The attitude with which you approach practicing can often affect just how effective your practicing is likely to be. Tom Hess explores these attitudes and gives some recommendations that will hopefully make your practice time both enjoyable and productive.Do you struggle with not having enough time to practice guitar? Are you unsure about what things to practice within this very limited amount of time?
While it may be rather difficult to increase the total time you have available to practice guitar, it is very possible to maximize the results you get from the practice time you do have available. Here is what you need to do to get maximum results…
To get any significant results in your guitar playing, you need to focus on two essential elements: the efficiency of your practice, and its effectiveness. Being efficient means being skillful in avoiding wasted time and effort. Being effective means having the ability to achieve the desired result.
Imagine that you are trying to dig a swimming pool by using a teaspoon. Sure, you are being effective (the pool is getting dug), but it is going to take you years working at this rate to complete the job, because you are working with very low efficiency. A much better approach, one that will help you avoid wasted time and effort, would be to use a powerful excavator to do the same task in minutes!
In order to become truly great guitar player in a minimum amount of time, you should strive to maximize both efficiency and effectiveness, as they are equally important. However, the focus of this particular article will be entirely on efficiency, and I will discuss effectiveness in a future article.
I want to share with you three powerful ideas and practice strategies that can be used to maximize results from your practicing by increasing efficiency. They can and should be applied regardless of how much time you have to practice, and especially when time is limited.
Many guitar players become discouraged if they cannot find a large enough block of time (for instance, an hour or more each day) to practice. I often receive questions from students such as: “Tom, I only have twenty minutes to dedicate to practicing guitar each day, and I want to make the most progress possible. What should I be doing?”
In this case, I suggest to practice something which has a high level of “transferability”. A skill is “transferable”, if working on it will simultaneously make you better in other elements of guitar playing. Examples of transferability include, but are not limited to: left hand technique, right hand technique, two-hand synchronization, shifting from string to string, muting string noise, fretboard awareness, improvisation. If what you are working on helps more than one of these elements at the same time, then you are practicing something that has some degree of transferability.
There are two primary factors which determine the transferability rate. The first factor is the number of other areas which are benefited. The second factor is how strong that benefit is.
One example of a technique with high transferability is string skipping. It involves the technique on both hands, challenges your two-hand synchronization, and forces you to focus on muting unwanted string noise. This is a good technique to work on because its benefits directly “transfer” to other elements of guitar playing.
Legato technique, on the other hand, has a much lower degree of transferability. It mainly focuses only on left hand technique (and some elements of muting string noise as well). So when time is limited, working on legato playing is probably not going to bring you as much benefit compared to practicing string skipping.
By investing your practice time among high transferability items, you will get a lot more from your practicing. I want you to become aware of this idea and think about it as you are selecting the most important items to work on when your practice time is very limited.
To help you fully understand and apply the transferability concept into your guitar practicing, I have created a short (and free) guitar practice video.
Teaching my philosophy of transferability has been a key factor in the great success I have had with training many of my students to become great guitarists in a short amount of time.
2. Blueprint to Success
Another way to dramatically improve your efficiency is to use a practice schedule that is targeted and relevant to your goals. Think of a practice schedule as a blueprint to your success. If you have been stuck at the same level for months or years, if you have the desire to move past your current plateau, and if you have limited time to practice, consider creating a schedule. It will keep you focused on what you need to do, and will help you to become more organized and not waste time when practicing.
This schedule must be specific to your musical goals and yet flexible enough to adjust to your progress and any possible changes in your musical ambitions. If you are struggling with creating an efficient practice schedule on your own, you can find help here, and you can also find many good discussions of practice schedules right here at Guitar Noise, such as this article (A Question of Balance).
3. Divide and Conquer
Another piece of advice that I want to give to you is to become more specific about isolating your technical challenges. This will allow you to get to the core of your playing problem(s) and avoid wasting precious time practicing the parts of the music you can already play well.
For example, when you practice an ascending scale sequence like this one,
you may have trouble with fretting hand accuracy every time you have to shift from string 5 to string 4. Here is where the practice efficiency breaks down for most players. They will attempt to practice this entire sequence over and over, trying to iron out the difficulty. Even though you will still be practicing the hard part of the sequence when you do this, your efficiency will be greatly compromised for the following reasons:
- The number of times per minute that you can play your specific problem area will be a lot less, simply because you are also playing additional notes.
- Your attention will not be fully engaged on the problem at hand because you will have to think about playing additional parts of the phrase. This means that your hands will need to play your specific challenge even more times before you can overcome it.
This is similar to the example of digging a swimming pool with a teaspoon, and obviously this is highly inefficient.
If instead you took the time to define the problem (such as the shift between the two strings and the transition from using your fourth finger to using the first finger), and focused on practicing that section only without playing the rest of the phrase, you will practice the problem area many more times per minute! This is something you should do regardless of how much practice time you have, and especially in situations when time is limited.
After you have practiced the problem in isolation, you should put it back into the context of the whole sequence, and practice everything together to see how well it holds up. But working on the problem in isolation (dividing and conquering it!) should be the first step.
Think about each of these three practice tools. If you were already familiar with them, have you been applying them every day? Obviously, if you have already been using these concepts and are seeing good results, then continue doing what you were doing! However, if you are not yet applying these ideas, and/or are not progressing at the rate you would like, then you should think hard about how you can implement these tools to improve the efficiency of your practice. If you are still stuck after trying to apply them on your own, ask someone for help!
If you follow the advice given in this article, you will soon find yourself making more progress in thirty minutes than most people can achieve in two hours of practicing!
Learn more about efficient guitar practicing by watching this free guitar practice video.
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