Maximizing the Minimum: Practice Tips for the Busy Musician
Posted on July 10, 2019
By German Schauss
As busy musicians we all have come to terms with the reality that we always want and need to practice more—not only to retain our skills, but also to add to our skills and repertoire. As long as I can remember, there was just never enough time in the day to get everything accomplished. This challenge led me to develop some interesting ideas and strategies on practicing and making the best of our time while still progressing and even feeling more comfortable with our abilities.
One needs to consider 3 basic goals that should be accomplished with every practice session.
- Warming up and working on basic technique to develop and retain motor functions so that new things can be learnt easily
- Adding or expanding technical skills and repertoire
- Using these skills to be creative
For me—as a guitar player—the challenge was always to have my chops at the highest level to be able to play anything, but that also meant a lot of mindless repetition of scales, arpeggios, licks, and techniques that I already possessed. However, musicians are creatures of habit and we tend to practice what we already can execute well because it gives us positive reinforcement and a sense of self-worth, and that's okay! It is important to realize this and minimize the amount of time we spend on things that we already can play.
To satisfy my need to get comfortable, I start warming up with playing different chord shapes, such as Drop2- and Drop3-Voicing all over the fretboard in a new key I pick each day. After this, I continue playing finger patterns, scales, melodic fragments, arpeggios and apply different techniques like alternate picking, sweep picking, tapping, legato, etc. to simply cover basic movements on the guitar. Obviously, you will have to adjust the warm ups and technical elements to your instrument. Keep in mind, that I always choose a new key for the day and play everything in that context. This typically takes me 30–45 minutes.
Now that my chops are “loaded into my system,” I begin developing new ideas with different techniques and try to use them as fluidly as possible to simply not be controlled by the technique but being able to control the music with any given technique. This is the important part—using the different techniques in a musical way to express yourself. I spent about another 25–30 minutes on this.
Creating actual music with your skills. Exercises and licks are great, but they also are not “musical.” There is a choice you can make: practice your instrument and be good at that, or be a musician and create and play music. For this part, you can exchange your goal, so this could mean you compose and write new music for your instrument, group, or band or learn repertoire for upcoming rehearsals and performances. Obviously, this topic can also be broken down to ideas and strategies on how to do this in an economic way with positive reinforcement. This particular section is usually dependent on the actual workload I have to prepare for. So, keep in mind that this could take up 30 minutes are a good 2 hours if you have to prepare a 1 hour set. Always adjust this based on your need.
However, there's another important aspect of practicing to consider. It's the when, where, and how many times. I see practice just like medication. I do it 3 times per day so I can maintain a good technique, creativity, and repertoire, as well as reduce the breaks between practicing without running the risk of overworking my hands and brain. This way, I can learn and work on new things consistently without a 24-hour break (if you only practice once a day). It also breaks my practice routine down into these different aforementioned sections.
Time management and creating positive practice or rehearsal feedback is probably one of the most underestimated concepts and in my opinion a must-have to be successful at your music and instrument.
I would like to encourage you to assess your time spent practicing your instrument and understand how much time you actually spent on practicing things you can do in your sleep. How much time do you spend making connections with the things you can play well and create new thing out of these skills, and lastly, how much time, if any, do you schedule to be creative and compose or learn new repertoire?
With dizzying precision and graceful agility, German Schauss takes us on a journey through the outer limits of sound through mind blowing guitar playing and melodic guitar lines soaring through stratospheric heights against the gravity of a rich and complex orchestral score. German fuses the classical influences of Bach, Beethoven and Chopin with modern instrumental rock guitar music through epic music structures and lush soundscapes.