Finding time to practice your instrument isn’t always easy. As much as we would like it many of us don’t have the luxury of having hours a day free to really hone our skills and make the improvements we’d like. For this reason, we need to make sure that the time we do spend practicing is as productive and meaningful as possible. I tell my students that you should try and learn something new every time you pick up the guitar to practice, even if this is as small as a new chord extension or blues lick.
Many players fall into the trap of just picking up their guitar and playing a few chords or a couple of familiar licks/riffs or solos and then putting it down again thinking they have done their practice for the day. Whilst it certainly is important to have fun playing the guitar and working on familiar songs and solos can improve finger techniques and feel, you will quickly find your playing hits a plateau! This plateau is unfortunately where many players stay for years thinking they have either reached their potential or that they have reach a point they are happy to stay at, never quite realizing that they may have just been “practicing” the wrong things or, the right things the wrong way!
Here are my key guitar hacks to help you improve quicker;
1. Scales/Modes – Working on scales is often seen as “tedious” or “boring” but, it all depends on how you are practicing them! Learning new scales/modes can be the most fun part of your practice (if you know how to use them). Now, instead of the traditional playing the scale along with a metronome and slowly increase the metronome system try, looking at a new scale or mode such as the Phrygian mode in G for example. Record yourself playing a G minor chord (either on your phone or a computer) and loop that chord, now you have a Gm chord looping you can start playing the mode. You don’t need to play the mode up and down as long as you are sticking just to the notes of that mode you can start improvising in G Phrygian! By starting off with a “closed improvisation” (an improvisation using strictly one mode) You can begin to visualize the mode across the fretboard and avoid using the same three-note-per-string patterns many guitarists tend to lean on.
2. Finger Picking – More relevant for acoustic players but a highly important skill for any guitarist. Practicing finger picking can be frustrating as to become proficient it takes hours of slow repetition to create strength and muscle memory in your fingers.
If you use the system on your picking hand that your thumb is “T” and you index – ring finger are “1,2 & 3” respectively you can play an easy practice game on your own where you write down T 1 2 3 on separate cards and write A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G# on separate cards first choose four of the letter cards to represent which chords you will play, then choose a finger order (e.g T 2 1 3) and play your chord sequence using this fingerpicking pattern. Using this system will force you to play unfamiliar finger patterns with unfamiliar chord sequences and in turn will help your finger-style skills massively.
3. Caged Notes – Weather you use the CAGED system or not there are certain fretboard visualization techniques within it that are massively useful to our fretboard visualization. Knowing exactly where every note across your fretboard is can not only improve your solos and improvisations but, also open you up to a whole world of more interesting sounding chord voicings. The “hack” I use to practicing this is to play the major scale over just one octave (in A for example) and see how many different areas across the fretboard you can play that same scale. First, see if you can find four different positions of the A major scale and then look for the “connecting notes” (usually the 7th of the scale, in this case the G#) and see if you can begin to link all these scales together to create one un-interrupted line of notes. Doing this will help you visualize your fretboard and if you can do this for each scale/mode you’ll quickly start to see the fretboard in patterns and lines of connecting and inter-weaving notes.
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