With my travelling here, there and everywhere at the moment around the wide, brown land that is Australia (which I’m actually quite enjoying as it goes) I have to make my practice time with the guitar really count. That’s not to say that my practice prior to my super busy year-to-date wasn’t quality (one doesn’t get an AMusA diploma by slapdash practice!!).
It’s one of those interesting phenomena though that the more one is constrained by time, the more it sharpens ones focus. OK, well maybe it isn’t necessarily one those phenomena – just me! – but the limited time has made me re-examine what I’m doing, how I’m practicing and how I’m preparing for that practice. Especially given I have this goal of sitting for the LMusA diploma at some point in the not too distant future.
So, dear reader, I thought I’d write a wee post for you today on my approach to practice these days before I even pick up the guitar.
A bit of preparation and planning can make for optimised execution in a number of areas, guitar practice included it seems! By thinking about and setting yourself up for a decent practice session you’re maximising the time you have available – be it 15 minutes or two hours – and hitting the ground running, so to speak, when you sit down and pick up the guitar.
What do I mean by prepare?
I’m not talking about writing out an action plan or anything like that (I’m trying to become more efficient here, not create more work). I mean thinking about what is that you want to achieve in this practice session.
Actively thinking about what you’re about to start doing and, importantly, WHY is the first step to making your practice time really count. If you have an idea in mind of what it is you want to achieve, then you’re more likely to achieve it! That’s not to say you’ll necessarily achieve your wee goal each time. but you stand a greater chance if you’re clear about what you want. You review what it is you’re doing and tweak the approach perhaps in preparing for your next practice session.
And it doesn’t have to be something big, and it doesn’t have to be a pile of things, that you’re thinking about and focussing on. In fact, I recommend just having in mind one or two things initially that you want to work on, correct, get your fingers around, and so on to get used to this and not overload yourself.
Think outcome rather than time
You’ll find yourself getting into the swing of it in no time. It’ll also help you apply a critical mindset (not judgmental mindset, please note) to how you’re practicing – you’ll find yourself asking questions like “is this what I want?”, “is this how I want it to sound?”, “what do I need to do differently to get the sound/ movement/ legato/ staccato that I’m after?”.
With this approach I’ve also found that time actually becomes less of an issue. I used to stress about “ooh, I’m not doing X amount of hours of practice per day or per week”, but I’ve noticed that being more prepared and more outcome-focused with my practice I’m much less concerned about the amount of time I’m spending (or not spending practicing). Consistency and regularity is still of vital importance, of course, by stepping back and thinking about what I’m doing I’m achieving what I want to achieve but without the self-inflicted pressure of being “bum in seat” for a billion hours a week.
So, are you making the most of your practice sessions? Do you know what you want to have achieved by the end of it? Are you just playing through or coasting through? Are you being perhaps just a little bit lazy?! (Don’t worry, we’ve all been there, and you’re a big fibber if you say otherwise!)
If you want to start getting some real “bang from your buck” during your practice time, pumping out the improvements and getting your fingers around that piece, then I highly recommend doing a bit of preparation