Skip to content
Nov 14 13

3 ideas on practicing for the beginning musician

by Conor

Here are a 3 simple ideas for practicing, that I think apply to anyone looking to improve their practice times.

But before I get there, here are two thoughts that I think should underpin every musical and creative endeavour.  First, the end goal is fun, and self-expression.  There is no arrival point with creativity, everyone has the capacity to continue to evolve.  So don’t compare yourself.  Everybody learns differently, what’s easy for some will be difficult for others.  Secondly, you’ll get out of it what you put in.  If playing an instrument is just one more thing in a gigantic heap of interests, growth will be slow.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if you put a higher priority on it and put the other things aside, you’ll see improvement come much quicker.

So here are three things I would hope to see in a student who puts effort into practicing:

1 – Routine.  Carve out some time regularly during the week.  If you’re a younger student, make it part of your homework.  If you’re an adult with a busy life and kids, wait till they’re in bed and then make a point of sitting down with your instrument.  It could be daily, twice a week, or Saturday afternoons.  Having an intentional time will add structure to your progress which helps you see your growth, which encourages everyone.

2 – Focus.  If you’re taking lessons, make sure your teacher has clearly outlined what you should be working on throughout the week.  If you’re a self starter scouring Youtube for new guitar ideas, pick one thing.  Remember you’ll never know it all so you might as well get good at that one thing that’s grabbed your attention.  Having a clear idea of your goals ties into your structure.  If you can articulate what it is that you want to learn, you’ll know how to get there and  when you get there.

3 – Duration.  Our bodies and brains get tired out.  This is especially true when it comes to learning something new physically.  Playing a musical instrument isn’t the most natural thing for our bodies to do, and as such, it can be a mentally and physically exhausting thing to learn to play a new chord, rhythm or melodic passage to a song.  I don’t know how many times I’ve frustrated myself learning something new only to put the guitar down, do something else, and come back to it later realizing what was driving me crazy now doesn’t seem so hard.  So rather than force yourself to stick to some arbitrary time frame, think more in terms of going over the one thing you’ve set in front of yourself two or three times in a practice session.

Hope this helps.  In the future I’ll unpack some of these ideas further as well as get into some of the things I’ve discovered that will help people a little further down the musical road.

Nov 4 13

Thoughts on practicing.

by Conor

What is practicing?  When your teacher asks you, “How much did you practice this week?” Do you know what they’re talking about?  When you ask your students to practice, what do they think you mean?  It seems simple, maybe it is for everyone else.  But over the last few years, I’ve learned that what I mean when I say the word “practice” isn’t necessarily the same thing as what other people think when they hear the word “practice”.

I’ve often been guilty of vaguely telling a student that they need to practice every day.  And I’ve been guilty of sitting in a chair with a guitar in my hands idly noodling claiming it as practice time.  I remember coming to the year end concert after my first year of teaching lessons.  I thought it would be fun to play something for the students as a way of inspiring them, and taking the edge off of the performance nerves a little bit.  Well, since I was the teacher, I put off preparing anything.  I kept telling myself I’ll just pick something the day of, it will be fun and easy.  Much to my dismay, sitting down the afternoon of the concert I realized what I had practiced for a year was singing and playing small portions of pop songs, out of time, and not always on key.  That meant that my level of technical endurance, the ability to play something from start to finish was probably worse than my students.  They had at least been working on one piece over the last month and a half in preparation for the evening.  In the end I pulled something together and faked my way through a James Taylor song.  But I learned a very valuable lesson that afternoon.

Practice is spending time intentionally working on one thing.  Now there’s all kinds of other things that go along with that, and build on top of that.  But that’s where it starts.

So over the next few weeks I’ll be talking about what I mean when I say the word practice, and a few different tools I use to get the most out of my own practice time.

Oct 30 13

Musical thoughts…

by Conor

I’ve been thinking about how I can use my website to better effect.  As a guitar teacher and person who loves music, I find in the course of preparing and teaching I come up with all kinds of ideas.  Ideas that in the middle of a lesson would derail the point I’m trying to make.  But curiosity peaked, I think are still worth pursuing.

The majority of my students are simply interested in how to get from a G chord, to a C chord, or nailing the opening riff to Back in Black by AC/DC.  These are noble and important pursuits at the beginning, and must be mastered. But having taught those things many times now, I find myself faced with some questions.  Why do those chords sound good together?  Why does that riff make every young male student feel like they’re hearing music for the first time, and want to jump around the lesson studio?  Take it from a guy who busted his first real guitar amp by standing on top of it rocking out in his bedroom, there is a certain magic that accompanies the sound of a crunchy electric guitar.

So I thought I’d put up some simple ideas I’ve come across.  Covering everything from how and what to practice, to why Eric Clapton is actually a brilliant guitar player.

If you have any questions about anything I’ve posted, or maybe haven’t posted I’d love to hear from you.

Aug 30 13

September 2013

by Conor

Another summer is winding down, and we’re looking at re-entering the world of routine, schedules, home-work, and music lessons!  That being said, if you have a child interested in music, or if you’ve ever thought it might be fun to learn how to play a musical instrument, there’s no time like the present.  I’d love to chat and see if I can help you out.

This year I’ll be offering lessons on the guitar, bass guitar, mandolin, banjo, and ukulele.

Something else that’s new.  I’ve partnered up with Dustin Dollman of Dustin’s Drumming Techniques also known for the DDT Drum line to offer rock band lessons.

If you’re interested in any of the above I’d love to hear from you.


Aug 23 12

September 2012

by Conor

September is right around the corner.

I have loved the last two weeks of August for as long as I can remember.  There is something special about the new beginnings that come with the dawn of a new school year.

Last year was my second full year of teaching full time.  I’ve really enjoyed watching my students grow musically, and getting to meet all of the new students I’ve had the privilege of teaching over the last two years.  Last year we held two concert showcases (I say “we” because this is something that the students are as invested in as I am) – one at Christmas, and one in June.  Both concerts were held at the Duncan Garage Showroom, and I really look forward to growing that partnership over the next few years.  If you’ve never taken in an event at the Showroom, you’re really missing out.  The place is amazing both for the performers and those in the audience alike.  A few students even got to take part in Duncan’s summer festival in July, performing outside in front of both family and strangers.

All that is to say, I’m really looking forward to what this coming year holds.  I’m looking forward to meeting new musicians, both new to me and new to being a musician.  I’m looking forward to more opportunities for students to get out and put the stuff they’re learning to use.  I’m looking forward to more “a-ha” moments with the students, where they work hard, and then experience the rewards of coming out on the other side.

It’s going to be a great year.