interest, and you also need to put a lot of time in.

Chris,

I also was reading some of the "popular" versions of the research on "greatness" recently and your summary seems spot on. What's needed is lots of quality practice with quality instruction / guidance. The quality of the practice is one that requires "awareness" and concentration. This concentration is mentioned in the research as the biggest limiting factor in the amount of practice that one can do. The capacity for this concentration starts out small in all beginners and then rises over time as they essentially practice concentration. The amount of useful concentration tops out at maybe 4 hours a day.

I would suggest that those who want to have a fuller summary of the research on this have a look at the book Talent is Overrated. The first half of the book is a good summary of the research - the second half of the book is more about how to apply this to business and so not at useful.

If you want to go to the source then the research that this book (and some others) are based on is by K. Anders Ericsson. I plan to look over some of his work through our local library. There is The Road To Excellence: the Acquisition of Expert Performance in the Arts and Sciences, Sports, and Games and The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance.

Pop music is about stealing pocket money from children. - Ian Anderson


   
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(@chris-c)
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It's kind of cool to find that guitar studies written over two hundred years ago can still be incredibly useful.

Peace

That's so true. :D

I've had a good example of that over the last few weeks. Every Tuesday I go into the local music shop and a few of us get together and play. Technically it's a public performance, but very informal. More like a jam, but with scores on the music stands. There's Roy (well into his 70s ) on the mandolin through to Dan in his 20s (who teaches guitar and drums there). Now Dan can play Rock, Punk, Blues or whatever, as you'd expect,and we often do bits of that too. But he recently discovered a book of tunes and dances from the 16th and 17th century (left at the shop by an equally unlikely figure - a large wild, hairy banjo teacher.... :shock:). So, instead of his usual acoustic or electric guitar, or electronic drum kit, we have Dan playing bass lines on a cello... and we get into a groove that's well over 400 years old :mrgreen:

One of the tunes is the delightfully named "Dance for a Fugger Lady" so we were able to crack all the expected schoolboy jokes about the rich Fuggers getting all the best tunes, etc. (The Fugger family were apparently wealthy patrons of the arts back in the 1500s)..... :roll:

As a rhythm player in the group my job is then usually pretty easy - the arrangements of those old tunes use a lot of the same easy chords over and over - but if there are any curly ones I have to improvise on the fly and just play a substitute chord, or even a single note. Provided I keep the pulse and heart of the dance going it's not a big deal though. So it's great practice for keeping a rhythm going, and bringing the 'feel' of the piece alive without give the fingers any really taxing shapes. Later, during the next week I can figure out a little mini piece to teach my fingers the way through any tougher parts. Good fun.

A lot of people seem to get around the issues of 'too many things to learn at once' by playing everything super slowly while they learn a new piece, and then work on the tempo etc later. Fair enough. But, more and more these days I seem to treating the underlying pulse of the music as the part that I value the most. So I'll now often try and start with that pretty close to full speed, by using a simplified version of the chords or melody line if necessary, and then add more to them as I progress. I guess there's more than one way to skin a cat, and as long as I stay enthusiastic, with attention properly engaged, it all seems useful - and most enjoyable too. 8)

Cheers,

Chris


   
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(@chris-c)
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If you want to go to the source then the research that this book (and some others) are based on is by K. Anders Ericsson. I plan to look over some of his work through our local library. There is The Road To Excellence: the Acquisition of Expert Performance in the Arts and Sciences, Sports, and Games and The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance.

Thanks for the list. :) I'd lost the article that I'd meant to keep about Ericsson, so that info will be most useful.

Another guy who seems to be doing interesting research into music is Daniel Levitin.

Cheers,

Chris


   
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(@bjourne)
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Not that I know the answer to the question, except that you must practice often and a lot. But I have an idea on how to find out what the correct practice is. For example, I have been playing for almost a year and have been able to put in roughly two hours of practice each day. So about 600-800 hours of practice. Someone else who has put in a comparable amount of hours and plays significantly better than me (there are lots of those :)) practices better.

Basically just identify those people that acquires the most skill per unit of time and copy what they do because they are using the best practice technique. The beginner videos thread in Hear Here would be an excellent source of research material.


   
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 Cat
(@cat)
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So what is Correct Practice, or simply Good Practice? How do you see it? Chris

I NEVER practice. At least, I've convinced myself that playing the same thing over and over and OVER again ain't practice...it's simply getting it good enough to get paid! :lol:

Cat

"Feel what you play...play what you feel!"


   
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(@chris-c)
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I NEVER practice. At least, I've convinced myself that playing the same thing over and over and OVER again ain't practice...it's simply getting it good enough to get paid! :lol:

Cat

:)

I think a lot of players would go along with that Cat. I've lost track of how many people have told me that they don't 'practice', they just 'learn songs' or noodle, experiment, improvise, muck around, or whatever...... Anything but use the dreaded P word, which seems to have a firm association in many minds with dullness, and being compelled to do boring things that you would rather not.

Reminds me of the story of the musician caught by his wife whilst in bed with his mistress. Quick as a flash he sits up, looks her in the eye and says:

"You know how much I hate Practice, my love, but you and I do have our regular Saturday night Performance coming up tomorrow..."

:twisted:

Cheers,

Chris


   
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 Cat
(@cat)
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Yeah, Chris...this "practice vs just playing" thing is one case where self-dilusion seems to be quite okay!

For me...and not just for my musicianship...having some looming wall in front of me seems to help...like FINALLY studying for that exam that is now suddenly upon you.

My oldest boy's in uni and in control of a multi-million dollar recording facility. I'm coming in to do some songs (just chordings set to a click track) so I can send the music out to two pros in the US before they fly out here when we'll do the rhythm section "for real".

I dunno, Chris...I've played cover tunes with bands that wrote 'em...in front of thousands...and I regularly get to hear my jingles on radio and TV in random surprises...but this session actually SCARES me!!! :?

Cat

"Feel what you play...play what you feel!"


   
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