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Practice makes perfect!
I think anyone can agree on that.
But how do we manage to take our daily dose of practice?
Make it obvious – Generate attention for your goals
When I worked as a teacher, some of my students stuffed their guitars back into their cases after lessons and then hid those under their beds or inside their closets.
Guess how much they practiced between lessons and how much progress they made over time.
Not so much.
The saying “Out of sight, out of mind” seems to be accurate.
What can we do about it?
You can remedy this by setting up your guitar on a guitar stand in the living room or your study. Next to your telly for example.
Like a fruit bowl on the table, you just grab some fruits when you walk past.
This is also called “Environment Design”
Another enemy of reaching your goals are Netflix, WOW, Smartphones in general and especially Social Media.
They keep your attention away from reaching your goal of mastering an instrument.
So it can be a good thing to go offline for a couple of hours each day. Or to set up some time limits for the most distracting apps like Candy Crush.
Plan fixed times
Humans are creatures of habits. Playing the guitar must become as natural as brushing your teeth.
You can make it a ritual to strum five minutes right after you get up or five minutes before you go to bed. As long as it is always the same time and the same place.
Beginners in particular feel overwhelmed by the endless variety of the material out there.
There are so many decisions to make:
- Which chords do I have to learn?
- Which techniques to I have to master?
- Which songs and riffs should I know by heart?
Above all: what should I learn and in what sequence?
Since learning is not a linear process, every learner has different motivations. Every brain also works differently due to prior knowledge, divergent or convergent thinking.
So in general most of these questions will only be answered by gut feeling.
But: One technique that helped me against the feeling of being lost is what I call the talisman principle.
How does it work?
The musical talisman is what the rosary is to the good Catholic: something that I keep coming back to, that I have mastered inside out and that helps me through difficult hours.
For me it has been the A minor pentatonic in the fifth position for years.
Nowadays I try to avoid the pentatonic as much as possible, so I substituted it with some warmup exercises. Currently these are the exercises from Speed Mechanics for Lead Guitar by Troy Stetina
I start every study / practice / creative session with one of these talismans.
It’s like a hiking trail that I’ve walked 100 times and from which I break new ground.
My safe home port, so to speak. It is always at the start of a journey and I return to it every time a storm of uncertainty approaches.
It is important to choose a talisman in such a way that it does justice to your own level of development. It mustn’t be too easy and not to hard.
When I am creative, I build myself new fragments that resemble my talisman and can use other creative techniques such as the head-tail method to assemble them into more complex structures.
When learning new pieces, I first look for the parts that resemble my talisman (e.g. in a solo the part that uses the minor pentatonic scale) and try to perfect the parts independently of the rest.
You can compare that to translating a text. I don’t start at the first word and look up the meaning, but first look for words that I already know.
This will reduce your uncertainty and increase your motivation to tackle the learning project.
There is already something in every new piece that you can already do. Look out for it!
You can set an alarm on your smartphone which reminds you of your practice time. And there are also apps that can help you with your habits.
One of my favorite apps is Coach.me
It lets you set goals such as “play guitar five days a week”.
It reminds you daily and you then just tick off the task after you’ve practiced.
So you can keep track of whether you have achieved your weekly goals.