Practicing how to practice is actually a topic that does not get much attention in GUITARLANDIA. In fact, most often it’s as simple as “Just go home and work on that…!” or “Do 30 minutes every day”. But these comments alone are very loaded and can mean different things to different people. In fact, practicing how to practice guitar should be just as important as practicing other areas of learning guitar like RHYTHM or learning the FRETBOARD. Still, there’s definitely more to effective practice than meets the ear…and the most important feature of effective practice is frequency of practice…in more ways than you might think!
Frequency of Practice
There are many approaches to practicing effectively but let’s look at, what I would consider, the most important approach…How FREQUENCY of practice will affect your results both good and bad.
To me, there is way too much emphasis on the AMOUNT of time one spends on practice (as opposed to the QUALITY of time). It’s the “Get your 30 minutes of daily practice in” syndrome. And for most students, they interpret this as 30 minutes of continuous practice.
But 30 minutes of CONTINUOUS work on the guitar, especially for beginner & Intermediate level players will usually mean:
Maybe 10 – 15 minutes of focused study followed by 15 – 20 minutes of, let’s call it, mindless presence (or boredom if you will).
And the result of this experience of practice is psychologically, your mind will focus on the last experience you had once your 30 minutes is done – boredom. Likely, you will leave that practice session feeling beaten down and not the least motivated to do it all again tomorrow.
The frequency of your practice (you do ONE 30 minute practice session a day) as well as the quality of that 30 minutes (you do 10 minutes of quality practice with a fresh mind and the rest of the time you’re noodling old familiar material to stem off boredom) will tend to dictate your frustrating results. This very common experience with practicing is what I call RED PRACTICE.
Why call it RED?
Let me digress with a bit of physical science…so stay with me!
Humans can’t see most of the electromagnetic spectrum. But the part that they can see basically spans the colors of a rainbow.
The RED end of the electromagnetic spectrum is a LOW FREQUENCY, LOW ENERGY ( large wavelength) region.
Metaphorically, we can interpret this LOW FREQUENCY with LOW AMOUNT OF ACTUAL PRACTICE TIME, LOW ENERGY, LOW CREATIVITY, LOW MOTIVATION.
The point is that:
Practice that leaves you uninspired to do it again, I consider RED practice.
Most students do RED practice because they are trying to accomplish the mythical 30 minute practice session (or some other amount of time they consider a virtuous practice) regardless of how effective or not the session is…it’s about putting in the time for these students.
But most of that session will be spent in low frequency energy, creativity and motivation. Basically, it’s just boredom and frustration.
Pretty low quality practice if you ask me!
The (more effective) alternative I call BLUE PRACTICE.
As you might have guessed, the BLUE end of the colour spectrum is a HIGH FREQUENCY, HIGH ENERGY (Short wavelength) region.
Again, metaphorically, we can interpret this HIGH FREQUENCY with a HIGH AMOUNT OF ACTUAL PRACTICE TIME, HIGH ENERGY, HIGH CREATIVITY and HIGH MOTIVATION.
How is this possible?
A practice session that is maybe 5 – 15 minutes TOTAL ( but repeated 2, 3 or 4 times a day) is way more productive than one continuous 30 minute session. Turns out that your brain needs short but repeated high quality experiences in order to develop a skill.
The short practice session (5 – 15 minutes) ensures that you can focus 100% (or pretty darn close!) without the frustration of boredom creeping in.
The repetition throughout the day (as possible as you can afford), enables more exposure to the thing you are trying to get better at…guitar for us!
You will most likely find that you can finish each session on a high note…more energy, more creative, more motivated and, of course you are repeating the exposure to the practice at a HIGHER FREQUENCY (repeating it more often) which your brain needs for effective practice.
This is BLUE practice. And it’s very good juice for motivation.
Here’s a short TED ed video that reveals this in more detail (Pay attention at 2:35 into the video):
What to Do Next…
Here are the main points from the video:
- Focus on the task at hand.
- Eliminate possible distraction (Electronic devices in particular).
- Start practice slowly (in slow motion) – this one is very hard for many people. Quality repetitions done slowly will lead to faster repetitions done properly.
- Frequent repetitions & breaks.
- Try to practice (visualize) the task in your brain (no guitar in hand) – it really does work but the visualization needs to be as vivid as you can muster.
So, strive to experience BLUE practice using short practice session (usually no more that 15 minutes) but repeat this process 3- 4 times a day : HIGH FREQUENCY.
Keep it slow unit you are confident that you have all the necessary motions correctly played (and these are usually small portions of a tune you may be working on).
If you are frustrated and upset while you are practicing, usually you’ve been at it too long and you’re getting tired (LOW ENERGY/QUALITY). Just stop the session, maybe take a walk but return to it before the day is out when you are more energized (HIGH ENERGY/HIGH QUALITY.
Strive to say “Overall, today I managed some quality practice/results despite a few set backs”.
Strive to say “I repeated my practice a lot today” (HIGH FREQUENCY).