Mistake #4: Trying to Cram Too Much Into One Practice Session

A jack-of-all-trades is master at none.

And a guitarist that tries to cover all his bases in a single practice session is doomed to failure.

This is something that took me many years to realize, but it is such an important aspect of the game of guitar practice. If you play a lot of exercises as part of your practice session, 80-90% of them are probably a waste of time.

This was such an important point that I’m going to repeat it.

Most exercises you play are a waste of time.

I’m sorry if I’m offending anybody here. Especially fans of the Giuliani 120 Right hand exercises (that can be boiled down to about 10 exercises and the rest are just fluff) or Shearer’s Left hand development exercises, of which there are hundreds but only about 7 are worth practicing at all.

Practice time is precious, and waste must be eliminated. Unless an exercise is a strategy in meeting one of your goals in the next 2 weeks, you should not practice it.

This is really an extension on the first couple of topics in this series. If you have developed a solid daily routine, clear outcomes and clear tasks to meet those outcomes, this will be indicated by the fact that you aren’t spending excessive time on a plethora of technical exercises, unless they are part of a (very brief) warm up routine.

But won’t my technique suffer?

I know what you are thinking:

But won’t my technique suffer if I don’t play 3 hours of scale patterns daily?”

A common fear, my friend. Here’s some points to consider in that regard:

  • There are ways around playing endless boring exercises. Make sure to include in your set list tunes or arrangements that work out multiple techniques at once, and play them as part of your ‘Review’ time you have allocated in your routine.
  • Use improvisation as a technique builder, not just a creative tool. Improvisation is a very good way to get your scale practice in but in a much more interesting way that doesn’t have that boring mindless feel to it.
  • Look for ways in which you can good a well balanced musical workout by actually playing music. There will be times when exercises are crucial in meeting one of your goals, but that doesn’t justify filling all of your practice routine up with them.

Don’t multitask!

In your practice session, just commit to improving ONE thing at a time, and this is what takes place in allocated ‘Main Project’ time. It makes sense, because in a 30 minute practice session, it is unrealistic to think that you can improve your improvising AND speed AND learn a new piece AND learn right hand harmonics. Even if you had 3 hours a day to play with you should be careful not to spread your mind too thin – think of poor Mr Subconscious from Chapter 1. You won’t overload him, will you? If you juggle too many balls ultimately some will start to get dropped…

I’m a big fan of the 80/20 rule. This idea has been garnering a lot of interest lately.This rule is an observation that there is a tendency in human endeavour and in nature for 80% of the results to come from 20% of the effort.

In relation to my own playing I started to just play a few pieces that I knew worked out most aspects of my guitar technique, and did this instead of worrying about the millions of scales and exercises that are usually prescribed. My technique did not suffer when I did this. It actually improved drastically.

Your Assignment:

Watch yourself next time you practice. Think to yourself: “Am I task switching too much?”, “Is this exercise I’ve been playing for the last 6 months really necessary?” “Am I focussing on just learning this ONE tune at a time or am I trying to learn three at once?”

The last point is a bit like trying to read 3 books at once – your mind isn’t really designed to do this sort of thing, and you will take longer to read all 3 books this way then to read just one at a time. Get to know one tune really well and you can then apply the deep knowledge you have gained to many others.

There is a couple of great books I can highly recommend on developing this sort of mindset that I would consider essential reading for anyone struggling with ‘task overload’:

Onwards and upwards, my friend. Well done for getting this far! The subject of the next installment is one that even non-musicians can spot easily. Talk soon!

~ Greg from FretDojo


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