What is practicing?

I am often asked how I practice, what I practice, and how much time I spend practicing guitar.

I always feel like answering: I don’t :^)

This is not true of course. But what is true is, the practicing I do takes the form of pursuing particular goals that I enjoy pursuing, so I don’t think of it as practicing.

My practicing falls into three different areas: composing new music, preparing for shows and tours, and warming up on the day of a show.

When I am writing new music, the content (and goal) of the practicing is the tune I am developing.

I spend this time creating and mastering new ideas, as well as deciding how different ideas and sections fit together in the composition.

Hours can roll by before I notice it.

You could call this composing-oriented practicing.

When I am preparing for a show or a tour, the content (and goal) of the practicing is the repertoire of tunes I will be performing.

This time is spent familiarizing (or re-familiarizing) myself with the chosen material. I like to feel comfortable and confident with a tune before playing it in front of people, so I play the tune all the way through, usually twice, before moving on to the next one.

This kind of practicing can take up many hours as well.

You could call it preparation-oriented practicing.

And then there’s warm-up practicing.

I find it essential to warm-up on the guitar on the day of a performance, but I have also learned that it is equally important not to over-play, as this can result in hand fatigue during a show (a scary situation to find yourself in). So I am careful not to over-practice on gig days.

I pick a few representative tunes (i.e. tunes containing typical techniques and moves I will be doing throughout the concert) and play them through once or twice, looking for that “point” of feeling physically relaxed and musically in touch.

This takes a half an hour at the most.

When I reach that point I put the guitar away (no matter how much fun I’m having) until soundcheck time.

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7 Responses to What is practicing?

  1. K says:

    Very interesting insight into your practice routine, Preston. Do you ever practice other composer’s songs?

  2. Practicing for the sake of practicing is always difficult, but incorporating songs and composition as a passive way to practice is great. Sometimes I’ll grab the guitar go to the beach and casually noodle about and work on ideas for hours, never to strenuous to be harmful, but connected enough with what I’m doing to develop ideas. Much can be accomplished this way.

    Learning to put the guitar down to rest your hands, even when you are having fun is such a crucial point. I have had both of my hands operated from severe carpal tunnel syndrome, and now I have two tumors in my fretting hand, although I do not believe my technique has caused any long term problems, I do believe that over doing it may have contributed to it. For the younger person it is so important to listen to your body and don’t ignore those little pains. I am 40 yrs old and I’m hearing it now. I am still very productive musically 🙂 but I have allot more considerations with my hand health.

    I really have been inspired by your music Preston, you perform with such a coolness and relaxed, yet subtle brilliance. That in it self is an awesome lesson for those who aspire greatness with their playing. And for all those that read this blog, your advice is greatly appreciated I’m sure. 🙂 Hope you have a great day Man.

    Many Thanks
    Wayne Janssen

    • fretgenie says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience and insights here, Wayne. I appreciate what you have to say about over-playing and hope other players read this. I have always been lucky to have hands that speak to me when trouble is brewing. This may be a kind of awareness that has to be sought after and developed by players.

      • Your very welcome, and thanks for replying. On a final note, with proper care I have been able to continue playing, I am the only musician in my entire family, from a family full of soft tissue injury sufferer’s. So even with inherent problems there is hope. I have been playing for 34 yrs this year, and happily will to my end. It may seem grim to have to get operations, but with quality after care and a positive attitude. You can over come adversity. But, as you had mentioned there should be a greater awareness in general for all guitarists. As a young fellow playing guitar, I lived to play, I never went anywhere with out my guitar, My guitar was my solace and companion and my emotional outlet as well as providing extra money for food. So it is all I did. But once in a while I would get an excruciating pain in the center of my hand, shook it off and continued. This shaking things off is a problem for many. Little pains can lead to big problems. The body has pain for a reason I guess LOL

        Well with that being said, thank you again, I am sure you are extraordinarily busy, and it really means allot that you spent the time to reply. As a case and point to the whole positive attitude and continuing to play even when things are tough, I just finished learning “Tractor Pull” and that song is such an incredible flurry of hammer-on and pull-offs, and extremely textured and evocative, a beautiful piece of music. I am thrilled that you have such wonderful tabs, with a little patience and having a structured practice regiment my hands made it through. Extremely rewarding, I hope I don’t sound like I’m plugging my efforts, I am just extending my gratitude.

        Have a good night, a wonderful trip and a rewarding tour. Hopefully I can catch a show in Canada some day. Until them I’m gonna try to make it state side. You are a great inspiration and a kind gentleman.

        Cheers from Canada

        Wayne Janssen

  3. Very precise and organized way of practicing. I had a lot of things to learn from that. Thanks for sharing this Mr. Preston Reed 🙂

  4. Matthew Wlodarz says:

    It is unbelivable when you put away guitar because things just don’t work right and after a while of rest they start to. Brain sorts things out.
    by the way thanks for astonishing performance in Wroclaw 11.2011.

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