How are you practicing?

Ooh that’s a funny sounding question isn’t it? We’re used to hearing perhaps “how often do you practice?” or “how long do you practice?”

And both of those are important questions.

Practicing often, as often as one is able really, certainly on a daily basis is extremely important if you want to make some good headway into really getting to grips with the instrument. One of the keys to making good solid technical and musical progress is to get frequent and consistent practice going on. Novak Djokovic (to get topical) didn’t get good at tennis by hitting a ball about once or twice a week. Yes, he has a fairly large serve (ahem…) of talent one assumes, but he would also capitalise on that by hitting a tennis ball about the tennis court each and every day, more or less.

How long do you practice can also be an important question. And the answer can be affected by a number of things, including amongst others time you have available, other life stuff going on, what it is you’re aiming to achieve with the guitar, your level of focus and your priorities. Understanding that can help you define how much you can and/ or should be dedicating to your practice.

In an average week I’d say I spend in the region of 8 – 12 hours practicing. Now to some people that would sound like not very much; to others it would sound like a heck of a lot. It is what it is. We all come from different points of view.

And I sometimes think this way of thinking is a wee bit like clocking into work and getting “face time” at the office. Being present and putting the hours in doesn’t necessarily equate to producing good quality work (presentee-ism I think they call it!. Taking on more of a results-based approach to your practice, rather than time put in, can (a) take the pressure off in terms of you having the guilts thinking you should have done so many hours practice, or however many hours Joe Blow has done and you’re not matching it and (b) actually help you achieve or get closer to your guitar goals in a much easier (and possibly quicker) fashion.

So yes, it’s what you do with the time that is available that is really crucial. One could spend in excess of 30 hours with the guitar each week and not really achieve much if you’re not practicing in a way that serves what you’re trying to achieve at a given point in time. This is of course making the assumption that you’re aiming to achieve something in particular. If you’re just playing for playing’s sake and you’re cool with that, then I’m totally cool with that too!

However, if you are practicing and playing with the express aim of achieving certain goals, you need to be somewhat strict with yourself in how you practice. And what do I mean by that? Well, I mean avoiding the temptation to play through a whole piece, or section, or even phrase when you really don’t need to be doing that. I’d even go so far as to ask yourself all or some of the following questions:

  • “Do I really need to play this through right now?”
  • “Is this actually practicing or am I just playing through without really focussing?”
  • “Is practicing in this way helping me right now and in the lead up to my bigger goal?”
  • “Is there something else I could be or should be doing instead?”
  •  “Should I be practicing in a different way?”
  •  “Which elements need the most work right now?”
  •  “Which bits do I need to focus on first?”
  •  “Am I making this sound like I really want it to sound, or do I need to do something differently?”
  •  “How do I want a particular section/ phrase/ bar to sound at the end of my practice session?”

By practicing in this focussed manner you may just surprise yourself as to what can be achieved in a relatively small block of time. Give it a whirl and let me know how you go!



3 thoughts on “How are you practicing?

  1. I usually tell my students that they have to be able to tell me ‘what’ they have achieved and improved every week. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small technique issue or only 2 bars of music, but improvement and clear goals must be met. The amount of the practicing can vary but one must get a little better each week. Nice post.

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