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What is the best use of practice time to perfect your repertoire?

mike-t

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
279
I joined a band a few months ago and most of my practice time has been used learning all the songs they were already playing and adding new material on top of it. That kept me pretty busy until I got to the point that I could play all of the material pretty well. The problem I'm having is that I make some mistakes that I shouldn't be making on some of the songs and it really bothers me. I'm not to the point on several of them where I've practiced until I can't play it wrong, as the saying goes.

We have a few shows coming up and we've halted working on new material, so I am just fine tuning the songs we already have.

What is the best method for perfecting songs you already know? I started by playing through our setlist once or twice day but that seemed like it was a bit counterproductive because I was only hitting each song once or twice rather than drilling the parts I slip up on.

Since then I've started focusing on bits and pieces of each song to make sure I get any questionable parts down 100% but I'm worried if I only focus on bits and pieces that I'll start to falter on other songs and the big picture if I don't keep them all in rotation.

Any thoughts or suggestions would be helpful. I know some of you have to keep track of 100's of songs and I'm not sure how you do it. Hopefully it gets easier.
 

Ejay

Member
Messages
6,588
I have had my times subbing in bands, where I needed to learn 30mto 40 tunes in 2 days.
my strategy:
Make sure you have something on paper for every tune, only what you need to support your memory enough to at least get the structure of the tune. Sometimes it was a full chart, sometimes only a songtitle and a key, sometimes intro, A,A,B, solo, outro.

Then play a tune, and grade your result….bad/ok/good…and make piles for each.

then start with the “Bad pile”.First check specific parts of a tune If you can play specific parts 3 times in a row well…move one to playing the tune, maybe twice for the “Bad pile“ then again grade the result, maybe add notes…hopefully the tune changes “Pile”.

Rotate through the bad pile 3 times, ok 2 times, good once.
 

vintagelove

Member
Messages
2,859
Perhaps a slightly different situation, but this approach might prove useful.

To prepare a difficult piece for performance, I would learn the music until I can play it through steadily. Then for any parts that I would make a mistake on, or the obviously difficult sections, I would circle them. Once identified, my practice would be to begin by playing the difficult sections 5 times through with no mistakes. Once I played through all the hard parts, I would run through the full piece and it would generally be pretty clean.


Long story short, practice the difficult sections.


PS, Be sure to make a note of fingerings, picking/fingerpicking, or any other notes you need to that ensure you play the difficult parts consistently. If you use a different fingering every time you get to a part, that is sure to cause you trouble.
 

mike-t

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
279
Perhaps a slightly different situation, but this approach might prove useful.

To prepare a difficult piece for performance, I would learn the music until I can play it through steadily. Then for any parts that I would make a mistake on, or the obviously difficult sections, I would circle them. Once identified, my practice would be to begin by playing the difficult sections 5 times through with no mistakes. Once I played through all the hard parts, I would run through the full piece and it would generally be pretty clean.


Long story short, practice the difficult sections.
That is similar to what I've been doing although I think it take it too far. Instead of playing it just 5 times correctly I was playing it too many times and my brain would get fatigued and I started to make mistakes again. I did some reading on diminishing returns with practice so I've shortened up the drills and have tried to spread them out rather than practice for two hours straight.

One advantage I have is that I work from home so I have time to sneak in little practice sessions here and there throughout the day and then do a larger one at night.
 

Silent Sound

Member
Messages
5,712
If you only practice the difficult parts, you'll forget and mess up the easy parts. I know this from experience.

My advice, practice the whole set list once a day. Then go back and focus on any difficult parts. Then practice on integrating those parts back into the songs. If you have the time, practice the whole set list again.

It's important to practice difficult sections on their own, but it's also important to practice those sections in the context of the greater song as well. If you practice one part too much by itself, it can become hard to remember what comes after it in a live gig. Then you nail the crazy solo, but flub coming out of it.

The idea is to learn everything so well, you don't ever have to think about what you're playing. You just listen to the song, and your fingers do their own little dance to it.

Also, practice everyday, even if just for a short while. The single most important part of practice is sleep. You don't actually learn something in your long term memory until you've slept on it. So practicing one hour a day for five days is much more effective than practicing 10 hours in one day.
 

BlueRiff

Member
Messages
6,943
I joined a band a few months ago and most of my practice time has been used learning all the songs they were already playing and adding new material on top of it. That kept me pretty busy until I got to the point that I could play all of the material pretty well. The problem I'm having is that I make some mistakes that I shouldn't be making on some of the songs and it really bothers me. I'm not to the point on several of them where I've practiced until I can't play it wrong, as the saying goes.

We have a few shows coming up and we've halted working on new material, so I am just fine tuning the songs we already have.

What is the best method for perfecting songs you already know? I started by playing through our setlist once or twice day but that seemed like it was a bit counterproductive because I was only hitting each song once or twice rather than drilling the parts I slip up on.

Since then I've started focusing on bits and pieces of each song to make sure I get any questionable parts down 100% but I'm worried if I only focus on bits and pieces that I'll start to falter on other songs and the big picture if I don't keep them all in rotation.

Any thoughts or suggestions would be helpful. I know some of you have to keep track of 100's of songs and I'm not sure how you do it. Hopefully it gets easier.
Run the tunes down by yourself with the recordings to ensure you know all of the changes (assuming your band is sticking with original arrangements). Then afterwards, run them down solo with metronome by memory so make sure you’ve internalized them.
 

mike-t

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
279
Run the tunes down by yourself with the recordings to ensure you know all of the changes (assuming your band is sticking with original arrangements). Then afterwards, run them down solo with metronome by memory so make sure you’ve internalized them.
I typically play with the recordings until I get the song down and then I switch to Guitar Pro tabs on the Ultimate Guitar site and remove the guitar playback so I don't rely on following the guitars and end up with a Guitareoke situation.
 

stevebo

Member
Messages
595
Visualize everything away from the instrument.

Make a shift from problem solving brain to performance brain by training yourself to look ahead a few measures at a time.

Practice not tensing as you approach difficult areas.

Don't worry about perfection. Go for percentages and aim to limit collateral damage when you make a mistake. Which is to say keep trying to shorten recovery time. What you're hearing when you listen to someone that plays cleanly is an incredibly quick recovery from the inevitable mistakes.
 

gennation

Member
Messages
7,969
Charting is the best practice tool that has many pros to it. Charting gives you a reference forever, even after not looking at a chart for a while you’ll remember writing things out, and in your “practice” you’ll find you read it more at first and have a good judgment when it’s really sinking in.

I’m a member of a number of bands, two plays regularly and the others play occasionally, and I also do pickup gigs too.

The regular bands are fresh obviously, but the occasional bands take refreshing tunes when a gig comes up…I just pull my charts out and its exactly what I need to jump right back in…I don’t have to “learn” anything again, JUST “practice” it.

I’ve been doing this religiously since about 2004, and I’ve played an endless amount of gigs with various bands/performers since to where I have almost 3000 charts, not including Realbooks and Songbooks. I actually commit to my pickup gigs by a groups setlist which helps be wager how much learning vs practicing I’ll have to do or by what new tunes/charts I might want to learn and add to my bank.

Charting is a game changer.

Other than that, after all my practicing, the last thing I practice is the first song of the night. I want to nail that tune because is sets the stage for the whole night. If I blow the first tune I’ve created an uphill battle. So it’s always the last thing I run through before packing up.
 

stevebo

Member
Messages
595
How do you work on that :) ? Does it come through repetition ?
A few things.

With the guitar in your hands but not playing anything, take a normal breath then gently exhale and notice there's a natural bit of 'emptying' of tension that happens on the exhalation. Now play the difficult passage and practice exhaling at the same time and noticing that same sense of tension leaving.

Play the passage but make all the left hand notes buzz by using too little pressure at your fingertip. Again, pay attention to the sense of ease you get by using less LH energy. Then play those same notes but use so little pressure you get only a 'thud' when you strike the string. One more time play the 'buzz' notes, then on the final repeat add just enough pressure to produce a clean note. You'll discover how little LH pressure you actually need for clean playing.

Apply some similar attention to your RH by noticing how far up your forearm to your shoulder and neck the muscle engagement travels. Try gently rolling your head as you play to help release some of the upper arm and neck tension.


There are more but I use these myself and with students regularly.
 
Messages
942
set up and break down your gear every time you practice your set.

run the set with all the lights out.

when doing a string change, run the set without a random string on your guitar.

point a desk lamp and space heater right at your face and run the set.

put your strap at slightly the wrong length, use a pick u hate and make your pedal board off balance with a bottle cap under one end of it or something and run the set.

turn the tv up reeeeeally loud on an annoying channel and run the set.
 

stevebo

Member
Messages
595
How do you work on that :) ? Does it come through repetition ?
This is an example of what it looks like when I'm getting it both right and wrong. :) When the tremolo is smooth and defined my RH is relaxed and balanced and I'm noticing minimal tension in my arm and shoulder. When the tremolo gets a little lumpy or inaccurate it's because the tension crept in and I need to consciously relax my Right arm and neck. When a note is buzzy or poorly defined my LH has become tense and I'm using too much pressure or carrying tension from one position to the next.

Most of what we need to do to fix technical problems is there to be noticed if we pay the right kind of attention.

 

Low Watts

Member
Messages
811
Apply some similar attention to your RH by noticing how far up your forearm to your shoulder and neck the muscle engagement travels. Try gently rolling your head as you play to help release some of the upper arm and neck tension.
Thanks a lot for the advice @stevebo the RH (picking hand in my case) is really the one giving me the most trouble. I've been working a lot on getting a clean alternate picking technique and sometime I feel I'm so focus on that I get tense and it drives my focus away from the song.
 

derekd

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
45,202
I need to be able to sing the tunes in question. I listen to them away from the instrument and get all the transitions, changes, and any subtleties in my ear.

This way, I hear what's coming next before I play it and always know if I miss something.
 
Messages
989
A gigging friend of mine has his repertoire on a random play list on his MP3 player. He spends about an hour a night playing along with it. Easy tunes he goes through quickly, but he'll stop and work on trouble spots for a few minutes. Over time, there are fewer and fewer passages that cause problems.

He says that's enough to keep all the tunes fresh in his muscle memory.
 

ivers

Member
Messages
4,341
I've been working a lot on getting a clean alternate picking technique and
What kind of work do you do to get a clean picking technique?

Can your fretting hand play in time without a pick involved, btw? IMO it's a lot to ask from the picking hand to make stuff sound clean if the fretting hand can't move in time on its own.
 




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