How to Practice Guitar with the Lilypad Technique

To really gain skills on the classical guitar, we have to study many different areas. We have many different physical skills that we need to build, and also many mental skills that we need to build. There are things that we need to memorize, there are things we need to ingrain.

We have scales, arpeggios, chords, sight-reading skills, phrasing and articulation concepts, and we haven’t even gotten to working on pieces of music yet! Within each piece of music there can be numerous little spots and issues that we need to work on.

All in all, learning guitar can be like juggling. We have to keep all these different balls in the air.

And the thing is, all these balls are not created equally. Some of them are more appealing at times than others. Today I may feel like playing scales. Tomorrow I may not feel like playing scales. In fact, scales may seem repulsive to me tomorrow. So what then?

Am I expected to have a stainless steel discipline every single day of the week, month, and year? I hope not, because I don’t.

This issue is one that I have always struggled with.

One of the things that I like to do, is to make up elaborate practice routines. I like to have my exercise regimens, my structured lists. I take great joy in creating these.

However, when it comes time to actually practice, many days I resent the list. I don’t want to follow my regiment. I am like a little boy stubbornly refusing to eat his broccoli.

“I am like a little boy stubbornly refusing to eat his broccoli.”


Practicing Guitar with the Lilypad Technique

So when I ran across the Lillypad technique, I immediately knew that this was something that I could use.

I don’t know where I ran across it, perhaps on a blog or a podcast. But it immediately resonated with me.

It’s so simple, that it’s practically laughable. But perhaps I just needed permission to practice in this way. I needed some official method that outlined exactly what I wanted to do anyway.

It goes like this:

Every day at the Lily Pond, the big frog spends his days hopping from one lilypad to the next. And not only that, he spends just as much time on each lilypad as he wants to. If one particular lilypad feels good and he wants to hang out there for a while, he does.

If some other lilypad is not catching his interest, he just moves right along. He goes wherever his interest takes him, and it’s perfectly fine.

However, he does have a job to do. The big frog has to catch enough flies and water bugs to stay healthy. He has to do whatever chores frogs are required to do. He has to practice his croaking.

And to some extent, we can follow this same mentality in our classical guitar practice.

If there is a piece we are working on that is really exciting for us, we can spend most of our time there. If something else is more interesting today, will then that’s where we’ll be.

The best practice is with an actively engaged and focused mind. We have to be 100% present with the task at hand for it to create the most lasting impact on our abilities.

And chances are, we will be more actively engaged with something that we are excited about. Likewise, things that we dread will not get as much high quality focused awareness.

So good news! Practice whatever you want whenever you want!

But before you get too far down this road, I must speak a word of caution.

You still have a lot of balls to keep in the air. There are still all the same areas that we need to master (or at least move in the mastery direction).

If we ignore something, our entire game will suffer.

So while you can hop to any lilypad you want any time you want, you still have to go hunting for flies occasionally. You still have to play scales, clean up your arpeggios, practice your sight-reading, work out all the intricate maneuvers of that piece that you are playing.

If you really boil it down, the workload is basically the same.

But somehow I just feel better knowing that if I want to jump to something else, I can do it. It satisfies the rebel in me. I can show up to my sight-reading practice knowing that, if I am not enjoying it in a few minutes, I can leave. I can hop to something else.

And knowing that this is the case, I can ask myself, “What really, Really excites me today?”

I can focus on the things that I want to do instead of the things that I do not want to do. I can point my attention in a positive direction. And that just makes for better practice.

And speaking of guitar practice, maybe I should hop to that now!

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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