Put purely and simply, if you’re not practicing you’re probably not going to progress very well with the guitar (unless, of course, you have some kind of special superpowers!). And when I say practicing, I don’t mean just once or twice a week, I mean frequent and regular practice. Ideally this means daily practice, and at the very least every other day.
Playing guitar is like any other skill that you may choose to turn your attention to – getting “good” (however you may choose to define that) simply doesn’t happen overnight. It requires dedication and actively choosing to put in the work and the time required. It is said that to obtain mastery of a particular skill you need to dedicate around 10,000 hours to the pursuit of that skill. That’s a lot of hours!
When I say “daily practice” it doesn’t have to be great whacking chunks of daily practice time. I’ll bet you my right arm that you’ll progress much faster, experience greater improvements and consequently enjoy your playing a whole lot more by spending even just 15-20 minutes daily on practice, than if you spent two hours in one sitting, or even two lots of one hour.
Why is this?
This is all to do with how the brain works. The brain works best when it has seen and experienced something numerous times, rather than one big, fat chunk of something just once or twice. The brain also functions best when its not stressed, when it’s rested, and when it’s having fun. It also likes a good drink of water and fed well to keep the neurons firing!
So, a little and often works best where practice is concerned, especially so when just starting with the guitar, or learning a new technique, or even a new piece.
Amount of time for practice?
This all depends on numerous factors – your stage of learning, your attention span, other stuff going on in your life right now, exams or performances coming up, time between coffees and so. You’re probably a pretty good judge of how much time is right for you (trust yourself!), but talk to your teacher or even drop me a line if you need some direction with that.
As you progress you’ll come to realise the compounding effect of that work you put in in the early days. Your technique improves, your left hand becomes more agile, more stretchy, more accurate, your right hand movements become more and more refined, more powerful, your tone improves, your musical awareness becomes more and more developed, your understanding of the instrument, its capabilities and musical expression become ever greater. This is you building your foundation – and it will allow you to build a most fantastic edifice on top.
Once you’ve done this work, and you keep doing it, it’s like cash stashed away in a long-term “locked” high-interest savings account – it’s there, it’s all yours as a result of your hard work, and it’s earning more and more compounding interest as you put more and more in, earning you ever greater returns.
But I’m just not talented and it’s sooo challenging!
Yes, talent is one thing and will determine how quickly or otherwise you may pick up a technical skill, but perseverance, dedication and PRACTICE will the greatest determinant of your guitar-playing success. I have a little postcard on my studio wall with a quote from the great Winston Churchill as a reminder of this to my students. It simply says “Never, never, never give up” – sometimes we may feel as if we’re not getting very far and that our practice is in vain.
Well, let me remind you that these things are incremental – it’s like a tree growing. If you watch it intently, closely every day (as you’re doing with your practice) it will seem as if it’s not doing anything. Your teacher, however, or your friends and family will most definitely be able to see and hear the change week to week, month to month and beyond. Before you realise it your tree will be touching the sky. Keep practicing!
And don’t just take my word for it, Maestro David Russell has a bit to say about this too: