How to Practice for Note-Perfect Guitar-Playing
Ah, to play with no mistakes – the holy grail of guitar-playing! It feels so close, but some random mistake always pops up and spoils the stew.
So what can we do about it? Especially if the mistakes seem random. How can we practice to ensure solid, spotless performances?
Defining Performance Standards on Guitar
Perfection is a common goal on classical guitar. And while we may intellectually know that “nothing’s perfect,” we want it anyway.
But it is extremely difficult to play an entire piece of music with no mistakes. We may have hundreds or thousands of notes flying by in quick succession.
And to stick each one in perfect time at the perfect volume, with no buzzes? Well, that’s not easy.
But people do it, so it is possible.
How do we do it? What is involved?
Requirements for Spotless Playing
To play a piece to performance standards, we need to check a few boxes.
- Focus: First, we need to be able to stay focused for the duration of the piece. When we lose focus, mistakes happen. Or at the least, we don’t play as beautifully as we could.
- Chops: Next, we should be able to play at the tempo (speed) of the piece for the duration. If our hands are not up to the task, it won’t happen. And if the piece is at the edges of our ability, mistakes are almost certain to occur.
- Preparation: Finally, we need to know the music at the tempo of the piece. If we play from memory and it fails us, then we haven’t fully prepared.
Each of these is a study unto itself. Ideally, we train focus in every moment of practice. We train physical ability in our technique practice. And knowing the music is often the main focus of a practice session.
Technique Practice to Performance Levels – No Mistakes
One way to train for performance is to play our technique practice at performance levels. Technique practice is usually scales, right-hand patterns (arpeggios), and exercises.
This means we listen for each note to be worthy of a grand stage. The tone, the timing, the volume, everything just so.
If we can play a scale with no buzzes or bumps, we’ll be more prepared for actual music.
And we can do this for the duration of a piece of music. So if our piece is three minutes long, we can play a single scale pattern up and down the neck for that duration.
If we can hold focus and maintain clean playing, kudos to us. We’re on our way.
And the same for right-hand patterns. We can use an etude or practice progression to keep the left hand moving. Even playing the same chord along with a right-hand pattern for three minutes is excellent preparation.
The Guitar Technique “Red Flag”
So can we perform a simple scale at performance level? This is valuable information. If not, it suggests that we should also not expect to play a piece, with its added complexity, to performance levels either.
This can bring new relevance and purpose to our technique practice. If we keep in mind the connection to our pieces, we may be more eager to spend time on our scales and patterns.
Pretend It’s Live
A useful addition to this technique practice is to imagine it as a live performance. And even more, imagine it as a very large audience, or one made of intimidating people.
If we imagine playing to a large audience, or on a widely attended broadcast, each note will amplify in our ears.
We’ll be more likely to notice any small bumps or errors. We’ll hear more accurately.
We’ll also stay more aware of our thoughts and focus. If our mind starts wandering or talking too much, we’ll be more aware of it.
And as an added pressure, we can also video ourselves playing our scales, etc. at performance level. This gives pressure and allows us to review our playing afterward.
Playing a piece consistently with no mistakes takes massive preparation. And we can use the practice methods above to help us with that preparation. And if you need help with your technique, consider The Woodshed® Classical Guitar Program. Good Luck!
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.
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