Understanding The Two Modes Of Guitar Practice

In another article we took a look at the Overflow Effect. And if you've read that article you'll remember how we activate the Overflow Effect by doing three things…

  • Practicing fewer things.
  • Practice things on a VERY deep level.
  • Practice things until you can play them without thinking.
I've found that many of my guitar students can initially be very resistant to this concept. Often they'll ask questions like…
  • But what if I have to learn a lot of songs quickly?
  • How will I learn everything for my music exam doing this?
And do you know what? They are wise to ask questions like this. Because there might times when you do need to learn things quickly and in a rush. A few example of when this might happen…
  • You have a gig coming up very soon and you need to learn some new songs for that gig.
  • You are recording with your band this weekend…and you still haven't learnt your parts yet.
  • You are studying at music school and you have exams in two days time.
You get the idea. External circumstances often require you to learn a LOT of things in a short space of time. And that's why it's really important to understand the two modes of guitar practice…
Guitar Practice Modes
Here are short descriptions of the two modes of guitar practice…
Mastery Mode:
This is anytime you practice things to the point where you have mastered them. This mode of practice causes you to elevate your overall level of guitar playing. You become a much better guitar player as a result of this mode.
Survival Mode:
This is anytime you try to learn a lot of things without worrying about mastering them. This mode of practice causes you to learn new things but your overall level of guitar playing stays roughly the same. (Many guitarists are permanently stuck in survival mode).
Guitar Scales Example
Let's now take a look at an example of these two guitar practice modes in relation to guitar scales…
Mastery Mode:
This is anytime you practice one scale until you have totally mastered it. How do you know you have mastered it?
  • You can play it anywhere on your fretboard.
  • You know what each note of the scale sounds like.
  • You know what notes and scale degrees are in the scale.
  • You can solo using it without any thought.
  • You can see the scale over your entire fretboard.
  • You have a large vocabulary of licks that you can play using the scale.
You get the idea. You know it inside-and-out. You can kick some serious butt soloing with it. :-) Without learning some scales using Mastery Mode your overall level of improvising and soloing never really improves.
Survival Mode:
This is anytime you try to learn lots of scales at once. It generally leads to these results…
  • You don't see the scales over the entire fretboard.
  • You know lots of scales but only on a very superficial level.
  • You can't really solo fluently with the scales.
  • You have to think a lot when you solo using the scales.
  • You think in terms of scale patterns rather than notes.
This is the mode that most people use when learning scales. They move onto the next scale before they have learnt the previous scale properly.
Now…the interesting thing is this…
You probably need to use both modes.
I think it's pretty obvious why scales should be learnt using Mastery Mode. But why on earth would someone need to learn scales using Survival Mode?
The answer is time urgency! Anytime you need to learn lots of scales quickly, you need Survival Mode. That's why it's called Survival Mode. :-) A couple of examples of when you need to use Survival Mode…
  • You have an important gig coming up and need to solo in some unfamiliar scales or keys.
  • You have a music exam where you need to demonstrate scales that have been taught to you. (People doing a music degree will relate to this one!!!)


Gaining The Right Balance

So what's the right balance between Mastery Mode and Survival Mode? Well, clearly it's going to be different for everyone. It depends on your circumstances at the time. But I can give one guideline that I think works for everyone…

Spend as little time in Survival Mode as humanly possible. :-)

Until next time. Keep up the practice, and have fun!

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