Here’s a couple tips for how to get the most out of your practice sessions. Useful music practice tips for pedal steel or other instruments…
PRACTICE RIGS & TOOLS
If you are going to spend a good amount of time practicing, and want to get the most out of it, then having a well-organized practice rig will benefit you. This includes having the necessary tools for your practice session nearby, and being able to easily grab/use them while at your steel.
Let’s say you’ve spent 15 minutes practicing that bluesy riff that you heard a cat play last night, and you’ve finally got it down. You are focused, it feels good to finally nail it, and you want to try it at a faster tempo, with a drone track (continuously sounding note/chord) behind it. If you can play your drone, and fire up the metronome, within seconds of deciding to use them, then you can keep your focus and nail that lick at up tempo. However, if you spend the next 10 minutes looking for your metronome, or hooking up your speakers, or checking your email, or eating animal crackers, then you will lose this important moment in your practice session. You will have lost the one moment you truly felt you could nail that lick. It may take another day, or hours, or weeks, before you feel that focused/confident again at your instrument. So do yourself a favor, keep the right tools at your disposal when practicing, and make the most of it!
Important practice tools: metronome, speakers or playback system, pencil, blank tablature paper, a clock/timer, tuner, headphones, a power outlet, and whatever else may be necessary. Click here to see specific tools I use when practicing.
Above is a player’s view from the left-side of the steel. You’ll notice that with my left-arm, while comfortably seated at my playing position, I can reach/use the following at any point in my practice session: my headphones, tuner, iPod and speakers, headphones, pencil, and extra outlets from power surge protector.
Here’s a closer view of the front left-side of my practice rig…
Below is a player’s view of the right side of my practice rig. This side includes less, as I have a harder time utilizing tools when picks are on my fingers. You’ll notice my tuner/pedalboard, and I have room for other things. Sometimes I will utilize my recording console on this side, or my laptop, or iPad.
Here, one can see my recording console is positioned by back right leg of pedal steel, so I can access this and my computer with my right arm. Having your recording equipment ready to roll can help with memorizing riffs, recording song ideas, hearing your timbre, and learning how to record pedal steel.
It’s also a good idea to get an LED desk lamp. Good light can help with bar control practice when aiming for visual targets (fret markers).
USING A METRONOME
The best way to get a good sense of timing, is to practice most of the time with a metronome. It is usually more beneficial and worthwhile practicing at a slower tempo. This will help your muscle memory be more defined, precise, and accurate, and you will be “crystallizing” your good habits, instead of mistakes (you are less likely to make mistakes when going slow than fast).
I use free metronome apps on my phone, since they’re free and handy all the time. Some of them have harsh tones, so I recommend finding one with a beat tone that you won’t get sick of after practicing with for a long time. If it’s annoying sounding, you won’t want to practice with it, and your ears will get fatigued. Practicing a lot with a metronome will help you deal with a click track when you get into the studio too! And your drummer will respect you on a more subconscious level!
Look at how much room our headstocks have to hold practice items. Here I can easily fit my bar, metronome, headphones, picks, etc.
Remember: practice smart, not hard.