Simon’s Simple Practice Challenge

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Simon’s Simple Practice Challenge

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Once you have completed my practice challenge, I would love to know what your experience was like and if you have ever practiced like that before (or will again?) Please post your comment below.

 

If you didn’t have that C major scale handy, here is one to use.

C Major Scale

 

Cheers,

Simon

2016-10-24T00:19:54+00:00 52 Comments

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52 Comments

  1. Stuart Weber April 15, 2015 at 3:11 pm - Reply

    Hi Simon, Nice to read your post, and good for you for giving such true advice.

    I live a very strange life as an artist in Montana, my wife are a 25 years into sustainable ranching, growing 90% of everything we consume, but my life revolves around the time I give each day to my practice. I try to sit for two sessions ‘in the chair’ for about 2 hrs each, but most days I just push it all into one long practice session. There is so much music I am trying to keep in my hands, that not doing the slow practice technique you speak is a dead end! I set a timer for pieces so I don’t give it too much of my practice time.

    I am lucky. while I didn’t get to live in a cultural center, I did have Parkening to show me how to practice back in the years when he too lived here in Bozeman. I have never forgotten the lesson of not practicing your mistakes. Chris would go into his studio and practice the Rodrigo concerto, playing through it at 3/4 tempo or more, but as soon as his missed a note everything stopped. He would back up and repeatedly crawl through the section several times before moving on. It left an impression on me.

    Take care. Keep sending out ‘sound’ advice, and I hope some day our paths cross.

    Stuart

    • Profile photo of Simon
      Simon April 15, 2015 at 3:17 pm - Reply

      Hi Stuart,

      Great to hear from you and thank you for sharing your story.
      It is amazing how just one moment can have such a profound impact on us for a long time to come. It seems that we have to be at the right place with our progress and come across the right information at the same time. Perhaps this is why such “aha” moments can be rare.

      I love that you use a timer for your practice, and I am also trying to use this to make my practice sessions more productive. It is amazing how quickly the time goes by!

      ps. your place in Montana sounds like a Shangri-la to me! Beautiful.

  2. Eduardo Heredia April 15, 2015 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    Hi Simon,

    I followed your advice about playing slow with a metronome and i was surprised how many time i wasted doing things in the wrong way.

    I usually complain about how bad is my technique and complain all the time i spent doing exercises to improve and be fluent for nothing, in the guitar of course.

    I must say you are totally right. thanks for sharing tour suggestions.

    • Profile photo of Simon
      Simon April 15, 2015 at 8:22 pm - Reply

      Awesome, Eduardo. So glad it worked for you!

      Simon

  3. Suzanne April 16, 2015 at 1:43 am - Reply

    What I learned trying this exercise:
    1. I do not own a pencil. Seriously.
    2. When practicing a repertoire piece that is in 5/4, it really helps to NOT have the metronome set on 4/4.
    3. I should have probably picked an easier repertoire piece to start…

    But seriously…

    This is how I always *thought* I practiced, but doing it this way really proved me wrong. Yes, I would start out slowly and once I got the hang of it, I would crank that metronome up like there was no tomorrow.

    While there were some really egregious mistakes in the beginning, most of them smoothed out by the end. I noticed that by the end of the 15 minutes, not only was the scale cleaner, I was playing it with more gusto – there was actual emotion in the scale.

    I was really surprised, because although I started out studying Classical, I have been playing Rock and Jazz for years…it’s been a while since I did any serious sight reading. It didn’t go as horrendously as I’d thought it would.

    I picked a fairly hard piece to try this with, so quite honestly, I was still working out the rhythm (leave it to me to pick a piece that starts in Rubato for an exercise that requires a metronome…) by good, old-fashioned clapping, then running that rhythm on one string just to get the feel. Next time, I hope to play actual notes.

    Will I try this again? Oh, absolutely! :-)

    • Profile photo of Simon
      Simon April 16, 2015 at 3:00 pm - Reply

      Hi Suzanne,

      Loved your comments, they made me laugh :)

      You touched on a pretty important topic here… choosing a piece that is too difficult. I think no matter how many hours and how diligent/disciplined your practice is, if the piece is too advanced it will be slow and possibly frustrating. I always advocate choosing a piece that is within your current abilities and hopefully pushing you just a bit. It can be hard to find that piece because we are so enamored with concert repertoire and also because it can be tough to know what piece would fit you at your current stage. Perhaps try a piece that isn’t as challenging and see what results you get?

    • Jonathan April 16, 2015 at 8:46 pm - Reply

      Suzanne – I am totally intrigued by your decision as well as the availability to you of a piece in 5/4!!
      Pray tell us — what are you playing there?
      I ask, because the notion of 5/4 has been growing in my awareness since reading the recording notes firstly, of a movement in Tchaikovsky’s (Pathétique) Symphony in e minor, and latterly of one of Nick Drake’s songs. Widely different repertoires, and both very melancholy pieces in their ways, but not without great beauty I think.
      Personally I am avoiding playing too much sonorous minority, and prefer to keep my practice and repertoire mostly major!

      • Suzanne April 17, 2015 at 11:10 pm - Reply

        Simon – Glad I could give you a chuckle. At least I wasn’t the only one laughing at my inability to find a pencil!!

        Ironically – this was a piece I used to play. I made one of the classic guitar mistakes – I taught WAY too many students for WAY too many years. Because I was teaching so much for so long, I lost a lot of my ability…which I am now trying to get back. So I thought I’d break out one of the old pieces I used to play.

        OOPS! :-)

        Jonathan – I crossed over to the dark side for this one…it was a Jazz guitar solo that I used to play: Johnny Smith’s rendition of Golden Earrings. It bounces between 5/4 and 4/4 quite a bit.

        I’m sorry, but I honestly can’t tell you how I learned to play in 5/4. For some strange reason, when I pick up and play – it ends up in some odd time signature. I seem to be hard-wired AGAINST 4/4. My inner metronome jumps to 5/4, 7/4, 7/8 or 9/8.

        Years ago, I got tired of trying to find a teacher that could really help me. Most everyone in the area was the standard gigger trying to make ends meet by teaching between gigs. So I started buying sheet music and teaching myself.

        One of the first things I tried to play was Wagner. Don’t remember the piece, but every other measure changed time signatures and the measures in between changed key signatures. I think spending so much time on that piece had a lot to do with my love of odd time signatures and my ability to play in them more easily than 4/4.

  4. Profile photo of PJO
    PJO April 16, 2015 at 3:34 am - Reply

    As a current student in your Level 1 Technique course, I remember vividly your video advice on how to practice, and I have tried to incorporate “slow” into my daily guitar routine. But in a single practice sessions I usually try to do at least three different scales and I often work on a couple of different exercises from a lesson as well as a repertoire piece. So your challenge was not just to slow my speed but also to simplify my practice by tackling only three little tasks. And the experiment was, in a word, liberating.

    C SCALE: No decisions about what tempo to pick, or when to take it faster, and, if faster, how fast, or whether to change the rhythm pattern or work on a dynamics change — or when it was time to switch to a different scale altogether. I simply focused on playing the C scale to the best of my ability; no points for speed; just “be” the C scale.

    STUDY REPERTOIRE PIECE: This was the most difficult portion of the challenge for me. Maybe because I did not choose an appropriate repertoire piece? It was one of the duets from your lessons. There were no dynamics markings, no changes in tempo, straight 4/4 time signature, and a C-scale key signature. Oh, and it is short. I had previously worked out and marked the fingerings. So, I spent most of the fifteen minutes listening to you play “your” part of duet while I mentally played my part. Certainly wasn’t time wasted, but I wonder how I could have made better use of that time slot.

    PLAY REPERTOIRE SEGMENT: I had practiced the piece at half-tempo (or even slower) before, and I had worked on playing a few measures at a time before — but I had never devoted 15 full minutes to practicing one small segment at half-speed. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Again, a weight was lifted, as I was relieved of the responsibility of deciding whether and when to take the segment at a faster tempo (if so, what tempo?), when to move on to a new segment, or whether to move on to a different piece altogether. I was free to concentrate solely on perfecting that one segment. This 15 minutes flew by, and I was not the least bored by the repetition of those four measures. In fact, I might even tackle those same measures again tomorrow. Which brings up a question . . .

    The regimen that you outlined in your challenge, should it constitute my entire practice session? Or should I just strive to do it two or three times a week? If I have 90 minutes a day to practice, would you recommend spending 45 minutes doing some form of the “slow and simple” practice and then spend the remaining 45 minutes working through one of your video lessons and the accompanying exercises (incorporating “slow” practice as needed).

    • Profile photo of Simon
      Simon April 16, 2015 at 2:56 pm - Reply

      Hey Patti,

      Thanks for your valuable insight. I think that in answer to both your questions you need to be creative with these results.

      For section two, you are right, there may have not been too much to study in a score with limited material and no markings. I think that time might yield more work if there is an entire movement or work to look at. However, you could come up with some ideas about articulation, dynamics and expression.

      For section three, I think that each person needs to gauge how this benefited and made them feel. In a nutshell I use this kind of practice for difficult sections in pieces and as you found this “restriction” can be quite liberating. You can apply this restriction in a myriad of different ways to your practice and I would encourage experimenting with different lengths of time, different material and difficulty levels to see what works best for you.

      The thought that you put in to how you learn and how you practice will have far reaching results.

      • Patti April 16, 2015 at 6:43 pm - Reply

        Many thanks. Kinda relieved that I can break out of slow mode as needed. Otherwise I fear I would never finish your Level 1 course!

  5. Profile photo of René
    René April 16, 2015 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    I took the challenge and noticed the following –

    Part 1 – a very peaceful pleasant warm up of the right and left hands
    Part 2 – a very pleasant study of the phrasing, the key, tapped the rhythm and some mental visualization of how the piece should be fingered – an exercise I should do more often before playing a piece.
    Part 3 – very interesting. Played 4 measures at 60 bpm – mistakes. After repeating a couple of times I isolated the mistake to a chord change. Practiced the chord change by itself – mistakes. Slowed to 40 bpm – mistakes. Watched left hand fingers during the chord change and changed the fingering for the chord and carefully watched as the left hand fingers moved from one chord to the next. Things improved – I was playing 6 of 7 without mistakes. Bumped up to 50 bpm – mistakes 1 of 2. Bumped back down to 40 bpm and the 15 minute timer went off. So, 15 minutes without a mistake didn’t happen at all for me. Where did I go wrong?

    • Profile photo of Simon
      Simon April 16, 2015 at 2:45 pm - Reply

      Hi René,

      Thanks for your feedback, it is great to hear of challenges as I think it will help others.

      Every person, and every passage is going to be unique so this simple concept of practice will not be a solution for all situations right away. You might need to experiment a little.

      It sounds like when you went down to 40 you were getting good accuracy, so it might be necessary to stay in that tempo range for a while. Also, you might need to take practice slowly in terms of progress. By this I mean that you can stick with one small passage for quite a while and you need to persevere with it to get results. An example from my own experience is with the scale section from the Bach Chaconne. I must have spent a hundred or more hours on that passage and experimented with every fingering (right and left) under the sun. Several years later, I have settled on something that works for me, but it took a long time to get there.

      What I believe can be taken away from your session, is that you closely examined your movements and listened very critically to your playing. This kind of practice is invaluable, and while it may not get you to your goal in one session those fifteen minutes of “mindful” practice are more productive than 15 hours of “mindless” practice. So I believe you didn’t go wrong, you went fantastically well!

      • Profile photo of René
        René April 17, 2015 at 12:37 am - Reply

        Hello Simon –

        Just a follow-on from yesterday … my brain must have digested my practice errors during the night. Tonight when I tried the song again I played it without mistakes 5 times in a row at mm40, so I bumped it up to mm50 and mm60 and still no mistakes. It almost seems to good to be true! I’m going to have to stop trying so hard to correct my mistakes in one sitting, put a time limit on my repetitions, then stop and move on to something else. It was much easier and a lot less frustrating this way. Thanks for the suggestion!

        • Profile photo of Simon
          Simon April 19, 2015 at 3:13 pm - Reply

          That’s awesome to hear, René. I think we all work/think/learn in different ways so the key, I believe, is to “know thyself”.
          #DelphicOracleReference
          :)

  6. Bill Braunstein April 16, 2015 at 4:24 pm - Reply

    Hi Simon Thanks for your e-mail. I always appreciate hearing from you. I will now try
    to force myself to work within the guidelines of the metronome. This has been a weakness of mine for many years. I was forced to confront reality at the last NYCCGS
    meeting. I went totally blank before I even started the piece. This was due to a variety
    of reasons—nerves, finger placement, too rapid a tempo, etc.
    When I get to play this piece again in front of them, I will let you know how it went.,
    after the discipline of your guidelines. Invaluable advice. Best,
    Bill
    .

  7. Jonathan April 16, 2015 at 9:11 pm - Reply

    OK so I know how fast things move in NY so I am posting my initial results with a caveat: Changing mode in practising was not like throwing a switch for myself, more a matter of preparing and sliding more-or-less true to form, into a varied way of doing things. This noted, here are my results:-

    1. C Major scale at 60 bpm
    Very instructive for the following reasons, (A) because I do not usually practise scales as such, so this is a nice way to get back on board. (B) Lovely to do something really simple and allow one’s self to accentuate the +’s (C) This exercise helped isolate a postural deficiency & its complications. Oh lordy! But good to know for real anyway.

    2. Pencil – Study – Phrases
    Having gotten distracted, I ended up using the pencil to mark a spiral on a chammy leather, which has been cut out now and strapped onto my shoulder. See 1. (C) above.

    3. Slow study (1/2 tempo), phrase from 2. above.
    Playing an excerpt of BWV 999 with increasing clarity, improving tone and better LH too. I note that Segovia played this slightly differently than scored in my copy (with an F natural instead of E) at the harmonic peak of the arpeggios. Trying both versions and a couple of other tweaks, but now it is time to leave this piece alone for a good while, in order to move on…

    Overall Challenge result: This is a truly inoffensive way of opening the ‘learning channels’ and I will continue with the 45-minute method from now on. I love the fact of playing slowly and simply, loving each note (as it were), it is very humbling and, low on expectations it is also low on stress! Thanks

  8. Karen April 17, 2015 at 12:22 am - Reply

    Step 1: Opposite of what I thought: I did not become bored but became relaxed, focused and was keeping the flying fingers at bay. [I do like your finger exercises and they have helped tremendously]

    Step 2: Ok , thought I did well with markings at first. Now I saw the right hand shifts of the arpeggios that were making me mess up with right hand! 15 minutes enough? eh… I did a little over.

    Step 3: after the slow down and concentration on just those measures, [screwed up elsewhere , but not there! lol], I felt fluent, my fingers KNEW where to be.

    Conclusion:
    1] The scales planted my fingers

    2] I recognized the arpeggio finger shifts

    3] When going over my whole piece later, I could visualize where my fingers had to shift up and down to arpeggio at the repeated patterns.

    SUCCESS!

    Its Genius, thanks sooo much for sharing!
    (big smile:)
    Karen

  9. Dechiu April 17, 2015 at 6:33 am - Reply

    Tips ? Practicing tempo
    1 in 16 notes
    such as. 1n 2ean //1ean 2ean //1n 2n

  10. Profile photo of Suzanne
    Suzanne April 20, 2015 at 2:00 am - Reply

    Being the glutton for punishment that I am, I ran through this again – with the same song.

    And for those of you wondering – no, I still can’t find a pencil. :-)

    I stepped up the challenge – instead of a one-octave C scale, I used the three-octave Segovia scale broken up into one octave bites.

    My music was already marked up from yesterday and years ago when it was in my repertoire, so I set the metronome at 60 and clapped the rhythm for about half of my 15 minutes and chugged the rhythm on just one string for the other half.

    For the repertoire piece, I practiced the first measure.

    And here’s how that all went…

    I have always had difficulties with all of the position shifts in the Segovia scales, especially since the scale shape is different when descending. The first octave was the same shape as my one-octave scale from yesterday, so for the first half of the 15 minutes I worked out the second octave, which had one of the problematic position shifts. I did the third octave for the second half.

    At the end of 15 minutes, I could play all three octaves of the Segovia scale far more smoothly than ever before. SWEET!

    For giggles, I tried to do the scale up and down…and I could actually do it. YIPPEE!

    After 7-1/2 minutes of clapping, I did finally get the rhythm. WOO-HOO! And got it very quickly when I moved it to one string of the guitar. And even though this song USED to be in my repertoire, after 15 minutes of just concentrating on the rhythm, I had the rhythm better than ever.

    I will caution you: Clapping rhythms for nearly 8 minutes straight is a very trying exercise! I’m pretty sure someone will start an aerobics class based on the concept soon…

    Playing the first measure was a mixed bag. 60 was too fast, but after slowing it down to 50 I was flying…actually crawling. No one really “flies” at 50 bpms… But it was far cleaner than I played it when I was playing it – if that even makes sense. :-)

    BONUS INSANITY: Somewhere along the line, I picked up the suggestion of playing with a hair band around the back knuckles of the fretting hand. The concept is similar to a ball player putting a weight around his bat while doing practice swings. After I felt like I had the measure really well, I put the hair band around my left hand and tried it again.

    Truly awful. Like I hadn’t played for 20 years and started back on a Walmart guitar that won’t go in tune…

    But after a few run throughs, it started to sound like music. After the buzzer went off, I took the hair band off and ran through my measure again – and it was even cleaner. SWEET!

    And before you go buying hair bands, you’ll probably want to check with a doctor or some other professional before following in my footsteps. :-)

    • Profile photo of Simon
      Simon April 21, 2015 at 4:33 pm - Reply

      Thanks for that detailed run down, Suzanne.
      I like that you pushed up to a three octave scale, but perhaps consider just moving to two octaves and working on one shift. Or even restricting your practice more and just focus on a shifting exercise.

      The name of the game, for me, is patience and restriction. That will give you the most solid progress, but takes discipline not to take in too much.
      I love that it is working for you!

  11. Dechiu April 20, 2015 at 8:58 am - Reply

    Tips ? Practicing FAST tempo
    such as. Counting one N two E A N ?.

  12. Profile photo of Ramesh
    Ramesh April 20, 2015 at 5:26 pm - Reply

    Suggestions for a good piece to practice on? I’ve been using the Frederick Noad Solo Guitar Playing book on and off for years and picked the Allegretto (by Noad) to practice. The standard tempo for this piece is 120 but when I try it at 60, it does not sound anything like the one I watched on Youtube. So I am probably getting the counting wrong..should I work on fixing this or pick an easier piece?

    Ramesh

    • Profile photo of Simon
      Simon April 21, 2015 at 4:38 pm - Reply

      Hi Ramesh,

      Choosing a good piece for your level is half the battle. The reason I put the progressive pieces books together was not so much to make my own edition of those pieces but rather to find pieces that pushed the student is a step wise manner. Give me an idea of pieces you can currently play comfortably, and I will do my best to recommend some pieces for you.

  13. Peter April 21, 2015 at 11:27 pm - Reply

    Hello Simon:
    Thanks for the “Practice Challenge” which I’ve incorporated into my daily exercise programme. To Concentrate on the playing of scales, studies and practice pieces at a slower tempo has been useful for me in all aspects of the practice procedure. I found that making an adjustment to my posture enabled better position with the fingerboard and therefore getting clearer note tones. Particularly when playing barred arpegios. I wonder if playing with a guitar support would help?

    Also, while I’m on the air here – I would like to thank you for the “six string scale excercise” (no, I can’t think of a catchy title for you). It’s been useful to take away the intimidation of playing the higher positions.

    Peter

    • Profile photo of Simon
      Simon April 24, 2015 at 11:27 pm - Reply

      Hi Peter,

      Thanks so much for your report and I am glad you like the six string scales!
      I think that my simplifying things, or restricting them like in this challenge, you start to be aware of other things like posture. Awareness is half the battle, so keep thinking of what your body is doing and feel free to experiment with things like a support. Make the guitar suit you, not the other way around.

      Cheers,
      Simon

  14. Profile photo of Ramesh
    Ramesh April 22, 2015 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    Simon,

    Simon,
    Since I have been really terrible (until now :-)) with practice, technique etc., I would say I have dabbled with pieces like the Spanish study, Greensleeves, Etude (all from the Noad book) and don’t really play any of them very well (i.e without pauses, mistakes or at the right tempo), so this probably gives you a sense of my ability. I can sight read ok.
    Your comment on ‘having a good teacher’ is just so spot on..no teacher I’ve had has taken the time to instill the basics. Thank you for the course and all the help! Really enjoying my practice time now.

    Ramesh

    • Profile photo of Simon
      Simon April 24, 2015 at 11:28 pm - Reply

      So happy to hear that, Ramesh. Mostly the part where you said you are enjoying your practice time. Thank you for sharing!

      Simon

  15. Dechiu April 23, 2015 at 3:13 am - Reply

    Tips ?
    Practicing FAST tempo
    Beginnet level

    • Profile photo of Simon
      Simon April 23, 2015 at 3:18 am - Reply

      Hi Dechiu,

      Thanks for the comments, I will see what I can get written for you. Stay tuned.

  16. Profile photo of Ramesh
    Ramesh April 24, 2015 at 1:35 am - Reply

    Hello!

    I have a question regarding using a Metronome for counting. Say the time signature is 3 beats per measure and there are quarter notes and eighth notes in the piece. If I want to play this at a tempo of 60, do I set the metronome beat to 6 and the tempo to 120? I read (www.metronomeonline.com) that it’s best to count out the shortest note.

    I am not good at counting out loud and much prefer to use the metronome to set the beat. Also I am not advanced enough to just set the metronome to 3 beats and figure out the eighth notes (i.e play twice as fast).

    Am I making sense? Any suggestions? Thank you.

    Ramesh

    • Profile photo of Simon
      Simon April 24, 2015 at 11:31 pm - Reply

      Hi Ramesh,

      Great question. There are a few things to be said here, but I want to keep it simple. If the time signature is 4/4 then put the metronome on 60 and each click will represent a quarter note. Same goes for 2/4 or 3/4. If you are ready to speed it up a bit just change the tempo on the metronome but it will still represent a quarter note.

      Counting out the shortest note is called subdivision and it is a great tool, but a bit more advanced. Start with the method I described above, and let me know how you go.

  17. Dechiu May 19, 2015 at 4:20 am - Reply

    I have purchased the Book titled Major and Minor scales for classical guitar.
    Given that i have Limited Music backgroud, i do not Understand why there are three Pages for a Single Major. I plan to learn by myself. How to PRACTICE scales effectively?
    Thanks.

  18. Tony B June 25, 2015 at 12:39 pm - Reply

    Although I have read before that slow practise is important, this is the first time I have really worked hard at slowing things down. On the C major scale I usually play it through a couple of octaves as fast as possible, thinking the faster must be best. By slowing it down to a snail’s pace, I noticed that it actually sounded horrible. In a way, it is harder to play slower than fast. Playing it slowly allowed me to see what was actually wrong – I could hear strings buzzing, for example, which I wasn’t aware of before. I used the ‘Lagrima’ for the slow study. Again, by playing a few bars really slowly sorted out a couple of bits that never sounded ‘quite right’ – mind you, it still needs plenty of work! But, yes, it does work – it gives you time to look at something in real detail and has given me confidence that I know what I am playing, and why I am playing it and not just hoping that it sounds OK-ish. Cheers!

    • Profile photo of Simon
      Simon June 27, 2015 at 8:43 pm - Reply

      That’s awesome Tony. Sounds like you have really got the right idea. And yes, it can be very difficult to play slowly sometimes!

  19. Ronjazz August 5, 2015 at 1:56 pm - Reply

    excellent advice. I have been following a program like that for quite a while, as a recovery from focal dystonia. retraining the broken hand is possibly moire difficult and arduous than learning anew, because the old ways keep popping up, and the only way to prevent that is slow and mindful practice. The fact of the matter is this: slow, attentive practice will develop speed and accuracy much more efficiently than trying to “muscle through” speed studies.

  20. Bayu August 31, 2015 at 4:25 am - Reply

    Hi Simon,

    I’m just a beginner on classical guitar, and want to say few things about the challenge.

    To play C major scale on 60, and a piece in half tempo is – surprisingly – very challenging! It was difficult for both hands, at first. And yes, I spotted so many silly and unnecessary mistakes in my play.

    I totally agree with you on slowing things down, take more notes and to observe before even trying to play the score.

    Thanks (and now let me get back to practise) :D

  21. Mervyn Oliver September 3, 2015 at 8:04 am - Reply

    Hello Simon,
    I am a senior enthusiastic amateur, I haven’t had a formal lesson for forty years, and we have met at the SCGS. I just thought that I would download your little Practice Technique book, and along came the simple practice challenge. It was interesting, and 15 minutes is not a long time, really. I had to concentrate quite hard in the first part, which surprised me. Getting the tone even with nice legato got the brain going. In the second part, I saw a couple of marks I hadn’t noticed before, e.g. sforz. and tempo rubato. In the third part, I was able to finally get a complex rhythm involving a jump to the 9th position. I look forward to more hints.
    Merv.

  22. Profile photo of Cliff Berger
    Cliff Berger October 2, 2015 at 11:11 am - Reply

    Simon,

    This is truly amazing. I have been practicing mistakes my entire life and although other teachers have told me to start slowly, I guess I never really paid any attention to that advice. Now, in just a matter of days, I notice that I am making rapid progress by practicing slowly and getting more involved in the music. My playing is more relaxed, more enjoyable and more fluid.

    Instead of practicing a C major scale, I practiced the first few bars of Carcassi Etude, Op. 60, No. 1. I had been struggling to perfect this piece and make it sound like music without success for too long. In just a couple of days I noticed that I can now play it without mistakes, with the correct fingering and, most importantly, with enjoyment.

    I used to walk away from a practice session feeling as if I were making no progress at all. It was a bit depressing. Now I am invigorated. This 45 minute exercise has opened up new doors for me. I am so happy that I found you online. Keep sending more lessons.

    Cliff

  23. Douglas R Thompson November 2, 2015 at 10:42 am - Reply

    Very interesting experience. I kept trying different variations of the C scale. I still struggle with i m a i m a i m a, etc. This is because I hear the scale in my head in double-time, and my fingers are moving in triple-time. For me, it’s like trying to pat your head with one hand and rub your belly with the other!

    Slowing down and practicing just 4 measures of the piece I am working on (the Mertz Nocturne Op. 4 No. 2) also brought some insight. The (for most of you,) right-hand technique–I am left handed so for me it is the left-hand technique–needed to be analyzed so that I could play it more intelligently, and the same way each time I play!

    As to the analyzing the piece, I pretty much already know how I want it to sound. But I went onto You Tube and watched several people playing it. It is marked Andantino, but I listened to others playing it from Adagio all the way up to Andantino. I will probably stick with 76 or 80, because for me, some of the expression I want to incorporate sounds better at that tempo.

    Douglas

  24. Garry November 3, 2015 at 2:35 am - Reply

    Hi Simon,

    I am a complete beginner in my 60’s although I have some knowledge of music from many years ago (not the guitar). The C Major scale worked will so I moved on to G major. I need to get more disciplined. I am having difficulty doing half an our at a time but can usually do two sessions per day.

    Garry

  25. Profile photo of David Jones
    David Jones November 29, 2015 at 10:25 am - Reply

    Great post. I particularly took to heart PJO’s advice on not just slowing stuff down, but also doing less. ‘Less is more’ so to speak. Must get on board with Level 2. Just waiting for my salary to go through!

  26. Profile photo of Vic
    Vic May 2, 2016 at 9:55 am - Reply

    Hi Simon,
    Thanks for your wonderful performance on the Webinar last night 11.00 pm UK time….
    Loved it !!!
    This morning I was inspired to have a go at your Slow practice challenge.
    Used C major as the tool for 15 mins and worked on evenness of tone quality, different articulation, staccato (left and right hand), dynamics, different tempo and even mixed it up with dotted notes and triplets.
    Then had a 5-10 minute break.

    Read through the piece I am currently working on … Tarrega’s PAVANA for 15 mins to look at the phrase I will be practising… understanding the baseline and the upper melody.
    I have listened to various guitarists playing this piece before .

    Then for the next 15 mins, I had a go, slowly going through the 1st phrase…aiming for accurate fingerings, tone quality, clarity of the slurs. AND experimenting with the tempo for effect.

    I have learned a few points from this challenge:
    Firstly,
    I have never quite practised like this before.
    It has given a new mindset to focus in small chunks of music at any one time, as opposed to the feeling that I have “so much to learn”… and getting snowed under with that thought !

    I felt fresh mentally and in the left and right hands after the 2 slots of 15 mins each.
    I felt as if I have achieved and improved after this session as I was playing the majority of accurate notes and I also felt I was more in control of the practice both in terms of the aims and the outcomes.

    Surprisingly, 15 mins is a long time when you are focussed in trying your best to achieve the goals set out before you start.
    Whereas before, I was spending a lot of time on various bits and bobs of music, jumping all over the place, several scales, current repertoire and going TOO FAST for my own good.

    I have learned that slow, focussed practice with specific aims for ALL practice is the way forward…and ultimately it takes a lot of patience and discipline to make it a daily routine.

    So, thank you, Simon for your practical advice…I hope my fresh experience will be shared in a positive manner with all on the CGC site.
    Thank you

    Vic Lee
    Sunderland,
    England

  27. Antonio May 23, 2016 at 9:54 am - Reply

    Hello Simon,

    Thank you very much for your recent post about practising slow and with the metronome.

    I must admit I had never practiced that way, but I tried to follow your instructions and I am surprised about the results. I chose Francisco Tárrega’s study in e minor and played also the e minor natural and harmonic scale.
    Now I can play the first eight measures of this piece with more confidence.

    Of course it requires concentration and discipline but it is worth trying.
    You were totally right, I had a totally unorganised practice routine.
    Thank you again for sharing so useful and opportune suggestions.

    António from:
    Porto – Portugal

  28. Profile photo of ericykim
    ericykim August 12, 2016 at 7:24 pm - Reply

    Hi Simon,

    I tried your instruction to play slow, but accurate. I found that it is not easy to play without any mistake, even at slow pace, but noted that this will help to really understand the music and build up the basic. I get easily impatient, though, with the slow pace, but I guess I need to put more effort on this type of practice which I believe will benefit me later on. Thanks you.

    Eric

  29. Profile photo of Hugh Jolowicz
    Hugh Jolowicz August 23, 2016 at 7:44 am - Reply

    hi there, Hughie from Aussie here, I’m the classic example of someone trying to beat the metronome every time! I’m lucky and have had plenty of practice time over the last forty years but not with classical, just steel string finger picking. I tried your suggestion, actually two or three times, and just in that time I noticed a difference. I’m struggling to learn to read music at the moment and its not easy for the diminishing brain of an old man. I have a rough knowledge of the finger board, in that if you asked me to find B sharp I’d know there isn’t one, but that’s all. I’m just slightly confused as to where to jump at this, any suggestions ? Polite ones only. This avenue of chat is great, I live in a small town and there’s heaps of musicians around, but no one doing classical.

    • Prashanth November 28, 2016 at 6:34 am - Reply

      There is B sharp on the fret board…it is just called C generally. But in some keys an accidental on B will still be called B sharp..

  30. Al Gorgoni August 25, 2016 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    Hi Simon, I’ve been working on your warm up exercises for a while now, some more than others and I just followed your simple practice challenge. I think both are excellent no matter what level you have attained. I find one factor is critical in practice along with always practicing with a particular intention or purpose.That is the ability to recognize and focus on any seemingly minor or microscopic obstacle that arises with respect to technical execution. Practicing slowly, if one is attentive these obstacles become very apparent. For example, I have been working on the Sor variations on a theme from the Magic Flute. On the last eight note in the second measure is an ornament. A slur in the 4th position tst string starting on G# upward ( hammering on fingers 124 and a pull off 4th to the 1st finger.) I had to spend a good part of the 15 minutes on working that simple figure. Working on details like that is a must for me. As I have mentioned to you previously, I really I admire the clarity and logic of your approach. Thanks!!!!

  31. Profile photo of Brigitta Streich
    Brigitta Streich November 26, 2016 at 9:33 am - Reply

    Hi Simon,
    thank you very much for your email.
    Last monday, I took the “Simon’s simple practice challenge”, and that was really what we in Switzerland call an “Aha!-Erlebnis”.
    Finally I understand, how to practice: slow practice!
    I also listened to your podcast “6 Practice Techniques to Boost Your Productivity and Progress”, and now I begin to see the trees, flowers, birds, bees etc. :)
    You gave me so many very good ideas, thanks so much!!!!!

    • Profile photo of Dave Belcher
      Dave Belcher November 28, 2016 at 12:12 am - Reply

      Glad to hear it, Brigitta!

      Peace,

      Dave B (CGC team)

  32. Profile photo of db
    db March 22, 2017 at 2:21 pm - Reply

    Hi Simon,

    I enjoyed the challenge and the practical application of the practice techniques you espouse in your how to practice pamphlet and elsewhere.

    For my scale practice, I took a scale exercise I have been practicing for about 6 months that runs the scale then drops to the 3rd (E), running back up an octave, then dropping to the 5th (G) and repeating the pattern, finally, decending using the 5th, 3rd, and base notes. I thought I was pretty fluid, but was amazed at the little mistakes: sometimes not properly alternating the i & m; sometimes only brushing (rather than actually striking) a note; even occasionally fingering correctly but plucking the wrong string for a note. My goal had always ben to build speed. Now, as others have hinted, I WANT to play it slowly and GRACEFULLY. Speed isn’t nearly as challenging as playing slowly–you cannot hide poor technique with the next phrase when going slow.

    Before joining CGC, I started working in Parkening’s method, and so I chose his arrangement of Packington’s Pound for the last two segments. (It too, me a few minutes to find a pencil, Suzanne) As it is short, I had to imaginatively engage the piece for 15 minutes, investing time in studying when notes are played in chords, and when they are played individually over ringing base notes, thinking about how to sustain the ringing notes for their full value and not muting them by sloppy fingering. As I studied, The piece has several examples of those very satisfying Elizabethan ornaments, and I imagined where I might add some additional flourishes one day when I am actually proficient with the piece. (But only for an moment–I wanted to inspire myself, not daydream during practice!)

    For the phrase practice, I chose the second four bar phrase, beginning with the pickup notes. One thing I noticed right away was that trying to practice at 30 bpm was just a little too slow (perhaps 1/3 speed), and I struggled with making the 8th notes even. Picking up the speed to 45 bpm, I discovered, when counting to start the pick-up notes, that I was counting in 4/4 time and not in 3/4 time. This unconcsious counting might have been contributing to my troubles with the piece. I chose this phrase because I wanted to practice the C chord to G chord shift, especially moving to the 2 note G-D (3rd fret on 2 & 6 strings) that seems to stop me. It was good working it slow and seeing how many ways I almost get it right, as I train my fingers to make that reach while trying to keep them near the fret so that I neither buzz nor mute the notes. At the end of the 15 minutes, I was playing the phrase much better, 2 and 3 times in a row without error, looping the phrase.

    While I never did achieve 5 in a row with either the scales or the phrase from Packington’s Pound, I saw improvement, and my confidence grew. I really wish my band teachers, when I was young, had the insight to teach us how to practice. Of course, would I have been mature enough then to accept such advice? We cannot dwell on the past, just take lessons from it. I saw how far undisciplined, unfocused practice took me then. Your mentoring is earning me progress, even in the short time I have been following you. Thanks.

    always,
    db

  33. Profile photo of francis
    francis May 20, 2017 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    Hi Simon,
    You suggested I was going to fast and indeed I was. I started on the 14th. April and already I have gone through the “Fundamental of the Classical Guitar” and up to lesson NC107 of the Certificate Course Level 1. I stopped to think of what you were telling me and soon realized that I was making the same mistakes as when I was learning the guitar on my own without a teacher i.e. wanting to play without learning the techniques properly . I have therefore taken stock and this is what I have done:-
    In the first place I have gone back and read twice your book on “Practice techniques for a musician”. Next I have bought myself a
    timer/stopwatch and gone back to the very beginning lesson NC101 to try and take account of all important tips that you give us,
    My idea for the next couple of weeks is to practice daily for 45 minutes in chunks of 15 minutes with the metronome set at 60 paying attention to every detail, pitch, rhythm , dynamics etc;
    Hope to tell you about my new experience in a couple of weeks time.
    Kind regards
    Francis

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