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John Petrucci - Wild Stringdom - 18

John Petrucci - Wild Stringdom - 18

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Published by: api-3736337 on Oct 18, 2008
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Practice Makes Perfect, Part 3
Goals, choices and lifting weights

If you've been reading my past columns with any regularity, you might have
noticed that I often refer to the similarity between music and sports. It only
makes sense: both are activities that require constant practice to stay in
"playing shape," and both require repetitive, dedicated work to develop the
skills necessary to advance to the next level.

When it comes to the discipline of practicing, there isn't a better parallel to the guitar than working out with weights. In both cases, you have to embark on a systemic, consistent practice regimen over a fairly long period of time in order

to see any progress. There's a lot of mindless, repetitive work that initially
doesn't seem to lead to anywhere. But then, when you least expect it (or are
ready to throw in the towel), you make a breakthrough and reach the next
plateau;only to have to start the painful process all over again. The bottom line
is, you have to be mentally tough and really see yourself achieving your
objectives to go through all the physical discomfort and mental tedium.

Before starting any workout program, you have to outline your goals. Do you want to bulk up and gain weight, or do you want to tone and trim? Is there a specific muscle group you need to develop? Then, depending on your goals, you structure your workout accordingly.

The same goes for guitar playing-before starting a practice regimen, it's
imperative that you define your goals. And that requires doing some serious
soul-searching before deciding who you are (and want to become) as a player.
After all, if you only have a finite amount of practice time a day (say, two

hours), what do you spend them on-learning a piece of music, writing a song or honing your chops? Or all three? So ask yourself, what are your interests? Do you want to push the envelope of technique and play anything you can hear, or are you more interested in creating new sounds on the guitar? Or do you just want to write the best three-chord pop song you can? (And believe me, there's an art to that, too.)

Once you have an idea of where you want to go, you must structure your
practice regimen accordingly to achieve those goals. You must have a direction
and a purpose!
For example, if you're interested in being a successful studio musician, it's
important to get your reading chops together and to have a well-rounded

knowledge of most styles. Therefore, it would make sense for you to focus
your practicing on sight-reading and learning the essential stylistic components
of rock, country, blues, metal, etc. If you're interested in making a mark as a
composer or songwriter, you'll want to know at least a little bit of harmony and
theory, and do a lot of writing and free-associating.

And if being a great improviser/soloist is your life's ambition, you might start
out by listening to and transcribing solos by great improvisers such as Steve
Morse, Al DiMeola and Allan Holdsworth. Of course, you'd also have to practice
scales, arpeggios and melodic sequences-anything and everything to hone
your chops to the point where you can play anything you hear.

Needless to say, as you grow as a person and a musician, your goals will
probably change. Mine sure did. When I was younger, all I wanted was to get
proficient on the guitar, so I spent all my time practicing technical things.
Then, when I went to Berklee, I became more focused on learning music-I
worked on sight-reading, theory, etc. And once I got my technique together
and grew as a musician, writing and arranging songs became more of a

priority. That's one of the cool things about playing the guitar-you never know
where your musical path will eventually take you.
As you embark on your practice regimen, there will be times when you "hit the
wall." It'll feel like you're "stuck"-you know, the frustrating sense that no

matter how long you've practiced something, you just can't seem to master it.
Believe me, it's not just something that happens to you-every musician (and
athlete) has encountered this at one point or another. All I can tell you is don't

get discouraged when it occurs. Work through it!
You'll often encounter this phenomenon of "hitting the wall" when you lift

weights. For example, you might be bench-pressing 150 lbs. for weeks, and
yet whenever you try to step up a small increment (even 10 lbs.), you can't lift
the bar anymore, no matter how hard or often you try. Then one day, out of

the blue, you try to lift 160 lbs. and you breeze right by it! In fact you can lift
175 lbs. with little effort!
The same curious process occurs when you're stuck on the guitar. You may

have difficulty playing a 16th-note passage at 144 beats per minute. And no matter how many weeks you practice, you just can't seem to break that "144 barrier." Then one day, you pick up the guitar and, for no good reason, play the same passage not just at 144, but at 160 beats per minute!

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