Slow and steady wins the race – regular practice is the key to classical guitar mastery

Put purely and simply, if you’re not practicing you’re probably not going to progress very well with the guitar (unless, of course, you have some kind of special superpowers!). And when I say practicing, I don’t mean just once or twice a week, I mean frequent and regular practice. Ideally this means daily practice, and at the very least every other day.

Playing guitar is like any other skill that you may choose to turn your attention to – getting “good” (however you may choose to define that) simply doesn’t happen overnight. It requires dedication and actively choosing to put in the work and the time required. It is said that to obtain mastery of a particular skill you need to dedicate around 10,000 hours to the pursuit of that skill. That’s a lot of hours!

When I say “daily practice” it doesn’t have to be great whacking chunks of daily practice time. I’ll bet you my right arm that you’ll progress much faster, experience greater improvements and consequently enjoy your playing a whole lot more by spending even just 15-20 minutes daily on practice, than if you spent two hours in one sitting, or even two lots of one hour.

Why is this?

This is all to do with how the brain works. The brain works best when it has seen and experienced something numerous times, rather than one big, fat chunk of something just once or twice. The brain also functions best when its not stressed, when it’s rested, and when it’s having fun. It also likes a good drink of water and fed well to keep the neurons firing!

So, a little and often works best where practice is concerned, especially so when just starting with the guitar, or learning a new technique, or even a new piece.

Amount of time for practice?

This all depends on numerous factors – your stage of learning, your attention span, other stuff going on in your life right now, exams or performances coming up, time between coffees and so. You’re probably a pretty good judge of how much time is right for you (trust yourself!), but talk to your teacher or even drop me a line if you need some direction with that.

Compounding interest

As you progress you’ll come to realise the compounding effect of that work you put in in the early days. Your technique improves, your left hand becomes more agile, more stretchy, more accurate, your right hand movements become more and more refined, more powerful, your tone improves, your musical awareness becomes more and more developed, your understanding of the instrument, its capabilities and musical expression become ever greater. This is you building your foundation – and it will allow you to build a most fantastic edifice on top.

Once you’ve done this work, and you keep doing it, it’s like cash stashed away in a long-term “locked” high-interest savings account – it’s there, it’s all yours as a result of your hard work, and it’s earning more and more compounding interest as you put more and more in, earning you ever greater returns.

But I’m just not talented and it’s sooo challenging!

Yes, talent is one thing and will determine how quickly or otherwise you may pick up a technical skill, but perseverance, dedication and PRACTICE will the greatest determinant of your guitar-playing success. I have a little postcard on my studio wall with a quote from the great Winston Churchill as a reminder of this to my students. It simply says “Never, never, never give up” – sometimes we may feel as if we’re not getting very far and that our practice is in vain.

Well, let me remind you that these things are incremental – it’s like a tree growing. If you watch it intently, closely every day (as you’re doing with your practice) it will seem as if it’s not doing anything. Your teacher, however, or your friends and family will most definitely be able to see and hear the change week to week, month to month and beyond. Before you realise it your tree will be touching the sky. Keep practicing!

And don’t just take my word for it, Maestro David Russell has a bit to say about this too:

http://www.davidrussellguitar.com/index.php/home/tips-for-guitarists

Classical Guitar Foot Stool or Rest?

This is a choice that you may be faced with in first coming to the guitar, or coming back to it after a while. It may also be something to think about if you’ve been playing for a while.

For years and years and years, throughout my formative playing years through my eighth grade and beyond I always played guitar with my left leg propped up on the trusty, adjustable foot stool. There was no reason to do otherwise – my teachers played in this way, all my “guitar heroes” played in this way (Bream, Williams and so on).

To be honest, for a long time I’d not seen anyone play using any other form of support to raise the guitar up to a height that both allowed playability and was comfortable. That was until I started to see more and more folks – my peers, teachers, players – using these adjustable rest-type contraptions attached to the side of the guitar which rests on the leg propping the guitar up on the left leg.

Interesting, I thought. There must be a reason why I’m seeing more and more players choosing this type of tool to raise and support the guitar over the foot stool, so I tried out a few different styles of rests for myself. And there are a whole host of different styles of rests to choose from (a couple of which I really didn’t get on with), but some which, for me personally, were fantastic. I now use the rest over a foot stool 100% of the time.

Why is this?

Well, my feet are both flat on the floor meaning that there’s no undue strain or twisting on the lower back. This allows for much more comfortable playing for longer periods of time (although of course you should always take regular breaks), and ensures that you’re not going to be storing up trouble for later on.

I also understand that the prolonged use of a foot stool can shorten the hip flexor on the side being raised by the foot stool (as can too much sitting generally). So you could potentially end up with a shortened hip flexor on one side of your body causing an imbalance as well as a weakness. Great…. not!

Having both feet flat on the floor also provides a very stable platform for playing – you feel very grounded and centred, a sensation which I find lacking with the foot stool. And with the type of rest that I have I can change the height at which I have the guitar and the angle – this allows me to receive better feedback from the guitar, both aurally and also in terms of the vibrations felt from the instrument in my body. Being able to fine-tune the height and angle of the guitar also means I can achieve a much more ergonomic (i.e. better, more comfortable and healthy) playing position than can be afforded to me by a foot stool alone.

So in answer to the question, foot stool or rest, I’d say it’s really up to you, but think about what it is you want. If you want something that’s going to allow you to play comfortably for longer periods, and for a longer time overall, with fewer physical issues then I’d say give some serious consideration to a guitar rest.