Classical guitar is one of the most challenging instruments to play and master. There is no short cut. You have to dedicate yourself and practice consistently day after day. Expert classical guitarists practice, on average, four hours per day. You may not be able to manage that vast time every day. Whatever time you spend, use it wisely to improve yourself. This article is about how you can arrange your regular classical guitar practice session so you are fully prepared for your next guitar lesson.
Select Your goal
Having a goal will help you to best arrange your regular practice session. It could be learning an entire piece from scratch, working on an old piece again, practicing new techniques, or preparing yourself for a stage performance. Every target has a specific process to execute. Set a deadline to work toward and make long-term plans with your guitar instructor, such as how many pieces you want to learn in a year. In the primary stage, I would like to suggest that before you start to learn a new piece of music, focus on the techniques required to play it.
Take necessary preparations
Before you start to play your guitar, go through some fundamental preparations. Select a place where you will feel comfortable to sit and play for a long time. Make sure your fingers are warm to make movements easily. Playing guitar with cold hands is torture to any guitarist. Washing hands with hot water can help. Then go for the finger stretchings and don't hurt yourself in the process by pushing too hard.
Always start with a warm-up session
In music, what a warm-up session offer? Well, in sports you need to have a physical warm-up to stretch your muscles to get your body going to its best. A guitarist may need to make physical movements a lot, but a musician's warm-up is more of mental work than physical. You need to connect your mind with your muscles to understand and clarify what sound you want to play. Also, you need to hear the results as well.
What you can do in your warm-up session
In the warm-up session, you can practice some basic exercises before entering the practice session. Experts suggest building a warm-up session with a summary of all the classical guitar techniques. The best way to start is to play a set of arpeggios with a combination of rest and free strokes. A sextuplet Arpeggio is an excellent practice to involve all four right-hand fingers. Etude no. 5 by Mauro Giuliani has simple left-hand chords. You can use this piece to concentrate on your right-hand sextuplet Arpeggio.
The next step in the warm-up session is playing scales. Play a scale in a fixed position regularly for warm-up. You can play the G major scale and chromatically up to D major scale, up to two octaves. Select a left-hand position that you don't need to play an open string, and use all six strings. Play them in both rest and free stroke as well. Play the scales continuously without stopping to increase stamina. Don't shift within the scales except if you are moving to the next one.
After scales, you can practice slur techniques. Hammer-ons and pull-offs in one or two groups of slur exercises will give confidence in your left hand. Like practicing scales, play the slurs consecutively to increase stamina. Keep your fingers close to the fretboard. Increase difficulty by holding a bar chord with your index finger and playing slurs with the remaining fingers at the end of the slur session.
Tremolo is a technique that needs regular maintenance by practicing consistently. So, it is essential to keep it in your warm-up session. Change your regular p-a-m-i variation to p-i-m-a. Or you can mix things up with a p-m-I-m or p-a-m-a version. Also, make accents with different fingers as well. It will increase your right-hand finger independence and make your regular tremolo more even and control. You can end your warm-up session with some spicy rasgueado rhythms. It will build strength and agility in your right hand.
How much time should you spend to warm up
The length of the warm-up session may vary depending on different experience levels. If you are an intermediate classical guitarist, you can spend 30 minutes in total (10 mins on arpeggios, 10 minutes on scales, and 10 minutes on slur practicing). But an expert or more experienced classical guitar player invests more time (up to one hour) to cover all the techniques to warm up.
Start practice session according to your goals
After completing the warm-up, enter into your main practice session. A warm-up session will keep you up to date on your techniques and overall classical guitar playing abilities, but the practice session is the part where you will work to develop yourself to the next level. Different goals require different approaches to practice.
Practicing a new piece
If you want to start a new piece from scratch, the first thing to do is learn all the techniques required to play it. Many classical guitarists tend to lose patience and seem to give up themselves in the middle of the piece. It happens mainly because of not knowing a particular skill of the piece. During guitar lessons, talk with your instructor about identifying and applying the right techniques. Learning new techniques at the beginning will save a lot of time. Approach a new piece of music by breaking it into individual sections. Work on one section at a time. Spend extra time on the challenging and difficult parts. Then add the individual parts and start polishing the whole piece. It could take months, depending on the music piece's difficulty and your experience with classical guitar. Don't lose your patience.
Practicing on your repertoire
In your long musical lifetime, you may have studied a lot of pieces. But only a few of them you can remember to play. Also, you might forget everything if you focus entirely on the study a new piece. On the other hand, it is nearly impossible to keep refreshing your memories of everything you have studied. There will be no time to explore new things. It is completely normal to forget. None of us have super memories to remember everything. The solution is to select some pieces that you really want to memorize as your permanent repertoire. Still, you may forget them. It is essential to refer back to the score and play slowly through it to regain back your memory. Study a piece repeatedly by taking breaks to save it as a permanent memory in your repertoire.
Practicing new techniques
To start new skills and techniques, first, you need to have precise knowledge about them. Take necessary guitar lessons from the experts. If you start with the wrong method, it will waste your time and push you in the reverse direction. Work on a single skill at a time to get the maximum result. Say you want to learn to play tremolo; focus your entire practice session on practicing tremolo only. Start slowly with a metronome. Set it in 60 beats per min and play a single note per beat. Once you feel comfortable with the technique in 60 bpm, go to the next quicker level (80 bpm). Like this, gradually speed up (80 bpm to 100, 120, and so on) yourself to the higher levels. But don't push yourself to the next level until you feel comfortable to continue at your current level. There are other things to work on, like crescendo and decrescendo, different accents, etc.
Practice to prepare for a stage performance
Practice extra time to prepare yourself before any stage or concert performance. Select the pieces that you want to perform and play them repeatedly to build your confidence. Study the pieces according to the sheet music scores. You should know precisely how much time to hold a note. Spend extra time on the difficult sections and make them efficient, like the more manageable parts. The entire piece should sound smooth like you can play it effortlessly. Take extra care of the slurs. Many of us are frightened to perform on the stage. It is mainly because of lacking confidence and preparation. So, do your homework effectively before you jump to the stage. Breathing exercises are also essential for stage performing.
Things to avoid during your practice time
During the practice session, you really need to focus on what you are doing. Stop wasting time searching for practicing tools. Keep a metronome, pencils, and scores close to you. Don't allow anything like phone calls and messages to distract you.
The most important thing to do is to stop making mistakes while you are practicing. Always start by approaching slowly to play. Slow playing will give you time to think and avoid mistakes. Then gradually speed up to the original motion. Sometimes mistakes can happen. But if it happens repeatedly, it means you are not focusing fed yourself to poor practicing habits. So, stop wasting time by practicing wrong.
Take a break to improve
Relaxation is also crucial after an excessive period of practice. After a month of heavy training, if you take a break for a week from your classical guitar, you may find out that you play better than before. It happens because you give your mind time to digest what you have gained earlier. Music is not only about skills and physical work. There require a lot of mind works too. Relaxation is a part of the training.
Make classical guitar your passion for becoming successful
Studying and practicing classical guitar is actually a hard job. If you want to reach the top, you need to be passionate about the instrument and classical music. There are lots of tedious hours to spend before you achieve the top level. The secret behind every successful classical guitarist lies in three words- practice, precision, and patience.
Every guitarist practices. But the difference between an unprofessional and an expert guitarist is how much time they invest in preparing. If you follow any expert classical guitarist, you will see they spend a vast amount of time (on average more than three hours per day) in exercise practice. Practicing any technique 10,000 times can make you invincible and real fast.
Spending time in practice could be hopeless if you are not doing it properly. You must have detailed practical knowledge about any particular technique before starting to rehearse it. Otherwise, in the big picture, you might find yourself in the opposite direction. Practice slower and make sure you play on the right beats with clean sounds.
Patience is a virtue. Taking guitar lessons and being patient with the process will lead to success. Too often students are quick to quit learning because learning guitar takes a great amount to time and patience. To master any guitar skill, you must give a lot of time and effort. Flexibility in your fingers, muscle strength, and synchronization between two hands did not just happen in a single day when you first started practicing guitar. You can play any difficult piece if you practice precisely in the right way and be patient. It could take even a year. But once you can do it, you will feel why it is worth it.
From author Arifur Rahman, "I started playing music with an acoustic guitar at the age of 18. Now I have fallen in love with classical guitar and practicing for the last three years. Classical guitar is my new life, and I love to explore different ideas with it."