1 July 2010

Guitar Practice - Could Less Be More?

"You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find, you get what you need" -- The Rolling Stones

Do you have a huge list of things to learn and practice on guitar? I know I do. And if your list is anything like mine, it has been growing longer and longer as time goes on, rather than getting shorter as you learn and master more skills and songs.

I've got a ton of guitar projects laying around. "One day I'd like to...", or "one day I really want to play this..." Guitar tutor books, tab files, songbooks and sheets of exercises and tab clutter my shelves and hard disk. A lot of them have been sitting there gathering dust for years.

I planned to learn all this stuff one day... but one day hasn't yet come for a lot of the projects.

The Pareto Principle

The other day I read an article about the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80 - 20 rule.

"For many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Joseph M. Juran suggested the principle and named it after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed in 1906 that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. It is a common rule of thumb in business; e.g., 80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients."
-- Wikipedia, Pareto Principle

I'd already heard of the 80 - 20 rule, but at that precise moment it made a connection with those piles of books and tabs that were idling on my shelves.

I made a decision, it was time to throw away that clutter.

What's Your Twenty Percent?

In many situations 80% of the benefit comes from 20% of the things you do. That means that if you have ten things on your practice list, two of them will give you 80% of the results you want, or need.

In many manufacturing and service areas it has been widely demonstrated that a large majority of quality problems are caused by only a few key causes. The same probably applies for many of your guitar playing mistakes.

So, time to analyse your mistakes to identify the 20% of problems that cause 80% of your mistakes. And choose the 20% of practice items that will really help to fix them.

Now Show Up And Do The 20% You Kept

One of the most valuable items you can include in your 20% is the commitment to show up and practice every day. This one practice task alone is more valuable than any long list of ambitions or countless unread guitar books.

Just like the Rolling Stones knew, when you try sometimes, a little every day, you'll eventually get whatever you need.

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