If you want to learn how to play guitar effectively you must learn how to practice properly to both make good use your time and to keep from getting discouraged.
In this series Guitar Practice Tips I answer many of the questions that have been asked or should be asked about practicing by students that are progressing on the path to guitar awesomeness.
A question I often get asked is "how do I know when it's time to move on when practicing a particular exercise or technique?"
In this video I'll explain the two most common pitfalls that guitar students run into when dealing with this issue and how to slide over them like butter on a hot skillet (okay… I’m a guitar player, not a writer).
Modern Attention Deficit Approach To Guitar Practice
The 1st stumbling block I call the Attention Deficit approach. This has no relationship to a clinically diagnosed disorder call Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHA). I’m talking about a common tendency we all have to deal with.
In our society we have been brought up to expect fairly immediate gratification. We are bombarded constantly with advertisements promising quick and easy. Get instant friends and sex appeal just by purchasing a six pack of Bud Light (okay… it might take a 12 pack). Everything we could possibly want in life if I just had the right automobile… and I can get it for easy lease payment of $199 a month.
Now I'm not knocking quick and easy. In fact I'm all for quick and easy… When it's appropriate. The truth is that sometimes quick and easy just doesn't work. Trying to make it work in these situations can lead to frustration and giving up.
When learning guitar it’s important to practice the material long enough to make sufficient progress before moving on to the next. If you're anything like me and you practice something a few times, feel bored, and want to move onto the next thing… guess what? Your normal. Of course that's assuming that I'm fairly normal.
Practice Makes Perfect Approach
But now let me talk about an issue that's just as debilitating. I call this one the Perfectionist Approach. You guessed it. That's trying to get something just right or perfect before you move on.
I'm not exactly sure where this tendency comes from but I've seen it often enough.
It's not effective to get each exercise perfect before moving on. First of all you probably will never get it perfect. I still play some exercises that I started practicing 20 years ago. To me they’re still not perfect... of course my standards have risen since then and will probably continue to rise.
Understand that some of the improvement will come over time even after you've moved on to the next exercise. The key is to find a healthy balance. That means making good judgments about when to move on to the next exercise... combining that with going back and reviewing from time to time.
The 80% Rule Of Guitar Practice
I use what I call “the 80% Rule” to decide when it's time to move on. What that means is when I decide I've gotten about 80% of the way to where I want the exercise to be then it’s time to move on. Now this is a judgment call and there is no being perfect about it. In fact I often tell students to think about somewhere between 70% and 80% so they don't get hung up on an exact number.
But I have found that most people can make a reasonably good judgment and it gets better over time. The important thing is that the idea helps you push past that feeling of wanting to move on before it's the right time. At the same time the idea of 80% defeats the tendency to work towards perfection.
Review As A Key Learning Strategy
Part of what makes this work is building into your practice schedule a review session from time to time. It's still often amazing to me that when I go back to review I find that some of the techniques and exercises have gotten better even though I haven't practiced them for 3 or 4 weeks.
There's no exact interval but I recommend going back and reviewing about every 4 weeks. This gives you a chance to see your progress over time and to make more decisions about what you want to practice for the next 4 weeks.
If you’re working on something more complex you might want to spread it out a little longer to possibly 6 or even 8 weeks before reviewing. At the same time if you're working on lots of simpler things that you can make progress on fairly quickly you might review even every couple of weeks.