The best way to get good at playing guitar is to practice. Makes sense, doesn't it? Most people get that. Many budding guitar players also realize that’s it’s important to make some effort to figure out the best ways to practice. It makes sense to try to get the most progress out of the practice time you spent. However I find less people spend time figuring out the best ways to get themselves to practice. It’s generally assumed that it’s a matter or “will power” or “making time”.
I Can Hear You Say “I can practice anywhere”.
Of course you can… and you should. While that's true there is a strong emotional element underneath our day-to-day consciousness that has a strong influence on what we do and don't do. Don’t underestimate the value of having a dedicated space that you can go to where everything is working for you physically, mentally and emotionally. Sticking to a practice schedule can be difficult at times. I personally need every edge I can get, and so do you.
First I’ll talk about what is ideal and what has worked for me. You’ll want to choose and experiment to find out what works best for you.
Privacy Is Cool
I like a space that is private. Not so much because I don’t want to be disturbed, but more so I don’t worry I’m bothering other people. If I’m thinking that I’m annoying my spouse with the ten thousand rendition of the chromatic scale it’s just enough to stop before I’m really done. I don’t need complete sound isolation. Just some place where the sound won’t be in someone’s face.
Comfort Is Awesome
I also make sure I’ve got a good, comfortable seat with back support. I learned this the hard way after practicing with bad posture for years. I got by with it for a long time but it eventually caught up with me. I know now to set it up to minimize back fatigue. I’ll practice longer and feel happier about it. Happy is good. Pain is not. Got it?
Guitar Learning Tools
Now that I talked about the basic environment it’s time for some refinements. Think “what will I need so I don’t have to set it up from scratch every time?” For me it’s a metronome, a guitar tuner, a footstool (good for the back), a guitar stand and a music stand. The basics. These are all pretty obvious tools for practicing and I keep them ready to go where I need them.
Now here’s a few things that I use and recommend that might not be so obvious.
Write It Down
I want a notebook open and ready, along with a pen. Why do I need a notebook for practicing? You might think that I’m writing notes on what to practice and keeping track of my progress.
You would be right!
There’s also another reason. Over the years I’ve found that I often get “ideas” while I’m practicing scales and exercises. I’m talking about ideas like “I have to pick up my laundry today”, “what are the notes in that new scale?”, “did I answer my sisters email?”, “I should write a blog post on how to set up a guitar practice space”, etc. Many of these ideas seem like they need immediate action. Sometimes I’m just worried I’ll forget.
In the past I would either stop practicing to go take care of something or go to my computer to write it on my calendar to do later. Even if I didn’t stop I found that my attention was being diluted by trying to remember something that seemed important at the time. Now with my notebook handy when something comes into my mind that I want to remember I stop, spend 5 to 10 seconds to write it down, then continue practicing. Once I write it down, I can let it go since I know I can deal with it later. Problem solved.
Chunk It Down
The other accessory I keep handy is a timer, like an egg timer. Another name for this is a countdown timer. I set this to a specific length of time for a practice “sprint”. My entire practice session consists of a series of “sprints”. In other words I set the timer for 20 or 30 minutes depending on what I’m working on, then practice without stopping (except to write a quick idea). When the timer goes off I stop, stretch or walk for 5 minutes, then set the timer for another sprint and go at it again.
I can’t claim credit for this. I got idea after reading about a time management technique called the Pomodoro Technique. In short it is a time management method developed by an Italian named Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals separated by short breaks. I’ve found this technique useful in other areas of my life like writing and studying. After years I decided to adapt it to my guitar practice. I’ve found it tremendously helpful in both staying focused and well as retaining more of what I’m working on.
Lately I’ve been using my iPhone for the timer. It works beautifully and I always have it with me.
Make It Beautiful
The final aspect is I want my practice space to be “beautiful”. I’ve spend just a little time arranging the space and adding some artwork that I like. I found this helps brighten my attitude when I’m practicing. Just as important it helps me get motivated to practice because it’s a space I like to be in.
If anyone wants to be successful in any endeavor it pays to plan ahead. This way we remove roadblocks and do what we can to improve the odds in our favor. By setting up a practice space that works for me instead of against me I’m more likely to practice, I get more out of my practice time and I have more fun with less stress.
Did I Miss Something?
Can you think of something that you like to have in your practice space that I didn't mention? Write a comment below.
Also, send us a photo of your practice space if you have one. If you don't have one yet use this as an opportunity to set it up and take a photo. Send it to [email protected]. My assistant will collect them and share them in a future post.
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We would love to hear your comments and questions. What specific things are you struggling with while learning guitar?