17 August 2011

Should You Give Up Guitar Practice?

In the past week I’ve read two recent articles where two star guitarists – no less than Jimmy Page and Leo Kottke – both suggest that practice is a waste of time. This came as a bit of a surprise to me, as it might to many of us who’ve been practicing hard for ages to learn to play guitar. Have we been doing it all wrong?


Here’s what Leo had to say about guitar practice:


"Practice is what ruins people, it’s dangerous. If you want to develop as a musician, play what you like, and stick to it.” – Leo Kottke quoted in the Taunton Gazette


And here’s Jimmy’s answer to the question, “Do you practice the guitar?”:


“No, I couldn’t do that. It’s usually the acoustic guitar for a start and it’s usually in a tuning. I sort of change tunings around a bit and I’m searching for new chords and shapes and things. I don’t just sit down and play scales and things. I should have done but I never did. I can’t play a scale. You think I’m kidding but I’m not. I can’t.” – Guitar International


Practice or Play?

What do you think of these ideas? Can you play without practice? Are they really the same thing? Is guitar practice the root of all evil? Or are these guys just nuts?


Click the comments link below to share your thoughts on guitar practice… or play…


Anonymous said...

Sometimes I give into the temptation to learn something cool that allows me to show off -- like Little Wing. That's the only time I've ever practiced in the "learning to do this" sense.

I guess band rehearsals probably count as practice too.

But I totally agree -- just pick it up and make some sound with it.

??? said...

i think there are those rare prodigies who can get away with (and may benefit from) not practicing in the usual way. but i think most of us need to if we want to become able to do the same things as those who are born with a natural understanding of the fretboard etc :P.

bucky said...

If I had Jimmy's ear I wouldn't feel the need to practice so much either, I think if anything practicing so that you hear the music is probably a much better way to spend time then memorizing a ton of positions.

Anonymous said...

we have to practice, but also have to play, with only practice and without playing anything, we cannot improve

Christoph Hammann said...

It's a question of motivation, surely. I think of that as a vessel. Technical practicing empties that vessel but if done right will increase your abilities. Playing or just improvising fills it up, but you might be limited by your technical prowess and not even notice it.
When I sit down to play the guitar, I start with a bit of practice and later allow me time to play. A bit of a Lutheran way of doing things!

Nate said...

I really think you are looking into these articles way to intensely. I believe Kottke and Page are tired and I'm sure they'll look back at these interviews and regret saying something so foolish. I believe the saying is true, "Practice Makes Perfect." You hear this everywhere and its said because its real, people don't don't just say it to look cool. How does anyone reach their goals? They work for what they want. They practice. Athletes, musicians, writers, etc, aren't just born great. They have to work at it, they have to polish their talent because if they don't they'll just let their chances slip away. So maybe Page didn't practice scales, but he sure did spend a lot of time inspiring himself and playing along to all his favorite blues records. How did he get so good at playing, he practiced his heart out. I could be going off on this subject, but I feel its necessary to talk about from a young guitarist's perspective. So I will have to agree that Page and Kottke are in fact old and possibly losing it.

Seattle Guitar Lessons said...

Sounds like these guys just did a whole lot of practicing without realizing it. They have a point, but the way Kottke phrases it could be taken the wrong way. If you neglect real musical development in favor of theoretical or technical rabbit holes, you'll come out more machine than man. Vader couldn't make music.


Thomas said...

Sort of goes along with the arguement of those who play strictly by ear and can't read music. I like both guitarist, but I bet the number that practice will far out number those who don't. If Leo is playing what he likes, I bet he keeps at it until he gets the sound he wants...some would call that practice...just a horse of a different color..hey

Andy said...

"something he would do for stretches of 12 hours, if only to get a few bars played to his lofty standards."

So he would replay the same couple of bars again and again until he got them perfect? Sounds like practice to me!

I think its more a case of espousing practicing within a musical context, so that what you play always sounds like music, not just tuneful noise.

Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is GW Williams, I am a somewhat well known rock, blues guitarist and have crack the top 100 song charts 6 times going as high as 18 for a short time.

Anyways, I play music 4 hours daily as a pro,...but I never practice.

I think people miss read what they are saying, they play every day, but after they've got to the point of playing at a very high level, there's really no need to pratice, but the songs are more difficult than practice would ever be.

They are really playing at a higher level than others by doing this.

Lucas Montenegro said...

I practice while i play for fun. I even try sometimes to learn something just because it will improve my overall playing, but i tend to leave it behind quickly... I never approach a technique exercise as an exercise only, I try to think where can I use it in the music I play.
It took some time, but now that i know how it's my own behavior towards guitar playing, I don't bother myself anymore by practicing, I just play what i want to play. Do i repeat it over and over? Yes, of course, to get better at these stuff that i've chosen to play, so I can have more fun!

guitarguy2217 said...

Uh no. Many people I think think that these classic rock guys can do no harm because everyone holds them to a unreasonably high esteem. In actuality these quotes HURT the chances of the many who look up to them. Jimmy page CAN play a scale. Anyone who has heard the stairway heaven solo knows that because he plays the pentatonic scale straight. No chromatics or passing notes or anything. A lot of people seem to forget that these guys were not the best guitarists of their time especially if you consider the jazz guys who were around who practiced. Anyone within their right mind should smell the finely gold painted steamers that are dripping from these guy's mouth. If you don't think practice is necessary look up guthrie govan or allan holdsworth or shawn lane and tell me they didn't practice.

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