Avoiding Guitar Practice Hypnosis!

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?



Positive Practice – Focus on what you do want rather than what you don’t!

When we’re setting out on our practice for the day, it’s pretty important to set out what it is you want to achieve in that particular session – gotta have a plan!

Alongside this, it’s also extremely important to set out those goals or thoughts in positive terms rather than negatives. That is to say, be explicit and clear and state exactly what it is you do want rather what you don’t.

It may seem like such a little thing, but changing up your language forces the brain, including our all important subconscious brain, to reframe a situation and approach it differently. And different approaches than you’d previously applied will, in most likelihood, equal different outcomes than you’d previously achieved.

Deutsch: Phrenologie
This noggin of ours has a lot to answer for! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Say what?

In choosing the words and language for your playing goals, there’s one crucial piece of information to remember – your mind cannot, or struggles at least, to process negative statements.

Let me give you an example….ready?

I don’t want you to think of a pink elephant. Do not think of a pink elephant.

Right, got that?

Did a pink elephant pop into your minds eye in spite of me telling you not to think about it?

Case in point. Your brain tends to filter out the “don’t” or doesn’t recognise it and brings up a lovely image of a pink pachyderm instead. Hah hah!

So what? How does that apply to me as a guitarist?

Be careful to pick words, phrases or sentences about your playing that focus on what it is you DO want to occur and not what you DON’T want to occur.

Lets pick an example relevant to your practice. In figuring put, working out or working on a tricky element or challenging part of a piece, if you chose to use the words “I find this bit quite difficult. I don’t want it to sound so disjointed” the brain, the unconscious mind, tends to pick up on the “quite difficult” and “disjointed” bits and thereby works to create a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy – you’ll probably end up with something sounding exactly that way!


The subconscious mind is always working to achieve goals, whether you realise it or not. So give it a goal that you really want into work towards!

By reframing the above sentence and using something along the lines of “I find this bit not so easy. I’d like it to sound more flowing and legato“, instead, the subconscious mind then tends to pick up on the “so easy” and flowing and legato“. The subconscious mind then has its own micro goal set to create a situation that is “so easy, flowing and legato” and will work alongside your conscious brain to achieve that outcome.

Hmmmm. Interesting huh? Give it a whirl – it might just work….