December 3, 2010

How to practice things that need a lot of repetition

Some things you practice may require a lot of repetition to train your muscle memory. It's tempting to just keep repeating an exercise thinking you're going to build up strength, but little errors will compound and turn your playing to mush.

Here's an effective way to get things done:
  1. Get a clear idea of what you're trying to do before you start. If you don't know what it should sound like, ask your teacher to demonstrate or find a recording of a piece which uses that technique.
  2. Set your metronome to a speed where you can do the exercise as closely to that ideal as possible. When in doubt, err on the slow side. 
  3. Play the exercise a few times. Do it for maybe 10-15 seconds and stop. It's important, at this point, not to worry about how it sounds.
  4. Take a break for a 10-15 seconds and relax. Recall that clear idea of what the exercise your playing should sound like. 
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 a few times, for about five or ten minutes.
  6. Take a longer break. 2-3 minutes. Put the guitar down, stand up, think about something else for a bit. 
  7. Recall that ideal again. Repeat steps 3-6 until you run out of time or are ready to move on.
In your next practice session, begin again at step one. The trick is to do it as much as possible in the time you have, but take little breaks so you stay focused and don't get tired. The breaks also give things a chance to sink in.


PS: I was recently contacted by Jason Wehr, another guitarist in town who saw my craigslist ad and liked my recordings. He sent me a link to his youtube channel and I liked his playing, so now we are working on duets together. Our first gig is December 8th at the Anacortes Museum, wish us luck!


  1. Congratulations on the new Duo! Hope to hear some stuff on Youtube soon. Good luck on the gig!

  2. Thanks! It's been a lot of fun working on the duo repertoire. Interacting with another musician almost makes music seem like something humans do :)

    I hope we'll be making some videos this month.

  3. Nice post, sounds like a good, progressive way to get better at a certain technique or passage of music.

    I know for me alot of times I will just repeat something over and over when I need to get better at it. While it sometimes works it does not seem like the most efficient way.

  4. Technique needs to get ingrained in the muscle memory and repetition is the only way I know to do that. I'd love it if there was a better way because it'd save so much time, but so far I haven't found it.

    Personally, I tend to get sloppy with it after a while if I just keep repeating without stopping. Taking little breaks helps keep that from happening.