Practicing for Mastery

Practicing Guitar for Mastery

Martin Metzger

There are infinite approaches to learning music and developing one’s unique voice. It is important to know your direction to keep progressing and enhancing your connection to your art. For example, if you hope to be a singer-songwriter, your approach will necessitate specific abilities. You will need a good basis in chord harmony on the guitar, be developing your singing voice and be writing good original songs. If you wish to be a good jazz musician, other skills will need to be developed. You will need to be able to improvise, compose and arrange music. You should be able to sight read, and know the instrument well, in terms of modes, extended chords, etc.

What I will write about today is my current practice routine as it relates to flamenco guitar and the mastery of this challenging form. This will relate to mastery of other styles of music as well.

The flamenco guitar poses many challenges. Flamenco guitarists must master difficult technique in both hands, complex rhythmic structures, accompanying, improvisation and compositional skills. The guitarists in Spain work on their craft for many hours a day (often 5 to 6 hours a day) and perform almost nightly at penas or tablaos. This is quite difficult to reproduce that lifestyle outside of Spain. Most of us need to work within our own constraints.

The following are guidelines for mastery:

The first thing to do is set a realistic goal versus a idealistic goal. I would love to have the time to practice all day long, but the reality is that I have other responsibilities that are important to me as well. Think of this in terms of a daily practice. The key is to work daily at your craft in a balanced way. I have met many guitarists who will practice many hours for a few days or weeks, then lose their practice for some days or weeks. In my opinion, it is much better to commit to a daily practice and not let it drop below your  set goal. If you have extra time on certain days, you can go with the flow and extend your practice, but be sure to complete your basic goal each day.

I set my own daily goal to between two to three hours. Three hours on good days, and a two hour minimum, regardless of external forces. I have found that this amount of focused practices brings about the results I look for, in terms of mastering the skills I need to play on the level I want to.

I break my sessions up into three sections, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening.

When I wake up in the morning, I make myself a chai and think about the day’s work. I take time to watch some videos I have of my teachers in Spain and here. I listen to the pieces I am working on as well. I think about what I need to work on for the day.

Next I go on a run or practice some yoga to warm up the body and relax the mind. Sitting down to practice can be a strain on the body, and the body needs to be thought of when we require so much of it. I would recommend the Alexander Technique for posture and proper alignment when playing your instrument. I also benefit from  massage treatments twice a month.

That said, I try to get my first session in right after my morning exercise. In the morning, I feel fresh and clear. In addition, it helps me maintain discipline. If I get my first practice session in early, I feel rooted in my work as an artists before other concerns take over.

My sessions last 50-60 minutes, but no more. I find that if I continue too long, my body begins to ache and I lose my ability to focus and find patience. The longer you practice in a stretch, the more you are at risk for tendinitis or other repetitive injuries as well. Remember, a steady approach is most desirable in the long term.

I usually warm up with some technique exercises and them focus on my new material in the morning, when my energy is up. I work with the most demanding practice at this time, like transcribing or learning a new piece or form. I also work on my homework for my next flamenco lesson. I focus on one to three new ideas, to be repeated all week.

After a break, with stretching, taking a walk outside, consciously breathing, possibly lying on the floor on my back,  playing with my cat or drinking a cup of tea, I return for session two.

In session two, I work on my current musical projects, such as preparing for an upcoming rehearsal or performance. I try to narrow down the work to one to three goals, and I  go over them daily for at least a week.

After I teach for the day, I return to practice in the evening. Prior to this third session, I practice some restorative yoga, take a shower and meditate for 20-30 minutes.. This helps me restore my energy for one more session.

In this last session, I go over my repertoire, highlighting 4-6 pieces. I play through all my pieces every two to three days. This keeps my repertoire current in my mind and helps me with my memory in performance situations. Being that this is my last session, I keep it light and playful, enjoying the end of the day and allowing myself to play from the heart and spirit. Often, I will improvise and compose in the evenings, but those areas require a different approach. I will address these approaches on upcoming blogs.

I hope this helps you improve your focus and drive for your music. Try it for at least a month, then take note of all you have accomplished and how much you have grown as a musician. What I have found from experience is that long as I put in the time and effort in my daily practice, I am less concerned with success or failure. I less worried about financial success or other issues. If I put my time in each day, I know I am well on my way to being the musician I want to be. I find a quiet energy builds within and both confidence and joy follow. Enjoy your practicing. May you find great meaning and satisfaction!

Posted in guitar lessons, learning, music, musician, practice, zen.

2 Comments

  1. Excellent and practical advice. Very balanced. This is a much more productive technique than wood shedding six hours straight like I used to in music school.

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