In this time of corona virus induced housebound-ness, it can be difficult to keep yourself productive and motivated. Equally, with a few small changes to your habits and mindset this can be a very productive and rewarding time. Make the most out of this period by streamlining your Irish guitar practice time! I have designed a brand new product called the Folk Friend practice diary to help you do this- these tips are all taken from within its pages. You can find out more about the Diary or buy your copy by clicking here.
I also made a Youtube clip to accompany this blog, which you can watch here:
Here are my top ten tips for more motivation and efficient, targeted guitar practice:
in short bursts, at regular intervals, ideally daily. If you play for 10 – 20 minutes per day, that is perfectly adequate. It is much better to leave yourself wanting more and feel excited to come back to playing the following day than it is to wear yourself out and ruin your motivation. In the same way that athletes who overtrain do not win races, guitarists who over-practice do not enjoy music… And if you’re not enjoying playing then what’s the point?
Don’t kick yourself if you do something wrong. Have a laugh instead! No musician was born brilliant and there is no “wrong answer”. Folk music at its best is a communicative, improvisatory medium that anyone can take part in, not a perfectly arranged and rendered orchestra where every out of place note is like fingernails on a blackboard. Practice things you like to play, rather than what you think is the “right” thing to learn next. If you can’t play something exactly like the original, make your own version. This is how many of the best guitarists evolved their styles. If something seems too hard now, go away and play something fun for a while. Don’t get annoyed with it, just keep going and know that in a few days’ or weeks’ time it will seem easier.
This is my take on Steven Guise’s “One Push Up Challenge”. The idea is that instead of being put off the thought of guitar practice by the thought of ten minutes of brain-melting and hand cramps, you set yourself a stupidly easy goal like “play three chords” or “strum four bars of the jig pattern”. That’s all you have to do. The important part is that you achieve that stupidly easy goal every day, without fail. It takes less than a minute to do and you’ll feel good about having achieved a goal. What tends to happen though is that once your guitar is in your hands, you’ll end up playing more than your three chords. You don’t HAVE to though, that’s the crucial part of this technique. All you have to do is achieve your micro-goal EVERY DAY. This process is extremely useful to music practice as it quickly forms a habit, an association in your mind something like “it’s 7pm- time for my 3 guitar chords”. There is NOTHING more important to becoming a better musician than making a habit of practicing, even if it is for less than a minute per day.
This may seem dangerous (especially if you have pets or children) but leaving your guitar prominently visible and out of its case means that picking it up and playing your three chords is something you can do in a matter of seconds, without the rigmarole of pulling it out of the cupboard, removing the cobwebs, undoing the case and so on.
Where would you would like to be, musically, in six months? Make a clear vision for yourself and picture it as often as you can. Use quarterly and weekly reviews to break your goals down into manageable chunks with definite timeframes for their completion. Review your progress each week and be sure to celebrate each small step in some way. Scroll down this post or click here to discover the quickest and easiest way to define and target your guitar goals!
In my experience it is impossible to work on any more than 3 things at once. For example if you want to learn about the music theory of the modes, play reels at speed and recognise more common session tunes, then set these as your definite goals and do not allow any other new ones to interfere with them until they are complete. This is what the “main goals” and “side goals” sections of the quarterly reviews are for. Your side goals are less important projects that could be next on the list after your current main goals are completed- until that time put them out of your mind. This will also help you to work out what you REALLY want to learn the most- if you find yourself constantly wanting to attend to a side goal several weeks in a row, then it is obviously a skill which is going to be really useful to you, rather than a fleeting whim. Work on it as soon as you complete one of your current objectives.
“I want to learn to play jigs” is open-ended and you will never feel that this task is complete as you can always improve on it. Instead make the goal “I want to be able to play along with a jig at the average session speed of 110 BPM, using at least three different chords without having to pause for the changes”. Now that’s a goal! This is definite, achievable and can now be broken into four chunks: learn jig pattern, practice on one chord with metronome and work up to speed, go back and practice more slowly with basic chord changes, work that up to speed.
Ears, and the brain’s auditory centres which interpret their input, are far better equipped to analyse whether a given chord progression is “right” than the theoretical (semantic) parts of your brain are. Every time you listen to a song and decide you like it, your ears are analysing it using criteria (both innate, aka defined by physics and physiology and cultural, aka learned since birth) which they will also apply to your own playing. If you play something and it “sounds right” then it probably is right, even if you don’t yet understand why.
If you have folky friends then try and get together with them for a few tunes- it might be daunting at first but there is no better way to improve your confidence, motivation and speed of learning than learning from others. Go to sessions and play quietly. It doesn’t matter how wrong or out of time your chords are if nobody else can hear them. I suggest listening to a tune at least once through before you try and play along; use this time to work out where chords I, IV and V go- visit the Folk Friend Youtube channel for more tips on this.
This is the very best way to firm up your fundamentals and I guarantee that it will dramatically improve your playing. For every new technique, rhythm, chord etc that you learn try and show it to someone else. It also comes with the bonus that they will likely repay you with some other useful guitar-y tidbit!
It can be difficult to maintain your focus on specific objectives and avoid the temptation to either fall back on noodling or jump from new project to new project without ever completely learning any one thing. In order to make this process much easier, I have created the Folk Friend Practice Diary! It is designed to help budding Celtic guitarists streamline their practice time, build good practice habits and maintain motivation! The diary is designed to help you solidify your goals, break them down into manageable chunks and set definite timescales in order to achieve them. It uses techniques borrowed and converted from sports psychologists, entrepreneurs and of course great musicians to help you unleash your musical potential quickly while still having loads of fun with your instrument!The diary combines a weekly practice review and a quarterly goal setting section to minimise distraction and help you prioritise your goals. It also uses an event calendar system to incentivise your practice time and keep you motivated. On top of this I have included a few of my favourite music theory tips to help you on the road to guitar greatness!As well as the practice diary section, there is a large notes section which you can use for writing tabs, chord diagrams, notes on your studies or anything else that comes to mind. This uses my revolutionary Tablusic system to enable you to quickly and easily write tabs which include note values, so that you can recreate melodies at a later date with ease. The grids used are also perfect for writing chord and fretboard diagrams easily and with minimal artistic flair required!The Folk Friend Practice Diary is designed to cover a six month period. I have deliberately left the date boxes blank so that you don’t have to wait for the next segment of the year to begin your journey into becoming a better guitarist. This also means that you can give them as a gift for folk guitarists at any time of the year. In short the Folk Friend Practice Diary will make your guitar time more efficient, more enjoyable and vastly more productive.