11 September 2008

Guitar Practice Routine: Interval Training

The first part of this series advised you to make it easy to start guitar practice. Today you're going to discover why you could benefit from shortening your practice sessions.

Practice for less time? This might sounds counter-intuitive, but athletes have been showing for years now that training in short bursts, or intervals, is more effective. Interval training is a widely used approach in sports.

The basic idea of interval training is this. The athlete shortens his training session so he can work at a higher rate, i.e. go faster or harder than his current performance.

As an example, consider a runner whose time for the 1500m is 4 minutes. If he trains by running 1500m he won't go faster than his current 4 minute pace and his body has no reason to get better.

So instead the athlete runs 400m, four times. Each time he can run 400m faster than his 1500m pace. Faced with this demand for a faster pace, his body responds by adapting itself to the new level.

The athlete teaches his body to get faster (or stronger) by repeating several short exercises, with periods of rest in between. This proves more effective than one long training session.

Unconscious mind in learning

You can experience - and exploit - a similar phenomenon in your guitar training. Imagine that you are trying to learn a new chord change, for example. You plan to spend your half hour practice session working on it.

But half an hour can be a long time to stay focused. The chances are your attention wanders or you might just give up out of boredom. Even if you don't your fingers will likely find it hard to repeat the same movements for half an hour without getting tired.

Of course, you might overcome these problems with your super concentration powers, but this might just lead to injury. So, instead of practicing in one long session...

Use Practice Intervals Throughout the Day

Give your unconscious mind and muscle memory time to work on your guitar playing problems for you. Break up your guitar practice into short sessions and repeat them throughout the day.

Focus on teaching your muscles correct movements and let them get some well-earned rest between times. They will thank you as they integrate the lessons and learn to reproduce them correctly even while you are not consciously practicing.

Try several sessions of 5 to 15 minutes. It's always easier to get started for a few minutes than for a longer period, anyway. It's also easy to concentrate for such a short time. When you only have 5 minutes to practice, you'll find yourself less tempted by distractions or guitar doodling to fill the time.

Of course, to practice in 5 minute sessions you really have to make sure you can start practice fast. Try interval training with an exercise you're working on to see how it helps you. Come back and let us know your results in the comments.

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More on practice routines...

Aristotle's Guitar Practice Routine
Guitar Practice Routine: Get Started

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