Practice With Limited Time.

I thought I’d talk about the need to practice consistently, and utilizing whatever time can be spared.

I’m working on the last 3 songs I need to record for my wife’s collection of bedtime material. One of the songs tentatively titled “Counting Sheep” is a piece I’ve had for perhaps a decade, but I’ve never been able to play it cleanly. It has a chord change which requires I slide from an F#7 chord up to a B7 between beats 4 and 1, and the song is somewhat briskly paced. Before I even attempt to record it, I want to be able to play it reasonably well. I don’t want to spend hours trying to get the right take, or making overdubs. I’d rather learn how to play it proficiently, then choose the best of a handful of takes.

But, barre chords aren’t my forte right now. I spend at least half of my guitar time playing slide, which means my fretting strength isn’t what it should be. So, how do I fix that?

Practice. Practice and using a D’addario Varigrip when I’m just watching TV or a movie. And, I don’t practice as much as I should or I’d like. My job and commute takes about 12 hours out of my day. When I get home, I have time to eat dinner and relax with my wife for awhile, then maybe get in 60-90 minutes of whatever else I need or want to do. So, when I’m practicing something that’s presenting a musical challenge, I literally set a timer for 8 - 12 minutes and use a metronome to ensure strong rhythm. I start slow enough to be able to play the piece with reasonable competence, and speed up as I get better.

I’m sure I’ve discussed this technique within these pages before, but I cannot stress its importance enough. I learned it back when I attended Musician’s Institute during the late 1980s, and I still use it today. It may not feel like you’re making progress at first, but trust me, you are. The more time you can spend, the better, but it’s more important to be consistent. There are days when I have no more than a 1/2 hour. Using the timer helps me focus. When it goes off, I stop and go on to whatever is next.

“Counting Sheep” will probably be recorded at about 96 BPM. When I started practicing 2 or 3 weeks ago, I started at around 60 BPM with the part that was giving me trouble. Today I was able to do it fairly well at the proper tempo. I’ll spend he rest of this week woodshedding it, and I expect to get a recording done on Saturday. If I didn’t practice this way, I have no idea how long it would take. But, as I said, I’ve had this piece for about a decade. Make of that what you will.

I apply this to writing new material as well. I’ll start by fiddling around until I find something I like. Sometimes I’ll start with the timer; depends on how much time I have. Once I have something I want to work on, I’ll give myself 10-15 mins to play with it. Again, when that timer goes off, I’ll move on to something else. After a few days, something substantial will usually develop. Some thing are better than others.

The point here is to use whatever time you have, however much (or little) it may be, and do so consistently. Keep at it. You’ll see results. The more you do it, the easier it’ll get.

That’s it for now. Be good.

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