17 September 2010

How Balanced Is Your Guitar Learning Time?

You may have heard the old advice that the only way to learn guitar is to practice, practice, practice. Well, it is pretty good advice, but it doesn't tell the whole story. To learn to play guitar more effectively you need to balance practice with other activities.

In this article I'll present four different kinds of learning time. Use these four kinds of time to balance your learning activities and get the most out of the time you have to learn guitar.
  1. Knowledge time
  2. Practice time
  3. Thinking time
  4. Housekeeping time

Let's take a look at each in turn to see how it helps you learn.

Knowledge Time

When you first start to learn guitar you need only know two or three chords. But as you progress you'll add more chords, scales, rhythms, modes, repertoire, as well as knowledge of harmony, composition and other musical theory.

You can acquire this knowledge from many different sources and not all of them require your guitar. Reading, listening, watching and meeting other guitarists and musicians will all contribute to your musical knowledge.

Practice Time

Practice time is where you work on the mechanics of guitar technique. When you pick up your guitar to practice make sure you get the most out of this time by focusing on playing skills.

Some of your time on the guitar will support your knowledge of music and the guitar. For example your knowledge of chord positions, the fretboard and scale fingerings is reinforced as you practice.

But to get the most out of this time, keep in mind that learning and memorizing patterns, exercises and songs can be done elsewhere.

Thinking Time

If you stuff your head full of knowledge and practice long and hard then you will surely get results. But to get even better results nothing beats actually THINKING about what you're doing.

You can use two simple questions to help you do this.

1. What exactly am I trying to achieve?
2. How can I do it most effectively?

It's a good idea to set aside a dedicated time, say once a week, to think about what you're working on. What are the problems you need to solve? How will you work on them? Could it be time for a change of direction or some fresh ideas?

A little thinking time will go a long way to help you learn better.

Housekeeping Time

Whew, all that study, practice and thinking. I don't know about you but I'm beginning to feel a little tired already.

To keep yourself fresh and avoid burnout leave yourself a little housekeeping time to look after your mind and body.

Relax, exercise, get some fresh air, and socialize with other "normal" people (yeah, that's right, guitar players are not normal. Normal people don't spend hours hunched over a little wooden box torturing themselves about what they can't play yet).


Let's recap those four kinds of learning time we've discussed.

1. Knowledge time, to learn what and how to play.
2. Practice time, to work on the mechanics of playing.
3. Thinking time, remember - there's always a better way.
4. Housekeeping time, give yourself a break, you deserve it.

Got that? Now check your guitar practice schedule and make sure these four kinds of guitar learning time have got their place in it.

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Matt the Nashville Guitar Lessons guy said...

You're right on with the first three points, but I'm a little unclear about the last one--if the housekeeping has to do with living life, getting fresh air, etc., then isn't that batch of activities outside the scope of time on the guitar?

Most people are taking breaks, spending time away frm the guitar, doing other things, etc. by default. Just wondering why you felt like that needed to be a category unto itself within guitar practicing.

That little question aside, I'm really enjoying your posts. I'm going to send folks over here from my blog.

Gary Fletcher said...

Hi Matt, You're spot on, that's outside of guitar time. But I know I often "forget" that stuff when planning my guitar schedule, and then I wonder why everything I planned for doesn't fit in ;-)

And I know of those who just take it too far, tire themselves out with long practice hours, late into the night.

I guess it's a question of personal choice. But it helps me to keep things in balance. Your mileage may vary...

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