A guide to help you become a better student of the resophonic guitar

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Basic Template for a Practice Session--Part 1

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The main things that differentiate practicing from just playing is that practice has learning objectives and a structure or strategy for achieving those objectives. My practice sessions are an hour long, after that my concentration or rear end gives out. I divide the session into two 30 minute halves. In the first half I focus on fundamentals and I spend the second half learning a new song.

In this post, I discuss how to practice the fundamentals.


In the first 30 minutes of my practice I play scales and do dexterity drills (mostly rolls right now). I used to think "What could possibly be more boring than playing scales?" but I have come to love this part of my practice. For one thing, scales help your playing in so many ways:
  • Mechanics for attacking and plucking the strings
  • Finger dexterity and strength
  • Dynamics (managing loudness and softness)
  • Tonality (being on pitch)
  • Timing
  • Familiarity with the fretboard
Practice scales and rolls while playing to a metronome. Set it somewhere between 80 and 120 beats per minute depending on how cleanly you play at the selected speed. Remember that speed will come, but you must practice being precise more than anything.

I initially play the scale in quarter notes, that is, I play one note for every beat of the metronome. While I am doing that I concentrate on the following:
  • Posture. Am I comfortable? Since I have started paying attention to my posture, I have made several adjustments that have improved the comfort level and therefore my stamina.
  • Picking hand position. Are my fingers curled around the strings so that I can pluck the strings without a lot of motion? Is my hand loose and moving easily as I play up and down the scale?
  • Attack. Are my fingers plucking the strings the way an archer plucks a bow string? Am I snapping the string and getting a clean crisp twang from each pluck?
  • Noise. Am I minimizing extraneous string noise? I will write more about that later.
  • Tonality. Are my notes on pitch?
As I practice a particular scale, I alternate successive notes between my thumb and my index finger. Then I practice it again using my thumb and middle finger.

Then I play the scale in eighth notes, that is, I get two notes in for every beat of the metronome. Again, I alternate between thumb-index and thumb-middle. If my playing sounds too rough, I either slow down the metronome or go back to practicing with quarter notes. I know that in Bluegrass fast is good, but people will remember how clean your playing was more than how fast it was.

I do all of the above for different versions of the scale in the key I am practicing. Here is my drill for the scale in the key of G (see G Scales for the tab and musical staff for each of these).
  • Open G scale starting on the 6th string. This scale starts at the open 6th string and goes all the way up through two octaves to the 1st string and then back to the 6th again. Work on dynamics and expression--see how pretty you can make this "song." Also notice the patterns on the fretboard. Look for the two "chevrons" and the run on the 4th string. These are bread and butter patterns you will come back to again and again in G.
  • G scale starting on the 4th string. Look for the box pattern. This is another good set of notes to feed your G licks in a very useful part of the fretboard.
  • G scale starting on the 5th string. Makes a snake pattern.
  • G scale entirely on the 3rd string. Good reinforcement for understanding how scales are built (2 wholes and a half, 3 wholes and a half--I will write more about that later). Practice this scale by never lifting the bar off the string. Let each note ring right up to the moment for the next note and then slide quickly and pluck the next note right at the end of the slide. If you do this right, you will never hear a slide--just each note of the scale ringing until the next note is plucked. 
  • Folded scales. These are any of the patterns above where you go forward in the scale, back up a little, go forward from there, back up a little etc. I've included one pattern for this.
  • E minor scale. Technically this is not a G scale (it is the relative minor of G) but it uses the same notes. Just start your G scale on E instead of G.
  • G blues scale. Different pattern from the regular scale. It flats the 3rd note and the 7th.
Depending on where you are in your journey, you can include other scales in other keys in your fundamentals session. Right now I regularly practice scales in G, C, D, and A during my 30 minute fundamentals.I will include tabs and staff for important patterns in each of those keys.


In a later post, I will provide some useful roll exercises. I use published rolls from various instruction books I have. I try to "read" the tab as I am playing the exercises and that has improved my comfort level with reading tab in general. Try to do a mix of forward rolls, back rolls, and reverse rolls.


  1. An example of how practice led me to change my posture. I noticed that I was lifting my left heel up without even noticing (I practice while sitting). The end result was that my leg was getting sore. I thought about using an elevated foot rest like classical guitar players do, but thought I might get shot at Armuchee for being some kind of citified dip-s**t. So I moved my foot forward and that stopped me from unconsciously lifting my heel.

  2. I use a foot rest for this reason. Just a cheap classical guitar style that's available from most music stores.

  3. I really enjoyed this article. Thanks!

  4. This was really helpful. Thank you!

  5. Great input. Thanks for putting this together. I also try to say the note in my head while I'm playing the scale. It helps me remember (G has an F#, D has a C# and F#, A has a C#, F# and G#, etc.) Thanks again.