Effective Practice

It is obvious that the more we practice, the better. But if we only have a finite amount of time to practice, then how can we best use that time? We are all busy. Adults' days are consumed working, and looking after families. It can be difficult to find the time practice our instrument. Children are no exception. Being a guitar teacher in Cornwall has opened my eyes to how active the children of our area are. They might have guitar lessons with myself one day, surf club the next, then horse riding, then the skate park, kick boxing classes, chess club, triathlon training, free running. The list goes on. The young guitarists of Cornwall really are a multi talented bunch. Most of the children I teach have busier schedules than I do. If you feel that you have limited time to practice there are a few things you can do to help put that time to its best use.

1. Practice what you don’t know

“If your practice sounds good, then you’re practicing the wrong thing.”

...was the favourite phrase of an old tutor of mine. What did he mean by this? Lets say you are learning a song. You have nailed one section (section A), but are struggling with another (section B). Most people would practice the whole song, starting from section A leading into section B. By doing this you are effectively wasting half your practice time. Start from the section or even specific bar which is causing you trouble. This way you could play that tricky part several more times over the same period of time. This doesn’t mean never play the things you are good at. A bit of self indulgent guitar playing is great in small doses to remind us why we love it. Just be sure to push yourself too.

2. Slow Down

If you can play it fast, but it's wrong, can you play it? There is no shame in playing something slowly. I find that the more experienced a guitar player is, the more inclined they are to play something at a snail's pace when first learning it. Conversely, beginners will do whatever it takes to play things quickly. This often means throwing technique out of the window. If you are attempting to play something new, ask yourself:

“Is there a speed slow enough that I can play this without making a mistake?”
If the answer is yes, then practice it at that speed. Doing this will help you play it correctly when you do increase the speed.

3. Give yourself a break

If you are really trying to make the most out of a small amount of time then you should be fully focused on your practice. This is not always easy. We are, after all, only human. Set a timer. Promise yourself that you will focus during this time, then reward yourself with short but frequent breaks. If I had one hour that I wanted to utilise effectively for practice, I would work with focus for 25 minutes, then take a five minute break. This cycle would then repeat to give me my full hour. This style of practice is really effective if you are preparing for an exam or grade, but it can be a tad too regimented for everyday practice. Even so, the concept of working hard but taking breaks is a good approach to take when trying to learn anything. If this approach interests you then research “The Pomodoro Technique” for more information.

4. Phones and practice do not mix

We have all been there. You’ve sat down to practice with good intentions. Your phone buzzes. You pick it up. Suddenly forty minutes have passed and you’re scrolling through instagram looking at some latte art. Effective practice is made much easier if you make a habit of leaving your phone out of sight and mind. It is obvious, but still so difficult. I personally have no self discipline when it comes to my phone. Sometimes my phone's weekly screen time report is a frightening sight to behold. Armed with this knowledge that I am a slave to my phone, I take precautions to avoid distraction. If I am going to make time in my day to practice guitar, then I am going to be sure that my phone will not be the cause of my distraction.
With all this said, any practice is better than no practice. Whether you are sweating over something challenging, or just sitting watching tele strumming chords that you have played 1000 times before, it can’t hurt. Never forget to enjoy yourself.