1. Focus on things you don’t know that well: if you keep rehashing the same songs, exercises and riffs you already know well, you are not making the most of your practice sessions. Focus on what you don’t know and what you’re not comfortable with, and you will become a better player and gain more confidence in yourself.
2. Record and listen to yourself: not many people are brave enough to record themselves at first. However, you will become a better player by hearing your own playing, because you will identify potential problem areas that you can work on later. Don’t be too self-critical, of course, or you could become discouraged.
3. Film and watch yourself: if you’re comfortable recording and listening to your playing, it’s time to take it a step further by filming yourself playing. This may require a level of courage that listening to yourself does not, but again it can be of tremendous benefit in identifying problem areas that you may not be self-aware enough to recognize while you are playing.
4. Learn more chords: if you play an instrument that allows you to play many notes simultaneously, you should constantly be increasing your chordal vocabulary. Not only will it allow you to learn more songs, you’ll also become freer on your instrument.
5. Practice to a metronome: practice to a click-track or a metronome to help you develop your rhythm and timing. This practice technique can only help you in the long run, especially if you want to play in a band or record a song in a studio.
6. Practice to a drum track: you can use a drum machine or a drum sequencer (like Hydrogen) to create your own beats. You may also be able to find generic drum beats on YouTube that you can jam along to. Practicing to a metronome is great, but for the most part, you probably won’t find yourself in situations where you’re playing to a click-track. More often than not, you’ll be playing to a drum track. Get comfortable with locking in with the drums.
7. Practice to a jam track: if you feel fairly comfortable playing melodies and lead parts, you may want to try playing along to grooves and jam tracks. Again, you can find various grooves on YouTube and play along.
8. Jam along with your favorite CD: pull out your favorite CD and play along. Don’t worry about trying to do everything perfectly. Find your “place” in the song and explore a variety of different approaches.
9. Stay consistent: it’s one thing to binge practice for six hours once every two weeks, but a better long-term strategy is to do a little bit every day. You could practice for as little as 15 minutes, or even play for 3 hours if you think it’s sustainable. The point is to create a habit for yourself.
10. Maintain your instrument: a well-maintained instrument is a pleasure to play. Playing on an instrument that is not set up properly can be disheartening. If you haven’t had a setup done in a while, you may want to do that. If you haven’t cleaned your instrument in a while, you will feel better for having done it.
11. Get rid of distractions: electronics, pets, and even family and friends can be distractions when you’re trying to practice. Try to isolate yourself in a room or find a quiet place where you will not be sidetracked.
12. Stay organized: keep your practice room organized so that you know exactly what you’re going to go to work on the moment you sit down. Clutter can take up mind space that you should be using to work on your playing.