Practicing The Correct Way
Learning an instrument takes time, patience and a sense of commitment. Getting good at that instrument is not something that occurs overnight. It requires hard work and dedication to learn and improve. Over the years, I have seen good musicians come and go. The real professionals are the instrumentalists who know that in order to perfect their skills, they must be driven to achieve success. This mindset to be successful requires significant practice.
There is a difference between practicing and playing around. To practice effectively, you must be willing to perform the somewhat mundane and monotonous tasks required to develop and improve your basic skills.. A student must be willing to play rolls, scales, or left hand techniques such as bends, pull-offs, hammer-ons and slides. The student must also be willing to practice and play scales in order to develop their lead playing abilities. When the practice session includes time productively utilized on developing basic technique, then a student should also feel free to play some song for the mere fun of playing the instrument.
Learning Songs Vs. Developing Skills
Many beginners want to play as many songs as they can learn and they want to do it quickly. After all, it is important that a student enjoys playing the instrument and has something to show for all those hours devoted to practicing. A good teacher will ensure that the student learns songs but balances their practice time with learning the fundamentals needed to play in the future.
One banjo student I was teaching mentioned that a banjo workshop that she attended consisted of a number of accomplished and skilled musicians who played the lead melodies to various songs. However, when the topic turned to playing back-up and chords, a number of those players were not prepared and didn't effectively back up other instrumentalists. My student felt comfortable with playing back-up and fit in quite well because I emphasized the importance of learning the chord structure first to any particular song that she was learning. In other words, place an equal emphasis on playing rhythm and you do playing the lead melody to a song. One will quickly recognize that 3/4ths of an instrumentalists time is spent playing behind another musician.
While learning a particular song, you will need to dissect it measure by measure and the commit the song to memory. After playing awhile, you will quickly learn that the basic right hand technique (such as a roll, strum or riff) is combined with your left hand technique (such as a chord or melody line arising out of a scale pattern). So it is important that you devote time towards developing the right hand, sometimes prior to developing the left hand.
The Practice Session
Now that you have made a resolution to spend your practice time wisely, it's time to develop good practicing habits. First, set up a comfortable place to play your instrument. Make a small investment in a decent chair and a music stand to hold your instrument. It has been my experience that a person who keeps his instrument in a case tucked away in a closet, is less likely to practice on a regular basis than the person who has arranged environment where the instrument is visible an accessible. Let me emphasize that that while your instrument should be located in a convenient place, ensure that it is also safely stored in a corner safely away from children and pets.
Now, sit down for a 20- to 30-minute session and concentrate on practicing warm up exercises, while working both the right and left hand. Play some scales and work your chord progression. Most importantly, develop and strengthen your hand that is used to chord the instrument. There are various warm up techniques that I recommend (some of which you will find on this website or in my instructional CDs).
Next, take a short break and when you return play a second and maybe a third session throughout the day and night. This time, focus on playing a new song, working one measure at a time. Make sure that you start with rhythm and back-up and then proceed with the lead melody line.