Charlie Hall

What You Need to Do as a Student


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This seems pretty easy, right?  Everyone will say: “practice.”  But how you practice is just as important as how much you practice.  If you practice thirty minutes a day and really focus, you’ll see real, measurable improvement within a few weeks or even days.  If you practice—and really focus—for an hour a day, you’ll see amazing improvement, and so will others.

I can’t stress enough how much the quality of your practice affects your rate of improvement.  If you play a piece from beginning to end, stopping every third measure to fix a missed note, you’ve done very little to improve. 

In short, you need to focus on what needs improvement, and to use the tools I give you.  If you do this, you will improve, and quickly.

For example, if you take a small section and really work it, slowly and accurately, and learn not just where and when to put your fingers, but when to release them, and work that section only, listening to what you're doing, you’ll soon be making real music.

It’s also important to recognize that there are several modes of practicing; here are just a few:

  • Working a section—possibly as few as two or three notes—to get it under your fingers so you can play it accurately, and with as few finger gymnastics as possible.  Very often, knowing when and where to release fingers is as important as knowing where to put them in the first place.

  • Doing exercises.  This is just like lifting weights in order to improve an athletic skill.  We do these so that, for example, a difficult finger placement or move isn’t so difficult.  This might be playing scales, working on a hammer-on or a pull-off, playing three different strings in succession with a pick, playing very loudly, stretching workouts (only on the instrument) or a host of other exercises.  The good news about these is that they usually yield recognizable improvements in the ease of your playing very quickly.

  • Playing a piece from start to finish, mistakes and all, so that you develop the ability to get through it.  Chet Atkins, when asked what advice he’d give to aspiring young players, always said (I’m paraphrasing here) “learn to get from the beginning of the song to the end.”  So many players, when playing for someone else, make an error and go back and fix it.  You can’t do that and hold anyone’s attention.  In a performance, or when you’re playing with someone else, you are allowed to miss notes—everyone does—but you’re not allowed to mess up the rhythm of the song.  That is, you can’t just arbitrarily add four beats or three seconds to a song.  So you need to work on getting from beginning to end.

Anyway, this is all covered more thoroughly in another piece I wrote some years ago called Musical Development 301: How to Practice.

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