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A Few Words

About Practice
A few
In last months column, I wrote about the This approach will not only use the
perils of repetitive practice, and how it available time more efficiently, but ulti-

could lead to cementing mistakes, rather mately save hours, if not weeks, of unnec-
than removing them. I showed how one of essary work in unravelling learned mis-

the best ways to conquer technical prob- takeswhich leads directly to this months
lems was to isolate and analyze difficulties; column: Practicing. Here are some very

rather than to practice through the difficulty broad tips.
by playing the irrelevant bars before and af- Do not be intimidated by the follow-
ter the problem passage. Now, it may seem ing individuals: the shy, apologetic man
By Simon Wynberg rather obvious to suggest that you concen- who plays like John Williams and claims
trate on awkward sections rather than easy he last held a guitar in May 2003 (the man
ones, but you will need to remind yourself is probably a liarcheck left hand fingers
of this constantly, as it is so tempting (and for callouses); the nine-year-old girl in pig-
satisfying) to play things that are familiar tails who describes her punishing eight-
and comfortable under the fingers. hour practice scheduleFirst I get up at

A Few Words About Practice...

5:30 a.m., when its lovely and quiet, and conscious, decision-making part of your
mommy and daddy are fast asleep, and do brain would rather they did not. This does Once a piece has been
three hours of arpeggios; and the re- not relate solely to complicated or prob- properly memorized,
tired bank manager who started at age 63 lematic passages. When movements have
and now does a reasonable impersonation not been thoroughly preprogrammed, it re-learning it months
of Andrs Segovia. is easy to slip up in apparently easy sec- or even years later
Comparing your own playing standard tions. Beginner guitarists will often make
to that of others should be a positive pro- totally unpredictable errors that have no should be a relatively
cess. Do not be dispirited if your prog- relation to the simplicity or difficulty of easy process.
ress appears to be relatively slow. Build the piece. Therefore, in the earlier stages
on your strengths. I know of a number of of guitar playing, it is vital that the fingers
young players whose sound is less brittle be rigorously schooled. And the best way
and more satisfying than many of their to do this is to practice slowly, making sure
older professional colleagues. There is no you have decided on a fingering for both
universal with which you can calculate left and right hands. This is not only helpful
the amount of time needed for practicing. in the short or medium term. Once a piece
Some people manage with a minimum, has been properly memorized, re-learning
others have to practice like demons for it months or even years later should be a
even meager returns. You will know how relatively easy process.
involved you are with the instrument and Based on the above, one could con-
how much time you can afford to spend on clude that learning to play an instrument
it. But the way you spend this time is vital. involves a combination of computer pro-
If you have an hour, bank on spending gramming skills and slow drudgery. Of
50 minutes sitting with the instrument. course, the most important aim is to play
Find a position that will not introduce music, and the word play is important. It
distractions. For example, sitting in front has a number of linked associations. There
of interesting pictures or windows may is recreational play, childrens play, com-
stimulate you and encourage you to wan- petitive play, and theatrical play. Playing
der. Have all the necessary bits and pieces the guitar can combine elements of all of
at handpencils, eraser, tuning fork/tuner, these different kinds of play, and it is im-
music, etc., and do not dive straight into portant to keep old pieces in your fingers,
a technical problem. Tune the instrument so to speak, so that practice sessions are
and spend a few minutes warming up or both entertaining and productive, retain-
noodling. Decide how you are going to ing the play factor.
spend the available time before you start: Drawing on the imagination helps con-
say, ten minutes on technical exercises, 20 siderably in both the learning and playing
minutes on old repertoire, and 20 minutes stages. Linking musical sounds to visual
on a new piece. Put the guitar down after images, or to a simple narrative, can focus
each section and stretch and walk around. the musical mind and draw attention away
But do not become a slave to your time- from the mechanical aspects of guitar play-
table. If you are immersed in a technical or ing. It can dramatically help in establishing
musical problem and are doing good work, a mood, dynamic, or tempo, and in giving
do not feel obliged to stop. Be disciplined a work a sense of form and balance. Learn-
but flexible. ing an instrument does not begin when it
Some teachers recommend that their is removed from the case. Thinking about
students keep a practice diary/journal in technical and musical problems away from
order to keep a personal record of goals, the guitar and attempting to imagine the
repertoire, exercise schedules, and general sound of musical pieces or passages will
progress. For the keen guitarist, this can be yield great benefits.
an invaluable aid. One final tip: Try to avoid listening re-
Practice carefully and slowly, espe- peatedly to recordings of pieces you are
cially when you are learning a new piece. working on. It is extremely tempting and,
Your fingers have to be trained to move ac- yes, it may help you to become familiar
curately. If they repeat the correct move- with the music. But ultimately it stifles
ments from the outset, your finger (i.e. your own learning process and imagina- This article
muscular) memory should not fail you tion. Once you can play the piece and originally appeared
in the future. However, if you do not pro- have worked on it and thought about it, in the August 1990 issue
gram your muscular memory correctly, feel free to investigate recordings. Then of Classical Guitar, as part
your fingers will be predisposed to make you will be listening as an insidermore of Simon Wynbergs column
inaccurate movements, even though the musically, critically, and knowledgeably. The Guitarists Absolute Beginners Class.

A Few Words About Practice...