What sort of practice routine is best?

I saw a Steve Vai lecture/workshop, which had been taped at Musicianís Institute years ago. He was saying something along the lines of, youíve got to practice 12 hours a day; you should practice this thing for "x" amount of time; then practice that thing for "y" amount; then practice that other thing for "z" amount; guitar has got to be the only thing that matters, etc... What!? Did I miss something? Is this boot camp? I mean, dare I say it? Guitar playing can be... fun?

If I had had that kind of iron-clad attitude as my model to look forward to when I getting into it, I just might have set my guitar aside. Now donít get me wrong, I like Steve Vai. Heís certainly a great player. And he has many great insights and ideas. But you are not he. What works for him, may or may not work for you, and vice versa. On this, Iím sure he and I would agree. And thereís another important fact to work into the equation here: What and how one practices will change over time, as oneís playing level changes. So what I, or Steve Vai, or anyone else may practice now may not be what you should be practicing now.

So what sort of practice routine is best for you? The one that suits your particular goals, your particular interests, your particular temperament, and your current playing level. This, of course, is a little more complicated than can be answered in a simple, blanket formula. One size doesnít fit all. However, I can give you some basic guidelines and tell you what I have done. Then, you can piece together your own, tailor-made practice routine.

Here are the essential guidelines: Keep some variety in your practice, in order to avoid getting into a rut and getting burned out. No matter how cool something is, we all have a burn-out threshold. Along these lines, you also want to keep a balance between playing music and practicing skill-intensive exercises. (See 2. Balance vs burnout above.) Perhaps the best piece of advice, though, is simply to note what works for you and stick with it. Then add new approaches as you come across them, keeping what you like and discarding what you donít like. A personal practice routine is something that evolves over time.

For some specific practice methods and approaches see the next section, 4. My practice 'routine'... as well as How should I use your method book/CDs in my practice?

Bottom Line:

Yeah, itís good to take advice from people who have already been to the places you want to go. Thatís valuable. But at the same time realize that you are different, and ultimately your destination will be slightly different than anyone elseís. So only you can say exactly what and how you should practice. At some point you need to start trusting your own instincts. Generally, I can say that you should have some variety in your practice and enough balance in it. And I can tell you what Iíve done. You can take my ideas, try them, and keep or reject them: whatever suits you. Over time you will evolve your own practice routine, by keeping the approaches that you like and discarding those you donít.
 

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