Building Your Practice Space with “Mise en Place” in Mind to Get Better Quality Practice Time
Having a dedicated practice space, one where everything is in it’s place as the French would say, can really make a ridiculous difference in the long-term potential effectiveness of your practice routine. Without having to waste time hunting down picks, guitar cables, or other supplies you can easily fit in regular practice time where you spend more time playing your instrument and growing as a musician.
Unless you’re one of us, meaning a professional musician, chances are you’re not going to play like one. You’re not going to know the sense of exhaustion that happens when you roll back home after a recording session gig at 3:30 in the morning dead tired and then remember that you still must unload the car. You won’t have to have the ridiculous internal debate with yourself if it’s worth risking leaving your thousands of dollars’ worth of gear in the car overnight, so you can hit the cold side of your pillow twenty minutes earlier. -But that’s ok!
On my day off from playing I rarely want to look at my oversized pedal board full of the latest musical gadgets, my multi-amp switching system, or my audiophile drool worthy channel switching amplifiers that seemingly can do anything at the touch of a button. I just want to relax in a pair of well worn, ripped denim jeans and an old t-shirt, and plop down on my couch with my favorite old Stratocaster and Netflix Binge old Family Guy episodes for a couple hours while I mindless play the blues. This simple Sunday ritual for me is pure exotica bliss based on my usual crazy musician hours. It’s really the secret to my success in my playing because I get a moment to just enjoy playing for what it is. The more you can fit simply enjoying playing music in your life, the more of your life you will spend making music, and the more successful you will be at it.
But you guys don’t want to know this. You want to know how to jack up your sweeping technique for faster rock n’ roll licks, how to bend like B.B. King, and how to get pentatonic runs down like you’ve got Slash chained to your Marshall Stack in the basement waiting on your playing questions hand and foot. Maybe, just maybe, you’ve been curious about the tricks, tips, techniques, and the simple tools used to make your guitar playing look like you were born on the 7th hour, on the 7th day, on the 7th month while being born for good luck with $700 dollars… the kind of “Don’t Mess with Me” playing. The kind of killer guitar playing that can only be put out by stone cold blooded professionals.
Let’s talk about tools first!
Line cooks the world over have developed a ridiculously great method for prepping for dinner service night after night, so they can knock out great tasting dishes consistently with ease. It’s a very simple technique called: “Mise en Place”. Mise en Place is the French phrase that means “everything in it’s place”. In the world of professional cooking, this translates to having a station set up with all your odds and ends that you use while cooking dish after dish, so you won’t fall behind in the kitchen. This means having your salt and pepper by your side, fresh garlic peeled and minced, shallots, softened butter, chiffonaded herbs, stock for deglazing, wine for deglazing, demi-glace for jacking up weak sauces, and cooking utensils all at the ready so you can be prepared for the dinner rush.
For our purposes as musicians, we can create the same thing in our practice spaces, so we can get the same consistent results out of our practice routine. Why waste twenty minutes looking for the proper sized pick to play a blues shuffle?? Get your stuff in order compadre and I guarantee that you’ll enjoy practicing! I call it “Mise en Place ala Rock n’ Roll”. So, what do you absolutely need to get started?
First and Foremost: You’ll need a very comfortable armless chair to sit in.
Playing guitar is impossible to do in a chair with arms. The chair arms can restrict your playing posture and force your left hand to constrict in an uncomfortable way, making practice hurt and not something you can do for long periods of time. Plus, if the chair doesn’t have cushy qualities, you tend to end up with what I call “practice butt”. “Practice Butt” will always tell you you’ve been sitting playing for fifteen minutes and then tell you to get your butt up and stop playing. Avoid practice butt. Get a comfy chair to enjoy spending time in. If you enjoy spending time in the chair, chances are you’ll enjoy spending time in it practicing.
Get a Container to House All of Your Guitar Picks-If I could make a dollar for every pick that I’ve owned and then couldn’t find when it came time to practice I’d have enough money to buy a new car. Picks are the bane of just about every guitar player’s existence. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. They end up in our jean pockets, and then by extension the washing machine. They fall under the couch. They somehow get lost in guitar cases. Seriously, stop trying to hunt them down and just buy a cool looking container to keep nearby at your practice station to keep them in. Preferably with a lid so they can’t escape. I use a small baked clay Day of the Dead box with skeletons playing guitars on it to keep my picks in. It’s easy to spot across the room so I always know where they are, and I’ve started to save money and not have to spend $5 bucks every time I need picks.
Say you don’t have a cool Mexican made Day of the Dead guitar pick container to keep your picks in? What’s a cool guitar player to do? I have also collected vintage ashtrays from vintage stores and used them. They’re great for holding guitar picks, glass and brass slides, capos, and other odds and ends. They’re also great for holding your car keys and can look really cool. Just make sure you throw them in the dishwasher first to wash potential tobacco stains off them, so your guitar picks don’t smell like cigarettes. Or if you’re Keith Richards, just let the darn picks smell like cigarettes.
Get a Chord Book and Keep it Next to Your Picks-Inevitably you’ll have a brain fart and forget a chord shape, or an inversion. Make sure you keep a handy chord book right next to where you keep your picks. You’ll be able to flip through chords in any key and see which notes are in the chord immediately, which helps when writing melodies, or trying to come up with bass lines around a chord progression. Whatever you do, don’t just guess the chord shape and learn it wrong. You’ll have an even harder time trying to unlearn it and re-teach it to yourself correctly. Just use the chord book as reference whenever you have a question. I like Hal Leonard music books, and the Guitar Chord Bible by Phil Capone. You remember books, right? They are like the original pre-iPhone. All the answers are in them. Trust me young padawans.
Get a Tuner and Keep it Handy-Most players don’t bother keeping their instruments in tune religiously, and when they go out to play it shows because they can’t hear the wrong intervals they play. Keeping your instrument in tune will not only make your instrument sound better and make your practice time much more enjoyable, but it will train your ear as to what correct tuning sounds like. The better you develop your ear, the more you will be able to sound like you are perfect all the time. You’ll know how to adjust on the fly for being flat, or sharp by the way you bend strings, or fret chords mid song until you can to a section where you can re-tune the instrument. I recommend using an either a Snark clip on tuner (you can keep it clipped on your lamp or on your guitar at home) or a Korg tuner because I think they are the most accurate. You can also keep a handy backup downloaded to your smartphone from the app store, so you can always have a tuner within reach because let’s be real, you take your smartphone with you everywhere. Start making it work for you musically.
Get a Cool Looking Coffee Mug and Keep it Stocked with Musical Supplies-You can fill this bad boy up with all kinds of music odds and ends.
I usually keep: A few pencils with fresh erasers. This is maybe the most important item on this list. With fresh erasers you can erase wrong notation on music notation without leaving hard to see through black marks. You always want to use pencils, so you can erase what you write. Never use pens. I repeat never use pens. You will mess up on a piece of music you don’t want to mess up on!
a string winding tool for changing guitar strings. I like Planet Waves String Winder. They are a little more expensive than the standard version, but they have a string winder, a string clipper, and a peg remover for acoustic instruments all built into the same piece of equipment. This is essentially for changing strings quickly!
a string stretcher for stretching fresh guitar strings. I like the Stretcha brand string stretcher. I find after using this string stretcher my fresh strings stay in tune quicker after changes (no waiting 3 days for the strings to settling in) and your strings will be stretched evenly along the entire string.
a couple of Shubb Capos for quick key changes on the fly. Great for writing songs, but also great for adjust the key of what you’re playing, the Shubb capo also evenly distributes tension across the fingerboard. Leading to less damaged frets on guitars down the line. Much better than the dreaded Keiser Capo.
a Phillips head screwdriver for removing backplates on Fender Stratocasters and tightening up tuning keys etc.
a glass slide for playing and practicing slide guitar. I usually keep a couple glass bottles for slide in here! If you want to be a total hipster I guess you can use brass slides as well. I just don’t like how they sound. They are way too trashy and not clean enough for playing single note lines in my opinion. If you like that kind of thing, more power to you!
Quik Callus fake callus solution that use to bolster my fingertips if they’ve been hurting from too much playing. This solution creates a fake callus on your playing fingers and can help bolster your playing. It can reduce finger fatigue from pushing into the strings for long periods of time, and for beginners it can help increase your playing time with the instrument due to the fact you don’t have calluses yet!