Practice, practice, practice.
For musicians, it’s been this way forever. That’s just what you do.
You play, all of the time. It sounds great, doesn’t it. Just to be able to focus on one thing, and magically all of the rest of life’s tasks and problems work themselves out.
One of the most common topics, in the emails I receive lately is about how does someone get good when they don’t have the time to spend practicing. .
While yes, having several hours to practice everyday would be great, it’s not realistic. So we have to really think about this. We have to get smarter to deal with the situation.
How can we get the benefits of practice without all of the hours?
The biggest hurdle I’ve found that holds students of the guitar back is memory.
Once you are up and running and figure out the basics of the guitar, a whole world of chord and scale patterns opens up to you. And being able to know the fretboard well, and recall these musical tools at a moments notice, mid-song, is a challenge.
It can be overwhelming and frustrating because of your desire to play that stuff now, when it’s not yet second nature to you.
Here is how I’m going to help you set up your own Ultimate guitar practice time:
How can we get most of the benefits from marathon sessions without much time spent?
The main part of committing these patterns and skills and sounds to long term memory is repetition. And when you practice for long hours, there is bound to be repetition. But, also with that, there is also bound to be a lot of other things using up your time that might not be as beneficial.
So focusing on the repetition of key skills, from day to day in a shorter practice routine, will give us a ton of the same results, even if it is for small periods of time.
That is awesome news for modern guitarists who are finding it harder and harder to actually spend time with their instrument.
So we need to talk about creating a good, shorter practice schedule.
But, how could I give everyone who listens to this show a custom practice routine? It’s impossible to do.
But, what I can do is give you the process that I would use to help you start an effective routine.
And, we will talk about how you can best go about this at home. I’ll go over some tips for you to fill out and guide your routine the smartest way possible. In, say ten minutes a day.
This is something that I have been really trying to implement in my life lately and I’ve found that it works great for many things, including learning the guitar.. Especially learning the guitar.
Something like the guitar, where there is so much noise, meaning so much to learn, so many opinions on how to do it, so many different avenues to take, so many different players to learn from, can really get a lot out of the Pareto Principle.
Another name for this principal is the 80/20 rule, and I first heard about it in a fantastic book called the “4 Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferris.
Instead of getting deep into this today, you can think of it in this way. It boils down to this….20 % of the work or activities are responsible for 80% of the results.
Think about this for a minute and see if you can find that in your own life. Have you ever worked very hard at something, with little to no results, and then someone gives you some small but valuable information and your job became instantly easier and whatever it was you needed to accomplish was done in not time at all?
It’s almost like you were working around the problem (the 80%) but when you focused on the right stuff (the 20%) everything became easier and more productive.
I find this in most things, and the trick is to find that 20%. Finding that is time well spent.
Take the time to figure out what it is that is going to get you farthest, fastest and ignore the rest.
We are going to avoid the rabbit holes. We will forget the things that take up the 80% of your time that give you only 20% of the results and focus on the opposite…
…The 20% of things that give you 80% of the results.
I find when you are starting something new ,like exercise for example, it’s best to start out small.
And thinking like that is great for this problem that a lot of guitarists are facing these days. Let set a limit on our practice to the smallest time that can still give you results. Lets try 10 minutes a day.
Do you have 10 minutes during the day that you could spend with the guitar. I know you are busy, but I’m sure that there is something you could reschedule or eliminate to clear 10 minutes.
So the 10 minutes a day I’ve found is usually a positive response. “OK, yeah I can do that.”
But the next part is the big thing. It’s what’s going to move us forward and it is where the big commitment happens. We are going to try to do this everyday. Yep, seven days a week.
When I bring that part up, i don’t usually get the positive response I wanted. Immediately, the gears start turning and I hear things like “ Well on Wednesdays I’ve got golf, and on Sundays I’m busy all day. Thursdays are out too.
Remember this is only 10 minutes. Ten minutes. You can do this. And a daily commitment of 10 minutes is extremely doable.
OK, lets start to tackle the next question that usually pops up.
“Well, I don’t know what to practice.” I just want to sound like “so and so”. I just want to be able to play this song. I don’t know the steps to take to get there. “
Learning the guitar, and being able to play songs is like building a house. Once you have the foundation, everything builds upon that. Everything becomes easier when you have the core knowledge and skills.
So many have tried to learn advanced songs way before they were ready. So, using Pareto’s Principle, we need to know what these foundational skills are first. We need to spend intense focus and repetition on the primary skills of a guitarist.
Have you ever seen someone just start playing a song that they just heard. It make them seem so talented to the point that it seems like magic that they could play like that.
It wasn’t magic. That person had their foundational skills down so well that they could hear them being used in a new song. And when they could recognize them by ear, they could quickly assemble their own skills to resemble what they are hearing.
What we need to spend some time figuring out what these skills are and get an honest idea of our own playing.
So first what are some common elements of a practice schedule. Here is the list of common elements I’ve found that make up a successful practice routine:
There it is! The main focus of a good practice. Now, depending on what stage of guitar you are at, you may or may not be hitting all of these. But using this list as a guide we are going to take a hard look at our playing and what we are trying to accomplish.
Not knowing what you are good at and what you need to work on, it’s difficult for me to Tell you exactly how to practice.
But let’s try to get some answers so that you can have a realistic idea of where you are on the guitar and what you need to work on.
First, make a quick list of the things that you know that you are struggling with. Don’t put a lot of thought into it. Just jot down the things that you have tried that you were sure needed more work.
Next, take a few videos of your next practice to be able to see and hear how your practice is going. A lot of the time when we practice, we are so focused on what the exercise is on hand that it’s easy to miss some things. Being able to sit back and critique our own playing is priceless. I’m sure that if you try this, you will find some things about your playing you missed that could use . some work.
Finally, if you have access to a guitarist who you trust to give you an honest answer, ask them what they think you do well on the guitar and what are the things that you need to work on. I know this sounds scary, but this information is gold. Really narrowing down the fundamentals that could be lacking in your playing, can pinpoint the exact things that are holding you back from playing the way you want to play. This isn’t something that you need to feel down about. Everyone, I mean everyone who plays guitar has something that they could do better. The fact that you care enough to hear something like this, puts you in a very small percentage of players. And is a very telling sign that you are about to start moving on fast forward.
OK, now that you have a list of several things that are worth your time to concentrate on, let’s flip the coin. Let’s talk about the things that you are going to let go.
The things that are limiting to you on the guitar
Using the 80/20 rule so far has helped us find the good stuff. We know the things that make up a good practice and we have researched what it is that will fill in the cracks in our playing.
But now, let’s cut some fat. Let’s start decluttering our mind and our time on the guitar.
First, let’s talk about mindset. Mindset is something that I have talked about many times and I even dedicated a whole episode to back in July. Once we lose our confidence or follow some distracting thoughts, it can be very hard to get back on track. When you deal with practice, and you are working on things that don’t sound so good… yet, it’s easy to feel down about yourself.
Especially when you can go on YouTube or Instagram and see players showing off their best. If you notice, not many people share the beginning stages of learning something new. They wait until they have everything just perfect before hitting upload. And that gives a very distorted impression of reality. To you It feels like everyone has everything so together and all you are doing is struggling.
Ignore it! Just ignore how other players and friends are doing on the guitar. It provides no use to you at all. Even if you watch just as an incentive for you to play better, you still need to be very careful.
Comparing yourself to others is counterproductive at this point. It will only sidetrack you.
You are the focus and being honest with yourself as to what you do well, and what you need to work on, is the key to getting better as fast as possible.
Another thing that I want to mention is unfocused practice… or in other words: just jamming. Just sitting there noodling around on the guitar. It’s fun. It’s relaxing. You can come up with some good ideas this way, and I feel it is an important part of playing guitar.
But… if jamming is all you do, you are on the very slow path toward success. The point of jamming is a whole different mindset. You are using the things that you already know to sound as good as you possibly can.
Jamming is just a part of the picture. It’s a part that can really eat up a lot of very critical time that may be better spent somewhere else. Which is working to master the things that will give you the most results in the shortest amount of time.
That’s a great start, but it’s time for action. Let’s start our plan. Let’s plan this coming week in advance. You are going to have to make some decisions.
First lets pick our format.
There are many different ways to design a practice schedule. But, today we are limiting our time to 10 minutes and gearing it toward as much repetition as possible.
I would like for you to think of your practice time as split into two main areas.
The first part is for skills and techniques that aren’t there yet. We’ll call this practice.
The second part is for playing the things that you already enjoy playing. We’ll call this playing.
One sounds pretty rough and the other should sound good. They are both equally important!
For example, if you are great at pentatonic scales, that’s awesome, keep it up! Just realize that now that you have a handle on them, they now are put in a different category. They aren’t in the practice category, they have moved to the playing category.
The playing category is super important! My great friend and one time student of mine, John, once said about scale patterns, “if you don’t keep with them, they will forget you.” It’s not just enough to learn a difficult skill once and never revisit it again. These things require time with them to really master them fully.
So now that we have or two sections, one on fundamental work, and one on maintenance of what we have already learned, let’s map out the week.
Let split this into two five minute sections and arrange them with practice first and playing last.
Find the area that you feel you need the most work on and do some research. Look up different exercises or methods that relate to your problem. You could find videos about it or buy a method book that looks good to you. It just need to laser focus the skill you want to work on.
For example: If you are struggling with hand eye coordination or syncing of the left and right hands, you might find a series of technique exercises from a book or on the web. Choose a different one for each day of the week and write them down on your calendar.
And, next to each of your entries, now write down something from your playing list. It would be something that you may have worked on before that was challenging, but you need to keep up. It could be a song that you worked on, or improv over a blues progression.
Fill up each day of the week on your calendar and see how it goes for one week.
I want to stress something very important here. You have just made a lot of great decisions. Decisions that are going to start moving you forward right away.
Be proud, but not too proud. The goal here is to be disciplined but still flexible.
At the end of each week, think back to your practice sessions and be objective. Think about what worked and what didn’t.
Think about if you had enough time to move on, or if you still need more time to work on your practice.
I want you to be bold and expect results, but If you aren’t getting them, don’t be afraid to call an audible and do some experimenting. Just decide this is going to happen – but it might take a few adjustments along the way.
So here is what we did today:
I hope this look into how I help students make the most of their limited time with the guitar has helped you and sparked some ideas as to how you can get your own practicing super effective.
My challenge this week is an easy one. Put this into practice for just one week.
Just one, and see how you feel at the end of the week. Do you have more clarity about your playing?
Can you start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I hope you do and please let us know right here in the show notes below!