Do your guitar students know how to practise?

Do your guitar students know how to practise?

“So, practise those exercises and that tune for next week”. Phrases like this get said by well-meaning guitar teachers all around the world. As guitar teachers we know what we mean. But do your guitar students?

“Practice makes perfect”. That’s a phrase that we’ve all heard throughout our lives. It’s not a very accurate statement though. Good guitar practice results in progress but bad guitar practice reinforces bad habits and hinders progress.

Guitar student practising guitarBad guitar practice

Take a chord-based tune with say 10-12 chords in it. If one of your relatively inexperienced guitar students goes away and slowly crawls through the whole song over and over, with no sense of time, what happens?

The consequences of bad guitar practice

They will probably make the chord changes at their leisure – in free-time. This allows lots of room for bad technique and inefficient changes.

They could well be practising moving a finger a long way away from the fretboard and back again when really all it needs to do is shift back a single fret. This is a disastrous use of time as they will inevitably have to correct this bad habit further down the line. Apart from reinforcing bad technique, this kind of bad practice will do nothing for their sense of rhythm.

Teaching good guitar practiceTeaching good guitar practice

Far better would almost certainly be for the guitar student to spend time focussing on one chord change at a time. Let’s say from Dm7 to G7. This way they can focus on deliberately improving the way they do it instead of just getting to the bottom of the page. How economical are their movements? Should their left hand thumb be moving as well as the fingers? Is the change truly in time?

Good guitar practice often involves a metronome

As soon as possible the student should get a metronome on, set at a tempo that’s challenging but within reach. The pressure of the metronome should inject a sense of urgency that forces quicker, more efficient changes.

The tempo doesn’t have to be fast, just enough to make the learner work a little. As long as the student is focussed, they can look out for technique issues to correct, which you the guitar teacher should already have highlighted.

With all this in mind the student can gradually work through each of the changes whilst striving to be accurate, efficient and in time. This is an example of good guitar practice.

Be clear in your guitar teaching

This is a simple example but the point is an important one. Your guitar students must understand how to practise well. They must know the difference between good guitar practice and bad guitar practice.

We guitar teachers should always be explicit when we give instructions. This is especially true when it comes to prescribing practice. Provide clear verbal and written instructions near the end of each guitar lesson. It doesn’t take more than a minute or so but it can make the difference between progress and stagnation.

Stuart Bahn logo Be A Guitar Teacher

Be A Guitar Teacher author Stuart BahnStuart Bahn
Stuart Bahn is a professional guitar teacher in London, and creator of the Be A Guitar Teacher video course.

photo credit: David J Price via photopin cc
photo credit: Guitar practice via photopin (license)
photo credit: Taken via photopin (license)

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