Forging rock-solid guitar practice habits
Author: Bruno Gonçalves
Perhaps the most common struggle between my students is juggling guitar together with all other responsibilities of life: Work, family, kids, relationships, videogames and weekends. I say that because when you ask virtually anyone on the reasons why they didn’t practice or why they aren’t at the level they want to be (in guitar or anything, really), one word that surely will appear on the answer is time.
The idea of this article came out of a lesson that I particularly talked a lot about creating the ‘guitar habit’. This student told me that he always finds it is hard to have discipline and focus on his projects because he never had those things before… BUT he works out every day after work. So, yeah, he really got focus and discipline. What he need is to give guitar a bit of attention by making a routine shift so he can use those perks on guitar playing too.
It really doesn’t matter if you already have focus and/or discipline on one area of your life, or if you don’t. I’m going to show you 3 things that helped me to fix some habits and create brand new ones when I needed. So let’s get started!
FIRST THINGS FIRST
I guess this sounds familiar, but think about it: we have literally MILLIONS of things we could do with our time: house chores, watching TV, playing videogames, social media, YouTube, hanging out with friends, visiting family, making a trip… you name it. You can even spend hours researching things you aren’t going to buy! I know I did this a few times myself. Do you have enough time for all of this? Probably not.
Priority comes into play when you want to add a new habit or activity in your routine. You can either keep your 2 hour social media surfing at night, or you can decide to do it only after you cleared your priorities list (playing guitar, in this case).
I’m not saying you should quit doing the things you like or the things you are used to do, but you must clear some time to add new things. Otherwise your guitar will collect dust and rust, and someday you’ll think “why on Earth didn’t I practice guitar all these years back?”
Put guitar before other ‘relaxing’ activities, and soon you may even quit doing other things completely, changing your routine and habits even further.
I once read somewhere “When you schedule something, you make it real”. I don’t know if you have the habit of planning the next day before going to bed, but I strongly encourage you to try. It helps because you will know your free hours beforehand.
It will be even more effective and easy to build the habit if your free time is on the same period every day. Creating that ‘guitar time’ every day, in the same hours, helps the habit get stronger more quickly.
I used this tactic to finally build a habit of going to the gym twice a week (after years of failures of the ‘motivation’ approach) and to build back my guitar practice habits after a few weeks of “slacking” (well, I’m not perfect!). So, schedule it and make it happen.
MAKE SHORT-TERM GOALS AND HAVE FUN
You know that easy song, the one you really dig but never learned? Or what about that picking problem you know you have, but you don’t practice nor think about solutions? I bet you it would feel great to get those things out of your way and achieve a higher level on your guitar playing. Decide what you’re going to work on, turn off distractions and take regular breaks to increase effectiveness.
Guitar, and about every craft in life, is about learning to focus: Spend your time where it will matter most, or where it will bring you more happiness. That way you can ensure your practice will be time well spent, and the evolution will come. If you don’t do this, your practice will not improve anything or can even make some things worst.
Of course your life goal on guitar may not be learning a song that is easy for you, but we must take it slow and start small. Trying to hit the gym every single day since week 1 isn’t doable, but a lot of people still try it, feel discouraged and then quit. Be the turtle, not the rabbit!
WRAPPING IT UP
All that was discussed in this article can be used in other areas of life. It can help to improve time management or to create time out of activities that don’t do much for you, build new habits and adjust or replace current ones. Once the habit is established, you will deeply miss a day without guitar.
For me, when it’s night time and I’m about to go to bed, I feel like something was missing if I didn’t practice guitar that day (even if I spent hours teaching my guitar students). In those busy days, I usually just grab the electric guitar from the stand, play a few licks and exercises for a couple of minutes, then go to bed.
I strongly encourage you to give it a go as those tactics are simple to use and implement in your daily life. Plus, you’ll be surprised when you harness the power of consistency in the things that matter most for you.
About the author: Bruno Gonçalves is a full-time guitar teacher, pro musician and digital effects enthusiast from Ribeirão Preto, Brazil. To find out more about his work and read more articles, you can visit www.bgsmusical.com.br