I get a lot of questions on how to practice.
There are a lot of different strokes for different folks that work well. Since I am going to focus on music. use a military analogy. In the military generals like to keep it simple.
1. Establish the perimeter.
2. Set up your channels of communication.
Can it really be this simple? Yes, let me show you:
1. Establishing the perimeter- I will use the guitar as an example. You have to know the neck and every note on it. I like this quote Know that, which is in front of your face and all that is hidden shall be revealed One of the best ways to do this is by association.
Say you know the name of the open strings starting with the lowest in pitch. EADGBE.
Here is a great way to remember them;
The first letter of each word is the name of the open string starting with the lowest E.
Now, if you go to the 5th fret of the low E which we call the first point of reference
You will find that the name of that note is the same as the next adjacent string
Now if you go to the first point of reference on the A string (5th fret) the name of that note will be the same as the next open adjacent string
Continue on to the first point of reference on the D string (5th fret) and the name of that note will be the same as the next adjacent string
The string is special as point of reference is the 4th fret but the established rule of same note as next adjacent string still applies. (More on why this later, its very interesting)
When we get to the B string we find the point of reference reverts back to the 5th fret and is the same as the next open string.
Now if you go to the 12th fret of the guitar which is called the 8 letters higher (6 whole steps) you will find the same notes as the original open strings EADGBE.
So we have established a perimeter in 3 easy steps.
1. Open strings EADGBE
2. 5th Fret (excluding G string which is 4th fret) 1st point of reference
3. 12TH Fret EADGBE
From here you can explore and familiarize yourself with the notes rather than memorize them. Start by filling in the cracks. For example use the established perimeters as reference points to find a note. Let start with for example.
Let as find all of the A on the guitar starting with the lowest string in pitch, the 6th string. The low E.
What is the first point of reference? The 5th fret which just happens to be the note so that was easy. You can always add or subtract 12 and get the same note, so 5+12=17. So the 17th fret would also be an In reverse 17-12=5th fret would be the same note A
Let’s go to the next string the A and there it is the open string is A add 12. 12+0=12 So the 12th fret is the same note as the open string.
When you get to the ask your self this question, Is closer to the first point of reference (5th fret G) or the 2nd point of reference (12th fret D)?
The answer would be G because in the musical alphabet G comes right before A. So go to your 1st point of reference (5th fret G) and we know that A is one whole step above G so the 7th fret of of your D String is the note A. Once again you can always add 12 and get the same note. So 7+12=19 and the 19th fret is also A.
Simply repeat this formula on each string and within a few weeks you will see the perimeter of the guitar in a whole new light. You become like a musical detective. Seek and ye shall find. There are only 7 notes in the musical alphabet A,B,C,D,E,F,G.
Dont worry about sharps and flats that is simple. Sharp just means raise a note 1/2 step and Flat just means to lower a note 1/2 step. So if you know what is you know what is.
So imagine if you explored one note a day across the entire perimeter of the guitar? In 2 weeks in a matter of minutes you massively establish the perimeter.
Now, let’s set up the channels of communication:
1. The first channel of communication in music is sound. Your ears, trust them and rely on them first and foremost. When I see students making mistakes I almost always see the tops of their heads because they are staring at the guitar neck and they are frozen.
Think about it, this is why blind people have excelled in music for years. Due to the challenge they face they are hyper aware of the power of listening. Think of Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Roy Orbison, Jeff Healy, Jose Feliciano and Ronnie Milsap just to name a few.
After Ray Charles passed away his record company had engineers go and start archiving and re-mastering all of his old master tapes. You see his music is a national treasure and a lot of the old recordings face the danger of tape drop sine they were recorded in the 50s and 60s on magnetic tape which deteriorates over time.
So the engineers have been going back and re-mastering everything in a digital format. When they do this, it is done against a grid where you can see everything in real time. You can see the downbeat and the exact placement of all the vocals and instrumentation against the grid.
The engineers were shocked to see scientifically what they already new intuitively. Ray Charles timing was phenomenally accurate and precise. This was his world. Without the distraction of sight he focused on the sound and feel of his music and related to it that way.
Which brings me to the second channel of communication in music;
2. Feeling- Lose your mind and come to your senses, is the next most important sense to rely when playing and instrument. If someone says that you play with a lot of feeling. That is a great compliment. Once again we can cultivate this approach by becoming sensetives to it and bringing it to the forefront.
3. Sight- This would be the 3rd channel. Say something did not sound or feel right. Then we might look at our fingers or our instrument to make an adjustment. Think of it like driving a car.
Would it be a good idea to drive a car while staring in the rear-view mirror the entire time? NO! that would be crazy. We look in the rear-view mirror when we need to make an adjustment like changing lanes or exiting the freeway. In the same way staring at your guitar when you play it locks out the 2 primary channels you want to rely on. Sound and Feel.
Once you have established the perimeter and set up the channels of communication then you can attack and take it over. This is where it is great to find a good coach and mentor or a friend that plays already to show you tunes and how to play blues.
Here is a great tip on motivating kids to practice that I learned from Edward Kohanamoku an amazing Slack Key guitar player I met in Hawaii. When I saw Ed perform live he did and amazing set and then had an intermission. After the intermission he came out and brought several of his children onstage with him. They ranged from late teens to as young as 5. It was cute they all walked out in a line after him like baby skunks or something. When they started playing it was on!
When the concert was finished I spent some time with him and because I was curious I asked him he how he motivated all his kids to practice. He looked at me in a way where I could tell he had a lot to say about this and he told me the following story.
In Hawaii music is a very integral part of our people and our culture. In the evenings after supper all of the adults get together and sing and play cards and dance well into the evening. All the kids are sent to bed unless they play an instrument or sing. In that case they are permitted to stay up past their bedtime. We will give them a tambourine or a ukulele and encourage them to join in. Otherwise you have to go to bed. No exceptions.
In each home in a traditional Hawaiin household their is a room that is dedicated to this and it also where all the instruments are stored. Children are not permitted in this room and it is for adults only. The door is always locked when the parents are home.
However, when the parents leave to do errands or go shopping they always unlock the door when the children are home by themselves. They leave the door closed but make sure to unlock it on the way out.
You see the clever psychology at work here? If you or your children are not practicing, it is your own fault. Part of being a parent is being a leader and being an influence. Taking the role serious and outsmarting the foxes (the children)
My jiu-jitsu instructor told me a great story about his father. When he was a child and he would win a match. His father would give him a gift as a reward.
When he would lose a match his father would give him 2 gifts. To let him know that he loved him even more.
He told me this little gesture would motivate him to win like never before and he could count the times he recieved 2 gifts easily on one hand. He hated to lose because he never wanted to let down his father. This subtlety of his fathers message was brilliant and I will never forget that story and the wisdom inherent in it.
Much Love and remember Practice doesn’t make perfect. It makes Permanent.
Perfect Practice makes perfect sense. Do it slow and absorb yourself and immerse your soul in it.
The question I get asked the most in my studio in all these years is how do you play fast? If I had a dollar for every person that asked me that I would be in Italy on the beach right now! I always tell people practice slow and relaxed and make sure you are breathing. Nobody ever believes me. 96% of folks just don’t believe me. It’s weird.
Here is what I tell them. There are 2 Goddesses on each of your shoulders. On the right is the Goddess of Speed. On the Left is the Goddess of Slowness and Accuracy
If you pay more attention to the Goddess of Slowness and Accuracy
The Goddess of Speed will become jealous and pay more attention to you.