Guitar Practice Doesn't Always Make Perfect, Or Does It?

Scott McGrath on the trials and tribulations of practice   18-Nov-12

Guitar Practice Doesn't Always Make Perfect, Or Does It?
Does practice make perfect on guitar? // Some rights reserved // La Flaf

Here's part two in Amped Blogger Scott McGrath's series on adult learning, Scott discusses whether practice really makes perfect, and puts forward his method for ironing out the kinks and learning new songs, properly. Do you share Scott's techniques? Tell us in the comments section below...

Practice doesn't always make perfect. At the core of a good performance, a number of other elements need to intervene to produce something compelling - a head in the game, as it were, relaxed mastery, ears open both within the part being played and above the performance at the same time...and taste.

Practice improves all those aspects of the player, but as my guitar teacher has pointed out to me a number of times, the guitar also brings all of you and all your personal issues into sharp focus. All the stuff in your head makes an impact on your performance.

For me a key area is handling my own distractions. I don't seem ideally configured to handle repetition, and have had to try to devise a practicing style that provides enough variety but at the same time doesn't allow me to weasal out of "hard work" type stuff,

like playing a difficult riff a few hundred times until it becomes baked into the fingers. And often, just when something seems to have finally arrived as muscle memory, speeding it up or performing it over and over as you might within a specific composition proves you wrong.

I saw an advice column some time back that pointed out that many players accelerate out of the practice mode too quickly and end up undo-ing what's been learned just at the moment it's about to become habit. So if you get jumpy and start racing through a part, your technique gets sloppier, and you may end up training your brain to think that these sloppier habits are the gig.

I've recently decided to do a little genre hopping, and have been learning The Meters' Cissy Strut and though it's simple and very funky and fundamentally 3 riffs with slight variations...getting it right and getting it consistently right are a bit more challenging than you might think. If you watch Leo on YouTube:

You can learn this part in a few minutes, and then spend a month or two getting it right. You can also skip through this Spotify playlist of different versions of the tune to hear what some great players have done with it:

That Eb 1/4 note bend on the 6th fret of the A string has hung me out to dry for a couple of weeks now. Slowing down the piece, I can make it sing most of the time...but sped up a bit, and despite hundreds of repetitions, I'm missing the note, pulling it sharp, or just missing it a few times into the piece.

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