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1. Before you begin a practice session you must tune your guitar. If your guitar is out of tune everything you play will sound incorrect even though you are holding the correct notes. If you want to play along with instructional CD's your guitar must be tuned to 'concert pitch'. This is a standard tuning that all musicians tune to so that they can play 'in concert' with each other. It is possible for a guitar to be in tune with itself (e.g. you strum a chord and it sounds in tune) but out of tune with a piano which would be tuned to concert pitch.

2. Consistent Practice. The idea behind practicing is to raise your level of playing and eliminate bad habits. A solid 30 minutes of actual practice will do far more for your playing than just fooling around with material you know. Seperate every technique you do on the guitar and create an exercise for it. Play it in different ways - fast, slow, loud, soft, hard, light - using many different chords in the first position and bar chords up the neck of the guitar.

3. Use a Metronome. The use of a metronome will straighten out irregularities in your rhythm. The results are immediate. Also, it helps to train your ear to hear the rhythm of anyone you may be jamming with.

4. Build up your left hand. The image of guitar-playing as great flourishes by the right hand with the left hand quietly and faithfully pressing the strings at the desired frets is incorrect and will impede your progress on the guitar. Both hands should work together in complementary fashion much the way a baker uses both hands to knead bread dough. The left hand should do as much of the work of playing the piece as possible. This allows your right hand to relax and play with greater dexterity and sensitivity. The following is an exercise to help transfer the work of whatever you're playing from the right hand to the left hand: when practicing OVERPLAY (press as hard as possible) with the left hand and UNDERPLAY (play very light) with the right hand. Also, do legato exercises (hammer-ons & pull-offs) up and down different scales. The importance of a strong left hand cannot be overstated.

5. Slow Practice. This is harder and less obvious than it sounds--set that metronome for a slower than usual speed and relax, play through the piece with the best tone that you can imagine. Prioritize tone over speed and the speed will come. Good tone comes from good playing habits (technique). Everybody wants to be able to play fast. Don't try to rush this--work on good tone and timing at a slow speed and work your way up the rungs. Keep your hands in sync, remember the tips about each hands. Relax.

6. Unless you have an isolated practice space to 'crank it up', it can be hard to 'get your sound' at a low volume. Practicing at low volume with a clean tone is a good way to keep your playing honest-distortion pedals are great for what they do, but in excess they can hide bad playing. A fuzz box is no substitute for a good amp sound. The interaction between your touch and the amp is something you can't practice without the amp being set at performance volume. Another tip is that sounds really change in context--a great solo guitar tone can really change when surrounded by bass and drums. That great tone you got on your own will probably require some tweaking in a band context. Don't overlook how your right hand position and pick choice can affect your tone-it can do much more for you than a multi-FX box.

7. Choosing strings and instruments. My attitude is that music comes first, conceptually, before instruments and gear--but they are a very close second. Some folks are very picky about their instruments and amps, with good reason--they deliver your voice (but they aren't your voice). Experiment with different string gauges and pick types, they are the most affordable changes you can make. Electric guitarists are the biggest gearheads for obvious reasons. Don't let the equipment quest sidetrack you from sharpening your musicianship. There is usually something better /faster /louder /more vintage/more cutting edge to be had. The universal quest for tone really begins and ends with your hands, delivering messages from your mind and soul.

8. It is a great feeling of accomplishment to be able to play along with a favorite recording, at speed, emulating all the subtleties of a musician's style. However, you can get even more mileage from a piece by isolating your favorite passages and tearing them apart--trying the part in different keys--looking at the note choices and hearing how they interact with the chords. Try applying the ideas to different situations. Try making up variations on the idea, little phrases that change each time you play. This is a good way to get some improvising vocabulary together.

9. Memorization. The best way to memorize is to play the piece a lot, without worrying about remembering it. A casual attitude will allow the sounds to enter your subconscious. If you do need to memorize, do it in small bits. Be sure you have the first few seconds under your fingers before speeding onward. The more you can hear the piece "in your head", the easier you'll remember it. More memorization tips are on the lesson page.

10. Have FUN! In all my years of lessons, I never once had a teacher make any attempt to organize my practicing; I had to learn to do it myself. Not that I think this is a good thing, but I do think it is what happens for most guitar students, so I tell you what I tell you because you need to be aware of the ongoing effort you must make. Early on, I realized that without notebooks, schedules, goals and so forth, I would be swimming in a sea of confusion. Sure, in the beginning, you feel helpless, like you don't know where to start and WHAT to even organize. But realize this: any plan is better than no plan, because you can revise and improve your plan once you begin it, but you can't improve one you never begin. I found as soon as I had SOMETHING written down, I felt calmer and more in control. Visit our guitar center at Music2Master.com for best buys!

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