What do you think is the single most important thing you can do that will help you become a better guitar player?
Laying out the money to buy a quality instrument?
Listening to inspiring guitar music?
Finding a great teacher?
Nope. The biggest factor in your quest to become the best guitar player you can be is how effective your practice times are!
This article is Part 2 in a 2-part series on some things that can make your practice times stink, and what you can do about it. Click here to go back and read Part 1.
6) Practicing Stinks When You Get Bored
The two biggest things that make people want to quit playing the guitar are feeling overwhelmed and feeling bored. Playing should be fun, and if it stops being fun, it gets harder to make your practice times count. The first 4 things I talked about should help you keep from feeling overwhelmed with too much stuff to practice and not enough time to do it in. But what about boredom?
That’s an easy one to fix. Just don’t do boring things! If something you’re trying to learn is boring you, mix things up a little bit. Do the boring exercise for a shorter period of time and put something more interesting before and after it. You can also change the boring exercise up and make it more fun. You could even get someone to buddy up with when you practice, so you don’t feel so bored. Practicing guitar is a lot like working out at the gym…having someone practicing with you can make the less interesting things easier to do (or at least make them seem to go by quicker).
I can remember lots of times when I got bored trying to practice. I hated that! Again, having a great teacher can help you with this. Just talk to them about it and ask for some ideas about what you can do to keep your practice times interesting and relevant. You’d be surprised to know how many different kinds of things you can to do breathe life back into a boring practice schedule.
7) Practicing Stinks When You Aren’t Focused
It’s hard to do anything when you aren’t focused. Distractions can kill your practices as fast as anything else. I used to sit down in front of the TV when I was practicing, thinking that it would help me not to get bored. That was dumb, because all it really did was keep me from focusing my undivided attention on what I was trying to learn. Sure the time went by faster, but I didn’t really accomplish much.
Let’s go back to the illustration of having an appointment with the President. For a meeting with someone like that, you would move heaven and earth to make sure nothing else would interfere with that designated time. You would turn off your cell phone. You would shut the door. You would go to the bathroom before your appointment. You would make sure nothing was distracting you during that conversation. Why shouldn’t you treat your guitar playing with the same respect? Eliminate anything that might distract you while you practice.
Another aspect of focusing is to concentrate on the things you really want to learn…the things that will bring you the most benefit for the least amount of effort. You may have already figured this out, but playing around on your guitar is NOT the same thing as actually practicing. Noodling around with the chords from “Freebird” for an hour won’t produce the same results for you that doing ear training drills for the same amount of time will. Remember that for your practice times to accomplish what you want them to, you need to spend that time working on things you don’t already know how to do.
8 ) Practicing Stinks When You’re Too Sloppy
OK, lets be honest here. What’s the point of spending hours practicing your guitar technique if you play everything sloppy the whole time? I’ve heard this referred to as “pursuing the illusion of speed at the cost of accuracy”. In other words, if you can’t play fast AND clean, then you can’t really play fast at all. I used to do this all the time…no wonder my practice times, and my playing in general, were bad!
Again, this is something pretty easy to fix…just go out and get yourself a metronome! If your timing and sense of rhythm is sloppy, nothing else will get you synced up quicker than practicing to a click. I always tell my students that they’ll develop a love/hate relationship with their metronome. At first, you hate it because it shows you how bad a guitar player you really are! You really have to force yourself to lock into the click, and it’s hard for most people at first. But then you start to love it, because it becomes like your coach after a while. It keeps you on tempo and right in the groove. Your timing and sense of rhythm start to improve, because the “almighty click” never cuts you any slack.
There are lots of training systems available out there that teach you how to play faster; the main idea is that you have to start out by playing everything SLOWLY. Practicing slowly and cleanly, gradually increasing your speed over time, will enable you to eventually play fast and flawlessly. This is working for me…I just had to be patient and discipline myself to play everything correctly. I’m sure you can get good results by doing this, too.
9) Practicing Stinks When You Don’t Think Positive
There are lots of psychological aspects to learning the guitar that most people don’t realize. I would always start to get frustrated and discouraged after a while when I was trying to learn something new. I would catch myself thinking things like “Man, I’m terrible at the guitar. I just don’t have what it takes to be a great player. I can’t master anything on this instrument!”, and other things like that. Notice all the negativity in those sentences. I finally learned (years later) that I was shooting myself in the foot.
The truth is, if you think you can do something, you really can do it. It may not always be easy, but it’s certainly always possible. The opposite is also true: if you think you can’t do something, then you never will. You won’t even attempt it. I read a great book once called “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. His basic point was that habits come from actions…actions come from beliefs…and beliefs come from thoughts. I started making a lot more progress on the guitar when I started to reject all that negative thinking and made an effort to believe better about myself. You could do the exact same thing…it all comes down to making a choice.
So, the bottom line is that if you think your practices will stink, they most certainly will. Why not choose to think better of yourself? What you think and believe will always appear in your life…and in your guitar playing, too.
10) Practicing Stinks When You Don’t Celebrate Your Victories
OK…one last thought about keeping your practice times moving in the right direction. This one is my favorite! You need to celebrate your victories once in a while. When you reach a milestone, accomplish one of your goals or learn something new, you should stop for a minute and enjoy it. Call someone you know and tell them about it. Pat yourself on the back. Buy yourself a treat. Whatever “celebrate” means to you, take a minute and do it. Reward yourself for all the hard work you put in to accomplish that goal.
Learning how to play the guitar is NOT easy…it takes a tremendous amount of work, dedication, perseverance, study and the ability to WAIT for gratification. Just don’t make yourself wait too long…when you accomplish something, take a minute to stop and relish the achievement. No one else will ever really understand and appreciate how much hard work you put into developing your playing…so be your own cheerleader, and pause for a moment to enjoy the results of all your labor.
While you’re working hard, always remember that playing the guitar is supposed to be fun! There are a bunch of things that can steal the joy of playing from you, but this is one way to protect your motivation and enthusiasm. Always celebrate your victories!
Well, that brings us to the end of my list. There are a bunch of other aspects to effective practicing that I didn’t mention here, but these 10 things have been the most beneficial for me. Remember that practicing doesn’t have to stink! It can become the highlight of your day, if you structure it right, stay organized and focused, and make sure you make measurable progress every day.
More Experiences With Practicing
What have been some of your biggest challenges and frustrations with practicing the guitar? Share your experiences in the comments below!