I, like a few of you dear readers I dare say, have to travel for work from time to time (well, actually I’m doing it quite a bit of late!). This obviously means time away from the guitar – not a massive chunk of time, usually a few days or a week or so. It’s not enough to lose touch with the guitar and the pieces you’re playing of course, but potentially enough (depending on the level you’re currently at of course) to put a temporary halt to progress. At the least it may make things feel a little clunky when you pick up the guitar again after a few days away from it. This has certainly been my experience in the past, although I’ve found that the more developed and proficient one becomes this sensation becomes much reduced.
So tip number one to make the most of your first practice session back after a bit of a hiatus is to ensure you’re doing regular, daily practice when you are able to! OK, not the most helpful tip if you’re just getting back into playing and practicing now after a wee break, but one to bear in mind and start working in.
Regardless of your level of development, it will likely feel a little clunky and sluggish to a greater or lesser degree when coming back to the guitar after a few days off. And the best approach to take in your first post-break practice session back is just take it nice and slow and easy. There’s no dramas, no stress, just ease yourself back into things and get used to the feel of the instrument and its sound again.
So start out with something nice and simple like a few scales – a few very easy scales to exercise and just move the left and right hands together without taxing the noggin too much, some simple arpeggios, some left hand exercises such as slurs for example, and then some right hand exercises. The right hand exercises I find particularly important personally for (a) getting the feel of the tirando and apoyando touches, (b) exercising the return reflexes and (c), most importantly, focussing on my sound and tone production. This is very important for me – if I can set myself up to be back in contact with the guitar producing a great tone on open strings then I’m setting myself to continually focus in on and hone my sound.
Then once you’ve warmed your fingers and hands up a bit and gotten them moving, then you can move onto looking at one of your pieces. I might have a “warts n all” run-through of the latest piece I’m working on, observing where the stumbling blocks are. I’ll then typically pick one of those stumbling blocks, one of the more easily rectified ones and do some work on that until its ironed out.
This approach, rather than just running through pieces willy-nilly or picking things up and just ignoring the stumbling blocks (which is easy enough to do at the best of times) helps also to train in that idea of focus again. It helps me connect with the idea of what a practice session needs to be about in order for one to progress.
And don’t be tempted to sit with the guitar for a massive period of time either. A longer session in one go won’t make up for time “missed” in the preceding days – the brain and muscle memory just doesn’t work like that I’m afraid. Aiming for somewhere between 20 minutes and 45 minutes for your first session back, depending again on your level of proficiency and usual practice session lengths, is probably around the mark.
So in a nutshell:
(1) Ensure you’re doing regular, daily practice when you are able to, to set yourself up with strong foundations to rebuild on when you have a break (enforced or otherwise) from the guitar.
(2) Take it nice and easy. There’s no rush.
(3) Don’t leap straight into playing pieces, warm your fingers, hands and arms up with some light technical material first of all.
(4) Focus on your sound and tone production. Really listen to what you’re playing.
(5) Even if it’s you’re very first practice session back after a long time away keep it focused – no fluffing around. This is a great time to practice your practice!
(6) Don’t be tempted to sit practicing for a long period. Aim for somewhere between 20 and 45 minutes. You could always come back for a second session in the day if you feel like doing more (if you’re able).