Everyone knows good guitar playing comes as a result of diligent practice. Why, then, do so many people spend countless hours practicing guitar with only minimal improvement? My experience tells me that most guitar players suffer from one (or more) of the following practicing problems: Insufficient discipline, inadequate attention and lack of a short term practice structure or plan. Let’s look at how to eliminate these pitfalls and turn every guitar practice session into a period that is productive and enjoyable.
The very word makes most of us uncomfortable. It somehow seems to contradict creativity and expressiveness. In fact, the two are inseparable: discipline allows us to acquire the tools and construct the foundation from which we can create. Discipline is at the very core of our expansion, and therefore the finest gift that we can give our creative selves. It is, I think, a lack of self-nurturing that allows us to be distracted from our highest goals. Rather than placing discipline into the category of self-flagellation, we should exalt it to it’s rightful position of self-love and get on shamelessly with it. This being said, a conscious approach and some relevant skills are necessary for success.
Sometimes you feel too tired or simply too lazy to begin a serious guitar practice session. Friends, family members and other interests provide an easy distraction. The best solution is to set a pre-determined time and stick to it. Never mind if someone else doesn’t agree with your decision: you are the one who will look back years later in either satisfaction or disappointment. Remember that when you’re tempted to settle in for a night of television over one with your guitar. Also remember both your short-term playing goals and your long-term ones.
Your short-term goals should include some sort of performance commitment. If you are not ready to perform publicly, play for your friends or record yourself. Try to arrange to play with other musicians whenever possible. If you are taking guitar lessons, do your best to prepare your assigned music. (If your teacher doesn’t give you an assignment, ask for one.) Deadlines are great motivators, and without them you will stagnate.
Getting started practicing can be the hardest part. Sit down with your guitar and do your best to focus for fifteen minutes. Set a timer on the days you have to push yourself to practice your guitar. At the end of fifteen minutes you’ll probably be hooked in and practice much longer, forgetting about time. In the unlikely event that you stop after fifteen minutes, you will be farther ahead than had you neglected to practice guitar at all. It is important to realize how valuable fifteen minutes of intelligent practice can be, which brings us to the next topic: attention (intelligent practice).
The first criteria for intelligent guitar practice is attention or focus. I am always amazed to hear of people practicing in front of the television, as if playing guitar is just some rote mechanical exercise. Our culture supports multi-tasking to the point that many people have either lost or have never developed the ability to be fully present in any moment. What better experience to be committed to than one which is as personal, expressive and gratifying as playing music! Not only will your practice sessions be far more productive if you are totally present, but the quality of your performances will be higher.
I always tell my students that if you practice guitar without full attention, you are practicing (or engraining) not paying attention. In other words, you are getting very good at being disconnected from your guitar playing. Is this really what you want?
There is an entire section devoted to learning tactics in my instructional video, Comprehensive Guitar Instruction. In this section I take a student through the process of approaching a new piece, and I give tips on efficient learning and on memorization. This is all valuable information, but without attention, it, like all other instruction, will be of little use.
How to practice
Now that you have some ideas about how you want to approach your practice, it’s time to pick up your guitar! In the next article, I describe a plan and and give you tips for speeding up your progress.
For even more practice tips, check out this blog post.
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