23 September 2008

Guitar Practice Routine: The Album Approach

In this series on guitar practice routines we've already discussed how important it is to learn songs, not just exercises and technique. An album project is a first-rate way to organize your learning around songs. Professional musicians organize their work in albums, so why not take example organize your practice as an album, too?

Benefits of the Album Approach

An album of eight or ten songs is a great learning tool. Use it to plan and organize your learning and practice and get these useful benefits.

1. A well defined objective

An album provides an easy to imagine and worthwhile objective. Learning one song is great, imagine your satisfaction when you learn eight.

2. Variety

You will often find that you come across flat periods while you learn. You seem to be stuck on the same problem without progress. Instead of getting frustrated, just work on another song for a while instead. As the saying goes, a change is as good as a rest, and you'll find fresh motivation to practice.

3. Repertoire

What better way to build your repertoire? It's just how your favourite artists do it. You too can take your album on the road, or at least to your aunt's house for her birthday party.

4. Perfect skills through repetition

You will give your skills a really good work out as you apply them to several different songs. And the best thing is, you don't drive yourself mad playing the same song over and over to get it.

Prepare Your Practice Album

It's well worth taking a little time to prepare a good practice album. These tips will ensure a good start to your project.

1. Choose songs you love

You'll be better motivated to learn your favourite songs. This one is really important. You don't have to play any song because it's the "song all guitarists have to learn".

2. Set a target date

Choose a rough time frame for your album, but don't pressure yourself if you don't make it. Three to nine months works well for me, any longer and I start to lose interest.

3. Limit the learning goals

Keep in mind your planned time frame and don't aim for too many new skills. Lots of techniques or unfamiliar chords will bog you down.

4. Aim for common skills

Eight songs might seem a lot to learn in six months but if you choose songs that use similar skills it is not such a tall order. You can make a whole album of songs that use only three to five chords, for example. You can also stick mostly to chords you already know and add a new technique, like bass runs, or more advanced picking.

5. Focus on one style

Recording artists release albums of songs in completely different styles. It confuses the listener and makes the album harder to follow. Your learning album will also be more successful if you stick to one style, largely because this supports the aims of common skills and reasonable learning goals. It also helps you develop your ear and sense of style as you hear and feel familiar sounds repeatedly.

6. Revisit an old album

You can revisit songs you already know as a base for learning new skills. For example, you might learn how to strum through eight songs with dominant 7th bar chords to learn blues guitar. Then you can revisit the album later to add new techniques, like playing little fills to spice up your playing.

Take It On Tour

An album is a great tool to organize your guitar learning. With an album of songs to practice you have an easy to identify, focused and satisfying goal. It also gives you a variety of things to work on which helps you over the inevitable learning plateaus you will encounter.

Best of all, after you've learned your new album through a few months work you can "take it on tour" to show all your friends.

The practice routine series is coming to an end soon (you'll be relieved to hear). Tune in for the last part in your email or your RSS reader.

More on practice routines...

Aristotle's Guitar Practice Routine
Guitar Practice Routine: Get Started
Guitar Practice Routine: Interval Training
Guitar Practice Routine: Hamburger's Tips
Guitar Practice Routine: Songs First

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