Okay, you’ve made up your mind to learn an instrument. You’ve bought a guitar/drums/keyboard/bass/trumpet, or whatever instrument you’ve fallen in love with, and you’ve signed up for lessons. Now what? Time to start a practice routine.
When you join a sports team, it’s imperative to practice regularly. You’re trying to train your muscles to perform duties that may not be in your every day procedure. You need to come up with a well-conceived practice plan and stick to it. Anyone can be a great guitar player with the right focus and willingness to put in the work. A teacher is one of the best tools to help you accomplish this. You’ll find that it’s easy to get off track if you only have to be accountable to yourself. Seeing a teacher should make you not want to let him/her down and that you should really get the work done. However, that’s just the start. A productive, focused practice routine is really what stands between you and successful learning.
First, it’s important to set a practice schedule. Match your actions to your desires. Treating your musical ambitions as a hobby turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Set a schedule, as opposed to practicing during your “spare time”. Don’t treat it as optional. As a teacher, I find one of the main issues with teaching children is that the parent doesn’t understand that the child doesn’t understand the concept of setting up a daily schedule/routine. Possibly the parent might not be very good at it, either. Adults, on the other hand, tend to play when they feel like it, or in their “spare time”. Often the spare time never comes. Kids aren’t being led into good practice habits, and some adults may have never learned them.
Treat your practice time like a second job or like school. It’s part of your day, and must be treated like that. You go to work, pay bills, bathe, brush your teeth, etc., whether you feel like it or not. It’s important to make practicing a habit, also. It’s the only way that you’ll progress; if you wait until you feel like practicing, you’re likely to skip it fairly often. It’s important to practice regardless of how you feel. Often you’ll find that you just need to get started and you’ll get into it.
Scheduling Your Practice Time Wisely
Now you know to not only practice in your spare time or only when you feel like it. An excellent thing to do is set a specific time each day to practice. Something important to realize is a lot of people sabotage their musicianship just by choosing the wrong time of day to practice! Try to strategically pick a time when you are alert and no one will disturb or interrupt you. You need to give it a lot of thought; most people don’t. Examine your typical day-to-day life and wisely choose the times when you practice.
Set a goal for yourself
When you sit down for your daily practice routine, set a goal for yourself. Don’t make the goal unobtainable. Maybe even break it up into smaller sub-goals. Make sure to set your minimum time to practice and stick to it, and decide what you’d like to fulfill. Maybe you want to finish a particular exercise with a good sense of rhythm, or to memorize a chord progression to a tune. Make sure to break the goal into smaller pieces, such as learning a song in smaller phrases. If you find yourself not quite finishing your goal for one day, you’ve got your next practice session set out for you.
Your practice session is an important appointment between you and your guitar that no one else should interrupt. I know avoiding interruptions can be difficult for a lot of people. You need to get others to really understand what you are doing. Even if you are deeply serious about practicing and playing guitar well, others don’t perceive it that way. To others you are merely playing guitar and having fun. People rarely mind interrupting your fun. Unless you explain to them how serious you are about your practicing, they will interrupt you. If possible, explain to the people who often interrupt your practicing that it really interferes with your passionate goal of becoming a great guitar player.
Another common interruption is the telephone. Avoid answering the phone. When you do, your 1-hour practice session quickly turns into 20 minutes. Prepare ahead so you don’t interrupt yourself. Go to the bathroom, get yourself a beverage and whatever else you need to do beforehand. Make sure to have your instrument, book, paper, pencil, music stand, and whatever media you need, such as recorder, CD player, computer, whatever it is you use for practice. Keep these things in one area, instrument in a stand or ready to play, books, music stand, tools, etc., all set up. Do your best to clear your mind of things before you start to practice.
You won’t practice very effectively if you are exhausted. Try to choose times when you are most alert. Avoid practicing right after a meal or just before going to bed if you can. You’re better off with less practice time when you’re clear-headed and rested, than more time when you’re not.
Wake Up and Practice
If you can manage it, I highly recommend practicing first thing in the morning. You will develop a much more positive relationship with practicing. When you practice in the evening, you have to think about it all day. It looms over you. All day you will think, “Will I have time to do it today?” And, many things are bound to occur throughout the day that will eat up your practice time. When you practice in the morning, all day you feel good about having it finished. You will feel positive with your progress. The morning is also good because there are usually fewer interruptions and distractions. I remember when I was in college I would often get up at 7:30am to practice for an hour before going to class. Learning to play guitar or any instrument is always a sacrifice for something else.
Make It a Routine
Just as you are learning to play guitar, you are learning how to practice guitar. You may have to alter your routine schedule. Maybe the time you picked is too filled with distraction or the phone keeps ringing, etc. Make sure that your practice is uninterrupted. Also, there’s nothing wrong with easing into your routine. If this is something new in your life, it will take some getting used to. I often recommend getting comfortable with the every day aspect of a routine first. Practice every day for at least five minutes. If you do more, fine. Once you successfully get the every day part going, increase the amount of time you practice each day. Do that until you get to your goal amount of practice time.
Finally, make sure to have fun. That’s what this is all about, right? Learn songs that you want to play, as well as lesson material. Much of practicing can be repetitious and boring. Set a goal in your lesson/practice materials, with a reward of playing some music or “fun” after you’ve done the practice stuff.
Keep practicing and have fun!