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Geting the most from your practice time

Tuesday, May 14, 2019 by Benn Hammon | Uncategorized

Getting the most from your practice time.

A little bit of thinking and planning can completely remove the frustration that many people experience when attempting to learn to play an instrument. Here are some tips that will help you get the most out of your practice time.

Setting Goals

Firstly, you need to set yourself a goal….or a series of goals. This means you need to decide why you're practising. This is different for every person so it's worth taking the time to think about it for yourself. Do you have certain songs you want to play? Do you want to create your own music? Do you want to take a graded exam? Your long term goals will determine what you need to practise in the short term.

If you're struggling to choose any specific goals then I suggest you seek some inspiration through listening to more music, going to gigs or just by talking to other musicians and music fans.

Decide how much time you will dedicate to practice.

Once you have a clear vision of what you want to achieve, the next step is to decide how much time you are willing to spend practising. If you are a beginner or a hobby musician and you want your playing to keep moving forward, you'll need to commit to a minimum of four practice sessions a week; each session needs to be at least 30 minutes. If you want to be a professional or semi professional you'll need to treat practising like it’s your second job for a few years.

Whatever your goals are, I can honestly tell you that I've never met anyone who regrets the time they spent practising and I've met hundreds of people who have the opposite problem.

Three types of practice.

When you practise, there are three key areas to focus on. You can do this in any order and spend different amounts of time focusing on each area but I highly recommend you keep a hand in all three areas each week.

1.Playing songs you already know.

Firstly this helps you remember the songs in case you get put on the spot and someone asks you to play them a song. It's also a chance to have some fun and improvise a little bit.

2.Practising new material.

This can be learning a new song or writing a new song. Choose something that's challenging but realistic. Also, don't be afraid to spend a long time working on one song or even part of a song.


For beginners, this pretty much means practising chord changes and for intermediate/advanced students it can mean scales, listening skills, rhythm skills and more.

This takes a bit more focus and patience than the other two areas but it's really the fast track to reaching your goals. Also, its character building!

How to practice.

Here are a few hacks that will help you speed up progress in all of the three areas without taking up any extra time.

Target difficult sections.

If you are learning a song and you can play parts of the song really well and you struggle with other parts, then it makes sense to focus most of your time practising the difficult parts. Learning the song will take less time if you stick to this method.

Slow down. This is counter intuitive but if you practise slowly, you'll learn faster. So many times i've seen people try and play the same riff over and over again at full speed and get it wrong every time. You could do that for hours and make zero progress. Instead, slow it down, play it super slow but absolutely perfect. Get really comfortable playing it slowly and accurately and then very gradually speed it up. This amounts to (you guessed it): More progress in less time.

Use a reliable method for memorising.

There's a simple method that I teach to all my beginner students and I actually still use this method myself when I'm practising for gigs and recording sessions.

Play the first four notes…, pause…, play them again…, pause…, play them again… on the 4th time, try to play them from memory. Don't worry if you don't get it first time, keep repeating them unit you can do it from memory three times in a row.

Once you've done this with the first four notes, do the same with the next four. Once you can do this with the next four, go back to the beginning and play all eight notes.

Then learn the next four, then go back to the beginning, etc etc.

If you gradually get into this habit, you'll be able to memorise music much faster. For some tours, I've learnt 30 songs in a week using this method.

Play the same section over and over again but "experience" a different aspect each time… Ok I know that sounds a bit abstract! Play it a few times only thinking about your left hand, then play it only thinking about your right hand, then play it a few times but instead of thinking about your hands just focus on listening to yourself playing it. Think of any other variations you can (only looking at your right hand, only looking at your left hand, playing with your eyes closed, focusing on just your sense of touch, focusing on your timing etc)

Start implementing these strategies right now: the results will be spectacular.

The importance of listening to music.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019 by Benn Hammon | Uncategorized

The importance of listening to music.

Learning to play an instrument can be one of the best decisions a child can make. Parents often ask me for advice on how to get the most out of music lessons. If you’re working a busy job and your kids have loads of homework then it can be hard to find time to sit down and help them with their practice. There’s so many distractions for kids now as well. I’m not even 30 yet and I feel really old seeing children engrossed in smartphones, tablets etc. When I first picked up a guitar, CD players were the hight of technology. Kids still do get excited by the idea of starting a band and playing gigs or making youtube videos, but many kids freely admit that they struggle to motivate themselves to practice consistently. This usually results in parents feeling like they have to nag the kids to practice. Like any good teacher, I think a bit of gentle nagging can often be a good thing, but how great would it be if your child started voluntarily putting down their electronic gadgets and picked up their guitar to practice?

Here’s the first step to take towards making that happen. It might seem simple but it’s something that is often overlooked by parents, students and teachers.

Find out which music they love the most. One of the first questions I ask a new student, weather they're 5 years old or 80 years old (yes I have taught an 80 year old before!) is ask them what their favourite music is.

Which student do you think will learn faster, the student who says “I don’t know” or the the student who starts listing all their favourite songs, favourite musicians, favourite bands, favourite albums and favourite genres?

Neither of my parents are musicians but I certainly grew up listening to music. One of my earliest memories is dancing round the living room with my brother and my sisters, listening to my Dad’s cassettes. After a few months of this we all began to develop different tastes in music and we would argue a bit about what song to put on next.

Of course I don’t want to cause any extra sibling arguments in your home, but for a child to be motivated to practice an instrument, it is essential that they start to discover which music they are truly passionate about. Once they’ve found the songs they like they’ll want to listen to them again and again. This will help so much with their sense of rhythm and pitch and at the same time they will start to build up a picture in their head of the kind of musician they want to be. That’s when they start to realize that a musical instrument has much more to offer them than their electronic gadgets.

In the next blog I’ll be explaining a few ways to help your kids discover music and a few tricks to motivate them to practice but here’s a good place to start.

Try asking them to name their 10 favorite songs. If they can’t then don’t worry, their favorite ones are out there somewhere and we just need to find them. Start by introducing them to your favorite songs or seeing if you can find their favourite radio station. If you find one or two songs they like then try using youtube and spotfly to suggest more.

If they already can name 10 songs then try finding different versions of those songs on youtube. For most songs it’s easy to find a video of someone playing a simplified version on a guitar or keyboard in their bedroom.

Start with that and let me know how it goes.

Preparing for a graded exam

Tuesday, May 14, 2019 by Benn Hammon | Uncategorized

Preparing for a Graded Exam

Here are a few tips for anyone who is preparing for a graded exam.

  1. Make sure you have read through the whole book so you know what you’re up against. As well as performing the songs, there are lots of technique exercises and listening tests that might catch you out if you are not properly prepared.

  1. Make sure you are listening to the songs on a regular basis. You will learn much faster if you do this. Listen to the graded versions and listen to the original versions so you really understand what the song is supposed to sound like. I also recommend listening to similar songs to the ones you are learning particularly songs by the same guitarists.  

  1. Have a practice schedule. This could be anywhere between 30 minutes and 3 hours a day depending on what your goals are. Make sure you include a bit of everything in your

  1. Know why you’re practicing. If your only goal is to get a certificate with your name on it then it’s highly unlikely that you’ll learn the exam material properly. The students who get the highest grades are constantly looking forward to picking up their guitars weather they have an exam coming up or not. This is because they have a clear picture in their head of how they want to sound when they are playing their guitar.