Three Levels Of Learning -
Three Categories Of Practice
By Rob Hiemstra



In our quest for mastery of music and guitar, or any instrument, on any level, we must always look for ways to simplify, prioritize and reduce the potential burden of what we haven’t yet accomplished. This is one of the times when less is more and in this case, three is the best number.  There are three categories you should sort your practice items into, and each practice session should always be done in this specific order as well.


1. Your newest, most challenging item - just ONE item. 


This something you must work on with meticulous care when your concentration, patience and memory is at its freshest.  You are programming your hands and brain to do something new. Make sure it is not too large an item.  If it is too large, then cut it in half or into even smaller segments and only do one of those segments for this single item category.  The smaller it is, the faster you can learn it.  So, make it an appropriate size. Don’t give into curiosity or boredom and start practicing the next segment - save yourself the pleasure of working on the next segment when it’s time to do so. This will also keep your load light and leave you more brain power for categories two and three. 


Make sure that it is an appropriately challenging item for you at this point of your musical development.  A good teacher can and should help you to understand what is appropriate for your skill level.  The minimum time any item should be in category one is one day. Don’t try to complete more than one item in a day.  You can select your next item for the next day if it is time to do so.  Don’t spend your precious category one time looking for this item.  Decide before you start working on it. The maximum time you should allow for any one item is one week.  If it takes longer than a week, the item is too difficult or your effort may be lacking. 


2.  A small handful (3-5) of somewhat challenging items that require significant concentration for you to play correctly. 


These items may be recently from category one.  If so, do you feel these items all made it successfully out of category one?  Are you able to remember how to play it without checking notes or a recording?  Do any parts of it still require category one attention? If so then put it back into category one where it will get the attention it requires for successful learning.  Don’t think of this as a demotion, instead think of the pleasure you will get from a) really successfully learning this item b) relief from the pressure to learn the other new item that is now waiting to enter category one.


3. A large number of items that you can play more or less flawlessly.  


Here is where you get and keep repertoire polished for performance and have the head space focus on specific aspects of your playing such as dynamics, consistency, using equipment or effects (stepping on your pedals at exactly the right times, getting levels just right), singing while playing, stage presence, playing without looking at your guitar, playing while doing just about anything that may come up in performance (dropping your pick, adjusting equipment, talking/communicating with band, crew or audience members) and of course NEVER forgetting how the song goes!  


About the author: Rob Hiemstra is a professional guitarist and guitar teacher located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Feel free to contact Rob if you are looking for guitar lessons in Toronto.

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