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Author Topic: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?  (Read 7729 times)

Offline Obsidian

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Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?
« on: July 25, 2012, 01:12:34 AM »

While I did touch my guitar at times I didn't really take it places for the last couple of years. It took me a bit but I am finally in a place where I want to play, in fact, need to play.

That said, my skills are rusty. While the base mechanics are in place still, my playing misses quite a bit of stamina and finesse. And after the initial burst of inspiration, it feels, musicality is oddly absent.

I have decided I am going to brush up on my skills. And I think that if I want to make progress in the time that I have, I will need to be structured about it. So why not try to set up a practice schedule? It is something I have done before (when I was gunning for a spot in the conservatory/music college). The only difference is that I will not be able to play 5-8 hours per day this time.

However, I wonder how set myself up for making this a succes.

Do any of you have any experience with setting up a practice schedule? Or helping someone make one?
How do you tackle getting your chops up to standard yourself?
Any pitfalls I should be aware of?
I do have an idea (see below) - is it too broad/much etc?
What kind of goals should I set?
Perhaps there's gear/computer programs that could be really helpful? (I do have a simple looper)

The plan

I thought I would go for a minimum schedule of 1 hour/day for at least 5 days a week. If I want to play more, and have time to do so I'll just dive into whatever seems fun at the time.

Now there's still the matter of what to spend the time on. It seems a good idea to divide that hour into 3 (maybe 4) segments so I can cover multiple aspects (and also add a bit of variety to my schedule). The idea is to set up a schedule, select excersizes for the time segments. I categorised the segments into Theory, Technique and Musicality and I am currently digging through years of accumulated study material (mostly older study material, and articles from guitar techniques magazine). A one hour practice session could look something like this:

15 minutes of ear training/sightreading.
15 minutes of alternate picking excersizes.
15 minutes of practicing bend intonation + vibrato.
15 minutes of improvisation.

With a little bit of planning, I could even try to tie the sessions together by digging up material that, for example, deals with the harmonic minor scale. That way perhaps I could better set some overarching goals?

What do you think?

Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?

Offline bno

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Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?
« Reply #1 on: July 25, 2012, 09:26:44 AM »
Sounds like a plan.  Here are some thoughts:

Include starting with a fixed warm up routine that reinforces fundamental technical muscle memory.  Start slow.  Do that everyday - even if you don't have scheduled practice time.  I try to play something everyday.

I'm a proponent of incorporating external timekeeping.  It reinforces the element of listening while you play.  The looper is good.  Metronomes are good. 

I would also add that you would benefit from taking notes on your work as you refresh your knowledged and make new discoveries - add that to the end of your alotted timeframe -  mental notes on the musical notes. 
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Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?

Offline billy

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Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?
« Reply #2 on: July 25, 2012, 11:50:54 AM »
One of the best things I ever did was to get a kitchen timer.  Set it for one minute and focus on a single excercise.  You should pick a tempo which allows you to repeat the excercise perfectly at least five times in a row without a mistake.  If you make a mistake, use a slower tempo.  When you can do it for an entire minute, speed up the tempo to a new point where you are not making any mistakes, 5 times in a row.

When the minute is up, move on to a different excercise.  You can extend the time to two, three, etc minutes if desired.

The key here is to use a small enough block of time (ie one minute) to be able to concentrate intensely and expressly on the excercise at hand. 

You will see rapid growth if you are dilligent about being able to do things 5 times in a row without an error before adjusting tempo upwards.

I would also encourage you to sing during your ear training/improvisation efforts.  If you can't hear it in your head, you can't sing it accurately.  So, if you can't sing it, you can't hear it, and if you can't hear it, you probably can't play it in a way that's musical either.

Most of all, have fun!
Billy

[always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.  e. e. cummings]

Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?

Offline Obsidian

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Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?
« Reply #3 on: July 26, 2012, 04:16:15 AM »
Excellent advice from both of you, BNO, Billy :)

I am most certainly getting myself a cheap little kitchen timer. If anything else it will help me get focussed on switching excersizes and help time boxing. Being easily distracted, as a rule, I think this could really help.

And keeping notes, or a log of sorts sounds interesting. Perhaps it is something I can do in blog form, that way perhaps others can benefit of it as well. I'll have to chew on that.

More and more I am realising that my halfhearted attempts at ear training and applying musical theory are exactly what kept me away from music college/conservatory. Did manage to get pretty high up on the list when doing admittance exams two years in a row but alas, others were more deserving of the spot. A humbling experience, almost made me quit altogether. And while going pro is not going to happen anymore (don't think I would want that anymore) there is absolutely no reason not to try and break out of the frustrating box that I have been in for years.

I am definitely looking into some proper tools for ear training and music theory. The same goes for recording things. And if I would not be in such an awkward position I would search for a proper teacher/coach again.

It seems I have to also think some more on setting some better goals for myself. Which I can then break down into smaller objectives to work on. But I guess doing some groundwork for a week or two first, polishing up general technique and getting into that practice habit can be a decent step - but after that I think I really should work on specifics.

Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?

Offline Bill

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Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?
« Reply #4 on: July 26, 2012, 06:55:07 AM »
1. Lessons with a good teacher could lay some practice foundation. Skype lessons can be helpful and cheap. Utube lessons are free and sometimes worth the time.

2.The concept of the mega star professional musician is relatively new. It may become short lived. Prior to mass media, professional musicians were almost always of meager means and the vast majority of great musicians were not professionals and never contemplated being one. Even though most were very, very good musicians, they lived by other means and played for enjoyment and cultural recognition. Point is, we have to let ourselves be ok with that and quit feeling like a failure, a charlatan, or a hack just because we feel we aren't good enough to "make it". Its a struggle you overcome when you're old enough to say f--it, I dont care what anyone thinks I'm going to play music.
I still feel embarrassed by my desire to play and perform. Just stating to let it go.

3. I can't remember my next rant. Aren't you lucky.
A few Flys in my soup

Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?

Offline mountaindewaddict

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Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?
« Reply #5 on: July 26, 2012, 02:01:31 PM »
If you have a smartphone, there are also task / timekeeping apps that will give you a task list and start a countdown timer that will go off and you can move on to the next task.
Casey

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Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?

Offline steveD

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Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?
« Reply #6 on: July 26, 2012, 04:30:32 PM »
I think that's great you're making a practice schedule! That's really an awesome way to get your chops back in shape. When I was practicing more heavily I'd also make a regimen for myself that I would try to stick to. Some things I would do is to make sure I didn't practice for MORE than an hour at any given time. While I would practice for maybe 3 hours or so total throughout the day having a set time would allow me to focus more and not get as easily distracted. It would also help prevent injury to take more frequent breaks.

Some things I used to do were to take excerpts of songs I liked that used a particular technique I was interested in learning. So say I wanted to learn/practice sweep picking, I would take a clip of a song with some sweeped arpeggios and I'd practice the technique but then examine the theory behind it to kill two birds with one stone. As I got more comfortable with a technique I'd pick harder and harder excerpts to learn. I agree that a free app can help you time yourself and with what everyone has said so far! For me personally, learning pieces of songs from artists I liked was one way I was able to keep my attention on the task at hand. The biggest pitfall I had to avoid was staying focused; I'd find myself just noodling around sometimes so I had to remind myself to pay attention!
Steve Dadaian

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Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?

Offline Obsidian

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Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?
« Reply #7 on: July 27, 2012, 07:58:09 AM »
I think that's great you're making a practice schedule! That's really an awesome way to get your chops back in shape. ..... having a set time would allow me to focus more and not get as easily distracted. It would also help prevent injury to take more frequent breaks

Great! I think so too. Let's hope it works as a cataclyst for more great stuff. I could sure use it. Injury is something I would really like to avoid - I am really going to look at posture, hand positioning and regular breaks. There's no use in ruining my hands/wrists/back etc. Where would I be without them?

Some things I used to do were to take excerpts of songs I liked that used a particular technique I was interested in learning. So say I wanted to learn/practice sweep picking, I would take a clip of a song with some sweeped arpeggios and I'd practice the technique but then examine the theory behind it to kill two birds with one stone. As I got more comfortable with a technique I'd pick harder and harder excerpts to learn.
Style analysis is something I could barely get into my system before. I was simply not interested enough in sounding like anyone else but myself. Now I realise that assimilating all those wonderful guitar things into my own playing will open op many more paths for me. Once I feel I am back in the rythym I think I am going to look into some of these. Luckily I have about 10 years of back catalogue from guitar techniques magazine, so I can steal some great ideas and licks. And I could just transcribe the songs I like in my 'theory' block.  :)

2.The concept of the mega star professional musician is relatively new. <...> Point is, we have to let ourselves be ok with that and quit feeling like a failure, a charlatan, or a hack just because we feel we aren't good enough to "make it". Its a struggle you overcome when you're old enough to say f--it, I dont care what anyone thinks I'm going to play music.
I still feel embarrassed by my desire to play and perform. Just stating to let it go.
I think I am starting to be okay with who and what I am now. For one, I thought I'd get a lot of trouble with my girl when I declared I _need_ to practice, often and for lengthy sessions. Yet all I got back was appreciation for being so passionate about this. Amazing!
Well. I cannot ever completely cut out the regret. But I am definitely on the better end of the struggle. Finally.
At whatever level you are, there's really no reason not to look for other players to play and jam with. I am currently bandless, but luckily I have a semi regular jam session I can attend. It is a bit one sided sometimes, but there's something magical about clicking in with a rythym section.
I hope you can let go of the embarassment and go out there and do what you love!

3. I can't remember my next rant. Aren't you lucky.
Don't know, your previous one was quite touching. Perhaps I missed out.

Over the weekend I am most certainly going to chew on my goals and how to tackle them. I'll let you know what I come up with.

Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?

Offline Obsidian

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Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?
« Reply #8 on: August 02, 2012, 09:06:52 AM »
Update:

I have a couple more days before I will be in France for a little bit, followed by a two week period in Norway where I should have roughly 6-8 hours a day that I can spend on music. I've used the free periods where I wasn't looking into a new guitar for looking up practice material, setting aside the little gems that I found. (Seems I will be dragging more gear than clothes around this time).

I have decided to focus on building finger strength and independance in the 'technique' block of my practice plans until the end of August.

Motivation:
Now I do not have big hands, especially considdering my lenght. And I spotted the placement of my little finger appears off`sometimes, and hammer ons and pull offs are occasionally muddy. Training focus will be on left hand placement on the neck, and specific excersizes for building up some more strength so lots of 1-3-4. 3-4 and 2-4 excersizes, since that seems to be the weakest point).

Theory
I will start with ear training (starting with simple interval recognition for 5 minutes at least every day). If I go back to effortlessly picking out intervals, scales and chords, I will try to work out  fitting chord sequences based on modes etc, and see if I can find interesting voicings by experimenting with inversions.

Motivation
This is just generally good stuff, really. The trick is to find little breakthroughs and focus on progress and results. I firmly believe this will help me break out of the box here.

Musicianship
Well, I got myself a decent USB recording interface (came with Pro Tools software). So idea is to spend some time recording an interesting chord progression, and just improvise. Focus on phrasing mostly (sing before you play sort of stuff)

Motivation
General good stuff here, again. Should teach me how to finally record stuff. And hopefully I'll get some cool epiphany moments while relistening what I played!


*** I'll give you guys an update or two on the progress ***

Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?

Offline Obsidian

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Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?
« Reply #9 on: August 17, 2012, 06:43:30 AM »
Feels a bit silly to reply to my own stuff here, but I promised an update, so here you go:

The last five days have seen me spend at least one hour in dedicated practice. (some days as much as 5 hours). I am still plagued by a cough from a terrible cold, and had some problems with my back as well, not allowing me to sit down as relaxed as before. But hey, I dedicated myself to practicing, I will stick with it!

I have been disciplined enough to keep on doing ear training (Intervals, Chords, Scales). Now I don´t have perfect pitch, and I started playing guitar quite late in my life, but it goes okay. I started with scores of around 80% (it´s been years since I did this) and I am gradually getting better. I feel it is not quite as good as it was, but that is okay. I will just keep at it. I have used http://www.good-ear.com/ for the excersizes. At least 100 a day so far.

Especially after the first two days I felt my alternate picking tighten up, getting more accurate. I can get familiar patterns down in sextuplets at 100-110 bpm but anything new just sounds horrible, so I slow down and work from the top. I got some work done on economy/sweep picking but I feel I still have a long, long way to go here. I am still looking for devious ways to work on strenghtening my 3rd - 4th finger combinations, if anyone has any tips, feel free to share em!

Where I failed is in the musicianship category. Normally it is where I stay the most, jamming away at decent backing tracks, wondering about phrasing etc. It failed when I installed the whole Pro Tools stuff plus the interface I got with it. It took me 12 hours just to get things correctly set up so my guitar sound actually hit harddrive and recorded. A lot of frustration later it now, after five days of trying is working, I still have to invest time into figuring out how to make the most out of things, but I am positive I have had the worst now...

I will take it slower in the weekend, and after that there is one more week in which I can spend a lot of time on music.
I am going to keep focussing on ear training, finger strength and mastering the recording software...

Wish me luck!

Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?

Offline danjazzny

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Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?
« Reply #10 on: August 17, 2012, 10:38:54 AM »
Best of luck Obsidian!   8)
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Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?

Offline prjacobs

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Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?
« Reply #11 on: August 20, 2012, 07:20:10 PM »
Lots of good suggestions here. One thing that I've found is really helpful is relaxing about practicing. We all have a tendency to compare and set standards and it's my experience that all this does is create tension and take you out of the moment. I try to be very conscious of my intentions for every task that I give myself and if I find that I'm pushing in any way - such as playing too fast, being impatient with myself, or thinking about some kind of end result - I just relax and get back to the work. (And I mean work in a fun sense). I also don't have any vested interest in the outcome. (I know this may sound like a bad Kung Fu episode, but the reality is, we really can't control this process. We can just do the work in a relaxed attentive way). In reality, music comes through us, not from us :).
Sometimes, it seems like I'm making little headway, but then things sort of can reach a critical mass and it all starts to gel.
In a more practical way, don't get locked into a regime if it doesn't pan out. For example, you may find that instead of assigning 15 minutes a day to the disciplines you're working on, longer amounts of time on one aspect of your practice and not necessarily doing everything each day may feel better to you.
Sounds like that your protools problems are mostly behind you. We've all been there when working with technology that's new to us.
Also, make sure that you don't get so caught up in solving the technical problems in front of you that you forget to simply play music. Bring everything you've got, be yourself and play with feeling. After all, we do this because we love music....
Again, relax.... relax.... I could give you a million technical exercises to try but this is my best advice.
« Last Edit: August 20, 2012, 11:07:38 PM by prjacobs »
 

Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?

Offline Obsidian

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Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?
« Reply #12 on: August 21, 2012, 03:03:26 AM »
Thanks for the help!

I´ll admit my focus has been largely technical here. Through most of my guitar playing life I have had quite a bit of focus on developing technique, more so than style or musicality, or even theory. I started learning the instrument quite late (15-16) and especially in the beginning it felt I just had to overcome technical hurdles so I could play what was in my head.

This time around, I have been slacking for years and I found my ability to play diminished, simply because I lacked coordination and strength. So a bit of a technical focus is in order here. As long as I will not devote my life to shredding A harmonic minor sextuplets at 160 bpm I guess that can´t really harm me. Now I am happier with my less clumsy fingers it is time for adding in some more musicality.

Alas it has taken me years and years to realise that things like ear training and theory can really help to tap into new and more creative music making.
It took me years to stop thinking about which note to play, instead of thinking about tone and phrasing.

I am one of those people that without conscious effort is drawn into playing the same darn things I have always played before.

while the practice schedule on such a set timebase isn´t a succes per se, it does help channeling my effort into the right direction. These days I spend at least 70% of my time consciously working on things I cannot do properly yet. Luckily guitar practice is a very ´zen´ thing for me. I do find that I sometimes push (especially when it comes to speed). Then again, I have found that a lot of times when my hands have mastered something at a slower pace, and then ´bursting´ through it as fast as my fingers possibly can, can really help in giving my hands the feel (confidence) to play it fast as well.

Also, make sure that you don't get so caught up in solving the technical problems in front of you that you forget to simply play music. Bring everything you've got, be yourself and play with feeling. After all, we do this because we love music....

If I could have had my various guitar teachers get this through my thick skull when I was 18 years old, my life would have panned out very, very differently. I think they genuinely tried that, as well, the real problem there was me. Thank you for pointing it out, once again!

Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?

Offline prjacobs

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Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?
« Reply #13 on: August 21, 2012, 09:33:49 AM »
Obsidian, I'm sorry if you've come away from my post with the feeling that the problem is you. Not knowing what type of music you're interested in working on, it's hard to suggest technical exercises. But here's a few:
These should be done 6 days a week, in two keys a day, each key a tritone apart, going around the cycle of 5ths.
Day 1 - C and G flat, Day 2 - G and D flat, Day 3 D and A flat, Day 4 - A and E flat, etc. You cover all 12 keys in 6 days :).
This is from Sanford Gold - a piano teacher I had in my mid twenties. He changed my life forever.
For what it's worth, Sanford said that 3 hours a day of good practice for a year should give a musician a good grounding.

UNALTERED ENHARMONIC INTERVALS  (I'll use the key of C for all this)

Place your 2nd finger on a C, (the one on the low A string. Do not sound the note, just press down).
Say everything below out loud...

The key signature is (no sharps or flats)
The tonic is (C)
The 2nd and 9th are (D)
The major 3rd and major 10th are (E)
The 4th and 11th are (F)
The perfect 5th is (G)
The 6th and 13th are (A)
The major 7th is (B)
The tonic octave is (C)

ALTERED INTERVALS (FLATTED OR LOWERED)

Again, out loud...

The minor 3 or flatted 3rd(minor 10th) is E flat
The flatted 5th is G flat
The dominant or flatted 7th if B flat
The flatted 9th is D flat

AUGMENTED OF SHARPED INTERVALS
The augmented 5th is G#
The augmented 9th is D#
The augmented 11th is F#

ALTERED ENHARMONIC INTERVALS (enharmonic - sound the same)
The minor 3rd is E flat, the augmented 9th is D#
The flatted 5th if G flat, the augmented 11th is F#

You should know the key signatures, relative minors, know what chords build off of every note in the scale...

Here's another theory exercise:
EXTENSIONS OF MINOR 7TH CHORDS
I'll use a d minor 7th chord. D,F,A,C.  But we'll be using more that just the 1,3,5,7th. I'll add in the 9th, 11th, 13th, etc.
Arpeggiate a d minor 7th chord up and down. (You could also apply any picking technique you're working on with this)
Now add the 9th, but take off the root ( the D). You now have an F major 7th chord.... F,A,C,E.
Now add the 11th and take off the 3rd.  You now have A,C,E,G.  5,7,9,11 of a d minor 7th chord but by itself an a minor 7th chord.
Add the 13th and do the same thing. You have C,E,G,B.... Or a c major 7th chord.

What does this buy us? First of all, you'll really know the components of these chords when you do this in the same 2 keys a day pattern I mention above. And... If you're soloing and a d minor 7th chord is the harmony, you'll have the option to solo in F, a minor or C major. They won't all work all the time, but it gives you options.
Even if you're playing a simple blues, this can open up lots of options.

In terms of ear training, a classic method of learning intervals is to find a song you know that starts with the interval. For example, to use a Beatles song, Got To Get You Into My Life starts with a major 6th. There are some musicians who will never have great ears, but they make up for it with harmonic knowledge. Also great singers learn from the feedback their bodies give them.

My point in the previous post is just suggesting that you take the pressure off of yourself. Talking about how your life would've been different if you'd listened to your guitar teachers when you were 18 serves no constructive purpose. Unless you turn it into a blues song :).
 

Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?

Offline Obsidian

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Re: Practice plans - anyone has any experience with those?
« Reply #14 on: August 22, 2012, 01:53:40 AM »
My point in the previous post is just suggesting that you take the pressure off of yourself. Talking about how your life would've been different if you'd listened to your guitar teachers when you were 18 serves no constructive purpose. Unless you turn it into a blues song :).

Point taken :)

Seeing the excersize you´re obviously schooled in music, and you are putting the finger at the sore spot this is exactly the kind of stuff I have in the past been ignoring. I will have to sit down and do this - often. Thank you so much for sharing this.

I suppose I will have to study jazz songs to bring this into practice? I don´t have a particular affinity with jazz (I am more of a rock person) so if you have any tips of study material to pick up I will look into it.