OK, you’ve learned a few basic things on the guitar now. Hopefully you feel flush with success and ready to commit to a practice schedule that will carry you through the rest of this course. I estimate it’ll take between 15 and 40 hours of practice to complete this course successfully. If you’ve got a busy life, and most people do, you’ll need a practice schedule to help you carve out that time.
And before we do it, I just want to point out a problem I’ve noticed in a lot of my students about their attitude towards practice. One of the reasons I think a lot of people are attracted to guitar--as opposed to the piano or violin for example--is that it’s perceived as an instrument for more laid-back people. There are these stereotypes out there, of the taskmaster piano teacher rapping the poor kid’s knuckles when they hit a wrong note, and the concert violinist whose parents sent them to Vienna to train when they were ten years old. Guitarists, on the other hand, are thought of as more relaxed, and more counter-culture--and this is the point I’m getting at--they’re people who typically prefer to avoid things like have practice schedules. And I think I tend to attract students like this, because I’m in a lot of ways a fairly laid-back, accommodating teacher.
The problem is, in order to get good any instrument, it takes many, many hours of practice. Whether you’re Hendrix or Mozart, you’ve got to log the hours drilling muscle memory. Malcolm Gladwell, who came up with the theory that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, likes to talk about the Beatles gigged non-stop in Hamburg for several years before taking America by a storm. People tend to think of them simply as prodigies, without considering that the time they logged.
Now, I don’t expect that everyone taking this course wants to be the next Paul McCartney, but just getting your feet wet learning the material is going to take hours of practice, probably somewhere between 15 and 40 hours depending on your natural abilities and prior musical education, and because most of us have very busy lives, the easiest way to make room is to stick to a practice schedule.
Here are some principles that will guide us in setting up a schedule:
Spreading out your practice time gets quicker results than cramming into one long session.
This is because your brain is only primed to learn for a relatively brief period, and then it starts to lose focus. I recommend practicing five days a week, even if that means only doing it for 10 or 15 minutes a day. You’ll learn a lot more than if you cram, because you’ll be maximizing the time your mind is focused and ready to learn.
Habits are easier to learn if they’re paired with other habits.
Habits can be hard to develop, but they’re a lot easier if you just staple them to another habit. Find something you do every day, or at least Monday through Friday, at around the same time of day, and then stick your practice session on either end of that activity. Practice before or after breakfast or dinner, right before your shower, whatever makes sense to you.
Always have a goal in mind
That 10,000 hour rule I mentioned has gotten some flak because its focus is on quantity, not quality. If you practice mindlessly, you’re not going to improve. A simple way to encourage mindful practice is to always start your session by defining a specific, measurable goal or goals, where the quality of your results is the focus. Something like…
Get each string of my E chord to ring clearly.
It’s specific, it’s measurable--meaning it’s easy to prove you’ve accomplished it (it’s obvious whether a string is ringing clearly right)--and the focus is on that E chord sounding good, not on the amount of time you spent or the repetitions you did.
A bad goal would be more like…
Practice for 30 minutes.
This is too general, and not focused on becoming a better musician. What are you going to practice? And how are you going to know you improved?
So here’s my advice. If you can, carve out somewhere between 15 minutes to 1 hour a day, Monday through Friday. Try to practice at around the same time every day, either before or after something else you do regularly. You’ll spend that time either watching videos in this course or practicing on your own. To track your progress, I recommend you keep a log. I’ve created a template that I’ve used with my students that you can download on this page, along with a sample to show you how to fill it out.
I’m a big fan of Stephen Covey, the guy who wrote 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He teaches that in order to form a habit, you need knowledge--which is knowing what to do, skill--which is knowing how to do it, and desire--which is “want” to do. I see myself as responsible for those first two things. I do my best in this course to show you what you should be practicing, and how to practice it. I also am partially responsible in creating the desire within you, by choosing good music and doing my best to get you stoked to learn it.
But it’s ultimately up to you to stoke your own desire. You need to keep yourself hungry to become a better guitarist. How do you do that? Listen to the music you love, and watch videos of your favorite musicians, and think of how wonderful it will be when you can play like that. Daydream about what you’d like to do with your guitar skills--play in a band, record original music, serenade your sweetheart--and then keep that dream in mind as you spend the hours it takes to bring this thing under your control. The hours are long, and the fingers get sore. You gotta want it bad.
How's it going?
Are you loving the lesson? Confused? Have a suggestion? I'd love to hear from you.