I’m sure we’ve all been there (I certainly have done in my time) – playing a scale or an exercise over and over and over and over and over and over and over….. And then before you know it 20 minutes has passed and all you’ve done is play one scale and it’s not really changed much from when you started and you can’t even really recall what you were doing in that 20 minutes!
Practice – regular, consistent practice – is of the utmost importance, but so is how you practice.
Mindlessly playing through pieces start to finish, skipping over stumbling blocks, playing scales and other technical exercises for the sake of playing them or without understanding why we’re doing them can, at best, be a limit to progress, embedding bad habits, limiting the introduction of better habits, limiting real listening and active, focussed practice.
At worst, practicing, practicing and practicing without actually thinking about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and importantly, why can also lead to physical pain and potentially longer-term physical damage to the hands and arm.
Playing and practicing without being aware of what you’re doing, even with the most seemingly simple of movements can instill bad habits. We must take care with and be really aware of even the most simple of movements and hand positioning in case we (a) injure ourselves (pins and needles or carpal tunnel syndrome anyone?) or (b) find months or years down the track that we’ve picked up a bad habit that we have to unlearn and replace with the correct technique (and I should know in this instance, I’ve been there) or we’re not going to be able to progress much further.
Understanding what you’re doing, why you’re doing and how is absolutely key. Slow, concerted and focussed practice of studies, of new pieces, of tricky sections, even of our true and trusted pieces gives you a key foundation stone of learning to play correctly – with precision and accuracy, with speed, with poise, and with fantastic sound (because of course, you’ll be playing with complete awareness of the sound quality you’re making right?).
When practicing with awareness, touching base with basic movements, more or less each time you practice is advisable – these are your scales, your arpeggios, and various other left hand and right hand exercises that may be relevant to the pieces you’re playing or learning at the moment. Practicing these slowly with great control, precision, awareness of movement, before speeding things up (if required) is important, as is being aware of which exercises may help.
And being aware of the sound you want to make, as well as the physical mechanics of playing is also vitally important. We should ideally aim to be continually striving for this in our practice, in our exercises and pieces. We may initially do this in isolation perhaps, or in glimmering moments of awesomeness during a piece. However, over time (and yes, it does take time), that slow, focussed and applied practice will start to bear to fruit. I promise you.
Bust out of that habit
So the next time you sit down to practice, remind yourself of what you’re going to practice, how and, importantly, why. And if the practice hypnosis is too beguiling…… play that scale again, play that scale again, play that scale again, play that scale again….. Ahh! Yes, if it’s too beguiling then perhaps set yourself a little timer or buzzer or something to prod you every 5 or 10 minutes, to wake you out of your practice reverie and make yourself ask the questions “Am I practicing what I need to be practicing? How far away am I from it sounding as I want it to sound? What do I need to do differently?”
- Slow and steady wins the race – regular practice is the key to classical guitar mastery (classicalguitarnstuff.com)