How to Avoid Falling Into A Rut | Hub Guitar

How to Avoid Falling Into A Rut

How to Keep Your Practice Balanced

Are you practicing unevenly?

What does that mean? Let’s look at an example.

Imagine that you are trying to master the seven diatonic scale patterns. Each time you begin your practice session from the Ionian scale. More than likely, you will spend much more time on those scales which appear on the beginning of the list then those that show up at the end. Why? You will have more energy and more attention at the start of this exercise. You will dedicate more time to the mistakes you make in the beginning. And also, you may not even make it to the end sometimes.

The clever student may come up with many methods to divide this work evenly throughout multiple practice sessions. For instance, there are seven mode patterns… and seven days of the week. One might create a practice schedule designating each day of the week to the exclusive practice of a single mode pattern. While this may work for highly organized individuals, the majority of personality types prefer not to live inside such an inflexible regimen. So, there are at least two main categories of techniques which can be used to ensure that your practice materials are divided evenly and productively. The important point is to remember that not all things are equally deserving of or demanding of your attention. You need to pay special attention to anything that is a weakness, that causes you to falter, or that you simply neglect due to other demands.

Your practice results will reflect the investment that you have made in both time and energy. If you practice on autopilot and live within your comfort zone, you can expect nothing more than mediocre results. To become awesome, you must be awesome while you practice.

Traits of Awesome Practicers

  • they are more interested in locating their weaknesses than their strengths
  • they are willing to stop and practice a weak part at least 10 times before proceeding
  • every thing they do is as deliberate as possible
  • they are thinking, and they are concentrating
  • they have at least one way to get great feedback about how well they are doing—or what areas they need to work on
  • they practice consistently, but set sights on the long-term

Goal-setting: Setting Practice Priorities

One of the most important things you can do for your practice is to know where you are right now. To do this, you must assess your abilities in each of the relevant areas of practice. Most guitar players will rely on areas such as:

  • fretboard knowledge
  • rhythm
  • technique and exercises
  • ear training

And, depending on your other interests or areas of specialization, you likely will have one or more of these to work on:

  • sight reading
  • improvisation
  • repertoire
  • memorization
  • fluency in styles

The Effective Practice Planning Method

An effective practice-planning method is like a master plan that outlines your current skills and abilities as well as future learning targets. It must be flexible and change frequently. It would be ideal to set new practice goals each week from this master plan.

Imagine that you have identified fretboard knowledge as one of your primary areas that needs more work. And, for the sake of example, let’s use the fretboard lessons at Hub Guitar.

First, you might make a list of all of the concepts that you know about that fall underneath the heading of fretboard knowledge. You might have high-level categories such as scales, chords, arpeggios, and memorizing the notes. Next, you might decide that you need to work on your chords. So, you further subdivide the category of chords into: open chords, barre chords, basic triads and four-part "jazz" chords.

You decide that your open chords and barre chords are as strong as they need to be. And, since your music mostly uses three part harmonies such as in triads, you don’t want to invest too much time studying complex four-part chords. Therefore, the area that you should focus on revolves around the closed triads and spread triads: major, minor, augmented, diminished, and suspended.

Now, you need a coherent practice plan to tackle all of these. You have 5 chord types (major, minor, augmented, diminished, suspended). And there are two groups of chord voicing (spread and closed). So, you come up with a 5-week practice plan. Each week, you will start with one of the chord types (such as major or minor) and then run it through all of the possible voicings (including spread and closed). You will repeat this process, until you’ve spent one week on each combination.

Tip: before you begin, evaluate yourself in all 10 categories. Write down each category on the sheet of paper, and give yourself a rating from zero to three.

  • 0: you have never tried to practice this topic before
  • 1: you are still working on learning to play and memorize it
  • 2: you can play all of them, but you may need to warm up first, or see a reference
  • 3: you can play it cold, with no warm-up, and you have it totally memorized

Anything that you mark as a three should be removed from your practice list.

Example Practice Plan

    Weeks 1-5
  • Week 1: major chords with closed voicing and spread voicing
  • Week 2: minor chords with closed voicing and spread voicing
  • Week 3: augmented chords with closed voicing and spread voicing
  • Week 4: diminished chords with closed voicing and spread voicing
  • Week 5: suspended chords with closed voicing and spread voicing

There are hundreds and thousands of guitar techniques, and you do not need to master all of them. What you do need is to master those few techniques most essential to what you want to play. Using a structured and organized approach can help guide you towards higher and higher levels of guitar-playing.

Useful Practice Learning Methods

Let’s talk about a few important heuristicsA heuristic is a method, technique or logical principle used to aid one in the process of learning. for learning guitar. If you practice the right way, you will render all of your practice time more effective—even if you don’t happen to be following a carefully-planned regimen as outlined above.

By incorporating good habits into your practice routine, you can simulate the results of an organized practice routine—without as much organizing.

It’s a good idea to build good practice habits. There is no substitute for following an organized practice plan. But, in the absence of one, it is helpful to have practice habits that help you to avoid falling into a rut.

Have you ever felt that every time you pick up the guitar you are essentially performing the same motions? Do you wonder how are you will get better every day if you always do the same things every day?

The difficult truth is that you will not get much better if all you do is repeat the same motions everyday. If this were the case, every line cook would, in time, evolve into a master chef.

To get better at something, you must practice in a highly focused and deliberate way with a focus on achieving mastery.

Practicing deliberately tends to look something like this:

  • the focus of practice revolves around making improvements that can be measured: making fewer mistakes, playing faster, memorizing more music.
  • a clear plan is devised which leads from the present moment in time to a state of greater mastery
  • all available attention resources are focused like a laser on improving one aspect of the skill
  • the tiniest and most fundamental portion of the skill (such as a difficult leap from one note to the next, a difficult position shift, a tricky technique, or a rhythm that is still not perfected) is isolated from the rest of the musical example and honed to perfection
  • useful feedback is sought, either from a teacher or coach, or simply by recording what one plays
  • the process is repeated frequently, with regular feedback. The methods used will evolve and adapt to meet challenges as they arise


Dedicated practice is a little bit different than simply picking up your guitar and playing some songs. Doing that may carry you quite some distance, and for quite a number of years. But someday, if you want to get extraordinary results, you must commit to using extraordinary methods.

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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