Benefits of My Break from Playing Guitar

So, as I outlined in my previous post, I’ve recently had a rather generous slab of time out recently. A lengthy holiday (the longest I’ve ever had I think, and longest likely for some time) and time out from my job, playing guitar, the general day-to-day of everyday life. Five weeks (preceeded by a week or two’s preparation prior which led to no playing) of rest, relaxation and general unguided mulling.

From the point of view of guitar playing, a younger version of myself from a number of years ago would have been horrified at the thought of not playing the guitar for five or six weeks in a row. The concept would have been unfathomable.

However, in my increasing wisdom of middle(ish) age it doesn’t and hasn’t worried me in the slightest. In fact, I found the break quite refreshing and reinvigorating.

How so?

Well, the time away from the minutiae of grappling with knotty technical issues in pieces has allowed perspective, and removed the temptation to over-think and over-practice those elements (and possibly undoing good work done). The time away has actually better enabled me to tackle some of those technical issues, and some have even felt to become much easier. Don’t know what I was making all the fuss about.

The break has enabled me to refocus on what I want to do with my playing next in terms of what I’m currently learning and want to learn, projects such as my duo project with the wonderful Rick Alexander and recording, and within the latter what I want to record.

It’s also given me a new boost of energy and enthusiasm for relearning older parts of my repertoire, finishing off learning pieces or suites that are part learnt and for beginning to grapple new work. Alongside the mental refreshment, I find that I’m physically more in tune again with what my body is doing, what I’m actively doing with it and knowing when to ease back or take a rest.

I’m not advocating that that size of break from playing should be done on a frequent basis (after all you’re not really playing then are you?!). Nor that it has to be as long a break as a month or more. But once a year a complete and total physical and mental break for a period of time, say a week or two, I find does wonders for my playing.

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The Classical Guitar Practice Approach of A Very Busy Person!

To all of you, dear readers, who are playing or learning guitar, at whatever level, whilst studying, working, raising a family, looking after loved ones and/ or generally running around like the proverbial fly with a blue backside, I salute you!

Its not an easy thing to dedicate oneself to learning and developing a craft such as the classical guitar in amongst life. And I know that only too well first hand.

But just because something is challenging does not mean it is impossible. It means one has to think a little differently about what, where and how you practice, what that practice entails, calibrating expectations of yourself (and the self-induced pressure that that all too often entails), what outcomes you’re aiming to achiveve and of course a smattering of discipline and will.

Little Miss Busy - Penguin Books
Little Miss Busy – Penguin Books

I can go into the taking pressure off yourself, calibrating expectations, looking at what you want to achieve and so on in another post, but today I thought it may be helpful to share with you my general approach to practice now that my life has become rather busy. For newcomers here, I took on a fantastic and exciting role about 18 months ago which sees me with some longer hours and travel to some part of Australia on a very frequent basis.

I say “general” approach, as the specifics about what and how I practice can and will change depending on what I’m learning and if I have any concerts coming up. And the specifics will change for you too depending on your current level, what you’re aiming to achieve and so on. The general principles, however, apply just the same across the board,

My practice schedule, almost needless to say, has had to change to reflect my change in circumstance. And that’s fine – to be otherwise would be tantamount to stupidity and a sure fire way of giving myself a nervous breakdown. Which I’m sure you’ll agree is less than desirable!

So here are some of the key insights into the practice regime of a very busy person!

Consistency

One of the key principles that remains the bedrock of my practice regimen and something I’ve spoken about frequently on the blog is CONSISTENCY.

We are what we repeatedly do, or something like that, to partially quote Aristotle. In practical application that means practicing or at the very least playing the guitar (and there’s an important difference I’ll come on to) more days of the week than not. Even if that means just 15 minutes with the guitar because I’m tired and my brain is practically hanging out of my left ear. Something is most definitely better than nothing, especially when there is the potential for a very busy period to be a number of days or longer.

Focus and Purpose

When I do sit down with the guitar at the moment, its typically for one 40 minute session per day,  5 to 6 days per week. And when I do sit down to practice I do so with a very specific purpose in mind.

In recent weeks, for example, I’ve been learning the Fugue from Bach’s Prelude, Fugue and Allegro BWV 998. Not a small work, and not an uncomplicated work (on the LMusA list in fact for when I get back on track with that).  I have been breaking this up into small bite sized chunks, tackling just 8 bars in a 30 – 40 minute sitting, really teasing out knits and tangles, tricky technical challenges, examining and rearranging fingerings, understanding what’s going on in the music, its direction and how I want it to sound. I might spend then 5 or 10 minutes slotting it back into context in the broader section or movement but keep the practice session focussed very much on that 8 bar section, knowing prior to starting that it’s that 8 bar section I want to work on and what I want to have achieved by the end of my session.

I’ll also either start or finish my practice session with a major scale and relative minor with full combination of right hand fingerings. I’ll make my way through the whole range of diatonic scales over a number of days and then go back to beginning.

Breathing Space

Focus and purpose goes out of the window though if I am feeling very tired with poor concentration ability. There’s no point in torturing myself! I have to be very tired though, and in this case I’ll still pick up the guitar and play through either a piece, part of a piece or a few scales just to keep the fingers moving.

I definitely don’t do this for more than one day, but giving myself permission one or two days a week to have some less involved practice time and just playing for the heck of it is as important as it is relaxing. Which is key when one is very busy!