Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

All about music, guitar, spirituality, personal development and being happy


How To Practice Guitar If You Have Just an Hour A Day

What if you have work, family or school commitments and have just an hour a day to practice guitar?

I’d like to help you out if you feel that you have limited practice time. Not everyone is a pro player and can spend several hours every day playing guitar.

Here are some tips. Let’s say you have just an hour. What’s the best plan of attack?

Don’t skip days

Even if you have an hour, don’t skip days. Do it every day even just a little. You’ll be much better off! You need to keep the mind focused from day to day.


Pre Practice Session – Have a plan. What will you work on? There are many areas on which you can focus – so choose ahead of time.

I always define what I will work on before picking my instrument up.

For example, you could practice…

a passage in a new piece or arrangement
running old repertoire
putting together a new arrangement

Part 1
Start with a short warm up no matter what. See my groove scales lesson. Once mastered this takes 5-10 minutes.

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Part 2

Decide clearly on what you will work on for the session, maybe even for the week!

Let’s say you are working on arrangement. Maybe there are some spots where you make mistakes and they are in need of fixing.

Practice SLOWLY

We’ve heard it a million times, but this is golden. I do this! It’s like a deep cleaning up of loose ends. Magically when you pick up the tempo, the music will mesh like gears if you have practiced slowly enough.

Take lots of breaks

Practice short passages in chunks. 15 – 20 minutes max. The mind learns fastest doing it this way, and it’s good for you physically too!

Don’t Practice Mistakes, Practice What Works!

Important! Change your fingerings until you get something easy where you almost can never make a mistake. It’s like figuring out a puzzle.

You may need to try a few things to discover what feels right to you.

I can’t tell you how many times as a young guy, I tried to play someone else’s uncomfortable fingerings and always made mistakes, yet tried to force it.

Classical guitarist John Williams once said he finds the most comfortable fingering that he doesn’t screw up, and sticks to it. I do the same!

The Mind Needs Repetition to Learn

Once you find the fingering, it will take repeated practice to drive it down into the subconscious. All too often we think we know a piece but it falls apart when we get nervous. No sweat, just practice it more! 🙂

Remember – take breaks even when practicing a repetitive thing.

Part 3

Mental attitude. Even if after a practice session you can’t play the piece, fear not. Pros know to NOT look for immediate results, and to just put the time in.

It’s like punching your time card at work.

Come back the next day, practice the same piece, again and again. In a week, 2 weeks – you will start to see results.

DO NOT try to practice several different things in a short practice session, and don’t switch every day to a new thing. You will only skim the surface of everything.

Focus in a relaxed way, even if you have limited time. LIke a magnifying glass harnessing the suns rays to burn a small hole in a leaf, you will surely accomplish what you set out to do.

I hope this helps you out!!! Now, get to work 🙂

– Adam


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Groove is Another Form of Love

I heard a fabulous youtube “satsang” talk the other day by a fellow whom I follow online named Burt Harding.  He’s a lovely guy from Canada who teaches people about awareness, love and the effortlessness “being” a human “being”.

His talks are full of insights, some of which I myself have experienced, and I am sure you have too.  I particularly love seeing how self realizations are similar to musical realizations.

In a day and age where music schools and computers boil music down to concrete elements, we must remember that the silent spirit in between the notes is the true life and soul of music.

Burt was talking about this idea of not really always being able to experience the now moment, even though we talk about the “now” so often.  We find ourselves on a road either looking ahead to the future or back to the past.  Like driving a car, we look ahead and back constantly.

The Impossible Now When One Thinks in A Time Line

What then, is the way to be in the present moment?  How can we get out of this time-line way of being. Remember – the time line is not “out there” in reality, it’s “in here” – in our heads.  That’s how our average waking state is, and that’s how we were created.

Burt presses the question of “how can we be present” and gives an answer.

Love takes us out of this and brings us to an entirely different dimension.  Wow.  Heavy information! A state of love brings us into a timeless dimension, and busts up this “timeline” paradigm completely.

Love Brings us Into the Timeless Present Moment

We’ve all experienced that when we love someone, something, an animal, or what we do – time slips away.  I myself forget to eat when I am playing my instrument, so I know this first hand.

And then it came to my mind, how I see the constant error of musicians thinking that music in reality is like it appears paper, and that a metronome with beats spaced apart makes a perfect dribble of equally spaced beats – making so called perfect time.   Nothing could be “wronger” 🙂

When you slip deep into musical joy, it is another form of this love – which lifts one up out the timeline completely and effortlessly. A “timeless” dimension is perceived and presence is a glowing effortless now moment.

I then thought about so many experiences I have had – dancing with people (chicks mainly!) at college DJ parties and in an instant feeling a sense of “loving” them spontaneously.  The same for musicians…I have been in clubs where I ended up on stage with musicians whom I never met before, and love was present when we played even though we never spoke a word.

Groove is one of the fruits provided by the tree of love!

It’s a “zone” I am talking about which can’t be known by the mind, it must be experienced.  If you’ve ever loved anyone or anything fully – a real groove feels just like that.  No future, no past….just a warm loving big fat funky “now” moment. Like a downbeat with a gorgeous tone.


What is Your Ideal Listener Profile?

Disclaimer:  This is in no way intended to step on anyone’s toes.  I love all styles of music.  This blog post is about musicians awareness of “giving value” to their listeners, regardless of style or instrument.


In case you don’t know it.  I was a stone cold, bebopping, jazz guitar player with a big old archtop guitar, running around NYC and playing every show, rehearsal and session I could get to.

It was a hectic and underpaid life for many reasons . But now I am happier and more successful now than every before .  I will delve into the shift that changed my life, in this post.

I switched to fingerstyle guitar for many reasons.  I felt the urge to entertain people, first and foremost.  Entertaining gives me more joy than anything.  The entire shift was brought about by asking myself “for whom am I playing?

My life changed…I stopped caring what other musicians thought, and started caring what the audience thought.

These days I see many musicians play and not “keep the audiences attention” for various reasons.  The musicians are usually  beyond excellent, so what’s the problem here?

I have a question for you . Are people talking through your gig?  Are you holding their attention?

In no way am I suggesting that you or anyone change what they are  doing to what I do.  I am however encouraging you and other musicians to ask themselves why they are doing what they do.

The question each musician must answer – with utter honesty is “For whom am I playing?  Who is my ideal listener?  Who am I trying to impress? What is my ultimate musical goal?”

Our sense of survival is our deepest fear and psychological button.  Back before jazz schools a MUSICIANS SURVIVAL was based on entertaining.

Fortunately, I was in many bands with leaders who came up in the era of entertainment being a MUST, and if I did not rise to the occasion, I lost my gig and did not eat.

I can remember in Harlem a band leader threatening me to stop practicing and entertain the “room” or else I’d be fired. GULP!  And I remember bored faces of bar patrons “light up” when I stopped playing a million notes and started playing the blues.

That is called a FIRE under the ASS, as it were.  ‘Scuse my French.

If you are trying to impress:

– Other musicians
– Teachers
– Yourself, to see how you stack up
– Other musicians on the internet, Youtube, etc

That means….YOU BLEW IT!  You forgot about the most important people – the PUBLIC.  Ok, that’s simply my opinion – but check it for yourself!

What’s really confusing though is that when you are in school, you feel like your SURVIVAL depends on the approval of peers and teachers….and impressing them becomes the goal.  That’s why music school has nothing to do with preparing you the real world environment of music.

Regular people, not musicians, are your main audience!!!!  Make this your mantra.

Regular people need to like what you do.  Regular people need to feel good when you play.

Take a Lesson from Marketers

Anyone marketing a product knows that they need their ICP – Ideal Customer Profile.  Well, think about your listener as if they were a customer.  Who is your listener?  What age, gender, financial bracket, etc are they?  How much of society do they make up?  Where do they hang out?  And so on….

The idea of whom one is playing music for  is so deeply ingrained in a musicians playing approach, it literally permeates EVERY note that a musician plays.  And if you’ve spent years playing for other musicians – everything regarding your tone, time touch and concept are over there.

It can feel downright weird to play music for the “audience” if you are in that other zone.  I can “hear” whom a musician is playing for as if they told me in plain English.

I am not talking about the musical skill. I am talking about the breath of life which permeates the musical thought, and intent behind the music.

I showed my girlfriend (who is not a musician) two jazz quartet videos – one old (1960’s) and one new (current) and she said “the new one – they all sound like they are playing their own thing and it is not matching up the way the old one does”.

No one could be further from understanding music than her – but  she did hear the main difference!!!!  Food for thought, kids.

So let’s close with the questions to ask yourself:

For whom am I playing?
Why am I playing music?
What is my ultimate goal in playing music?
Would I rather be “the best” or see “happiness” in my audience?

Write a full description of your ideal listener – sex, age, eductaion, financial bracket – whatever you want.  (This will tune you to thinking about THEM instead of YOU.)

What reaction do you want from them?  (Hint – joy is the right answer, thinking YOU are awesome is the wrong answer.)

In Conclusion

Be a giver, not a taker!  Wake up this way, go to sleep this way, practice music this way and talk this way.  Amen.


Adam Rafferty – Dancing Queen by ABBA – Solo Fingerstyle Guitar

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Original arrangement of a classic ABBA tune.

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A Fingerstyle Guitar Lesson from Drummer Alvin Queen


I am once again, sitting on a German train, heading  east to a town called Magdeburg…only thank goodness this time there is no volcano, and my commute will be 5 hours instead of 15.

“Thanks for the memories…”

But I digress…

I just had the first of 2 train rides and got 2 nice hours of warmup and practice in on the first train.  Acoustic guitar is  luxurious in that it is quiet enough to practice on a train, and no one else hears it due to all the ambient noise.  Not many instruments can be practiced just about anywhere!

Last night’s show was a hit, and I am feeling the repertoire deepen, become more natural, less forced and more groovy.  There is a maturing process that repertoire goes through, and the maturing can’t be rushed.

Learning an arrangement is a lot like chopping up veggies for soup.  You can throw all the ingredients in, but as the saying goes, “it ain’t soup yet”.  Living with your songs and arrangemest  is like letting the soup simmer and letting the flavors mix.  Night after night you get to investigate new angles, moods, ideas – and fingerings.

As I pracitced today I thought back to a brief but critical music lesson that I’d like to share with you. Not only does it have musical meaning, but philosophical meaning as well, which just tickles me.

Last year I had the honor of playing with jazz master drummer Alvin Queen.  He’s the best there is in my opinion.  He was Oscar Peterson’s last drummer and there are many good drummers – but I and all the musicians will tell you, “theres only one Queen”.

Alvin and I were having coffee and he started telling me about how he teaches drums to students.  Mind you, he is “old school”.  Nope you won’t find him on a “school faculty” – you’ll find him schooling you and everybody who plays with him.

Adam Rafferty and Alvin Queen

Adam Rafferty and Alvin Queen on Tour 2009 - Switzerland

“I tell students to play 3/4 time with their feet.  I let them play for a while and then tell them to add their hands.  99.999% of the time, the moment the hands come in, the feet sound weak and fall apart.  That’s our starting point.  Get the feet solid and never ever leave the groove.  The rest is icing on the cake.”

This made me think “how does this apply to guitar?”.

Duh.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that in many of my arrangements the “notes” sound great and I have enough technique to play it, but something felt like it was missing.  Hmm.

The THUMB!!!  If I could treat the thumb like a drummer would treat the feet, allowing that to be the heartbeat, and never, ever, ever, EVER leave or lighten up on  the pulse when the fingers enter…well let’s just say a whole new world opened up to me.  Easier said than done!

I must emphasize I am not talking about having good “time” – I mean “groove”.  Most guitarists can simply alternate their thumb, but to put that right hand thimb – deep, deep in the pocket, and not lose that – is art.  Any musician can count…but not every musician can make other people feel a groove, and that – for me, is the goal.

Sure enough, the first time I got to play with Tommy Emmanuel we were backstage and it was 2 minutes before his show was happening.  He was in the dressing room with me firing up his version of “Locomotivation” and said “I just gotta get this down in the pocket, that’s all that counts”.  Off he ran to open his show and I then hears the same thing blasting from the stage.

Like this:

So, today I practiced my tunes but made sure that heartbeat was there, not just in my imagination but in that thumb.  Practicing very slowly also helps this.

This requires honesty with oneself.  Can you sing the drum part to what you are playing?  Do you know exactly what the groove should be?

Put your arrangements in the pocket, play a ferocious groove and you will be a happy camper!  Get that thumb solid and groovy!  By paying attention to this your music can deepen greatly.

Now…git to work!  🙂