How should I practice?

As a teacher one of the most frequently repeated phrases I hear from students on pulling their guitar from their case is “oh, I’ve not done much practice this week”. And it always makes me chuckle. What is “not much” to one person can be “quite a lot to another” and what you do in that “not much” counts for a lot too.

Anyway, here are my top tips for practice time…
Make each practice session count

Don’t just plonk yourself down and go through the motions of a few scales, arpeggios and a play through a piece. What do you really want to get out of the session?  What are you wanting to improve or change and how are you going to do it?

I quite like this cheesy management-type quote I saw recently, that kind of fits well here:

with better awareness you can make better choices and when you make better choices, you will see better results”  Robin Sharma

Think ahead and plan your week out a bit

Do you know what days or times that you wont be able to practice due to other commitments? Make sure you know those and plan your practice sessions in around those and avoid the “oh, I’ll have a day off” and then the next day “oh bugger, I can’t practice tonight because I’ve got to “whatever it is” to do

Do a little bit and often

This is probably one of my biggest recommendations. If you only had, for argument’s sake, 3 hours total in a week to practice. You’d be far more likely to see development and progress by splitting that time across six half hour-long sessions, than one or two über-sessions. You don’t see a marathon runner training just one or two days a week; they tend to split their training across the week. Consistency is the key for them, and same for guitarists.

Think of it being more about frequency and quality rather than straight-up quantity.

The brain will pretty much forget what you practiced last time, or at the best, not progressed from where you left off, if you’re only practicing once or twice a week. You’re also less likely to suffer from mental and physical fatigue if you’re breaking it down into more manageable chunks.

By practicing a little bit every day you’re reinforcing the learning both in your brain and in your muscle memory. You’re also better able to build a little on the previous day’s learning each time.

Practicing a little every day, particularly when first starting out or first coming back to the guitar after a hiatus of some kind, can help turn practice into a habit. We are creatures of habit and our brains are apparently happy when we’re doing familiar things. Someone told me that it takes doings something 11 times to turn it into a habit and I’ve also heard repetition over 21 days – not sure of the truth of that, but it sounds good, and not so long in the grand scheme of things.

Enjoy it!

Most importantly, have fun with it. OK, there are going to be challenging moments, and nothing worthy is achieved without hard work but,  the over-riding experience should be FUN. We play guitar, we play music, because we love it. Practice time should, above all, enjoyable. Keep it mixed up and vary what and how you practice to keep it fun and interesting for yourself.

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