27 May 2011

Guitar Practice: Should You Work On One Piece, or Several at a Time?

My son’s piano teacher gave him only one piece of music at a time. He practices that one piece day in and day out, sometimes for weeks, until its pretty much perfect.


Not too surprisingly, my son is quite bored with piano practice.


This got me thinking about the merits and drawbacks of practicing one thing at a time on the guitar versus working several pieces in parallel. I think I know where my personal preference lies, but if it’s so popular maybe the one piece at a time approach has something going for it…


One At A Time

Some people are simply more comfortable with only one piece to work on at a time. There are plenty of good reasons to work on one piece at a time.

- You can focus better and will be less distracted by other pieces that grab your attention.

- If you finish each piece before you move on to the next you won't end up with lots of unfinished pieces.

- You won't stretch yourself too thin. Sometimes you can plan yourself too many different things to work on and end up not doing any of them real justice. This can be especially important if your practice time is limited.

- Easy organization. You always know exactly what it is you're supposed to work on each time you begin to practice.


Going Parallel

But other’s among you will probably feel uneasy at the idea of having only a single piece to work on… and having to finish it before moving on the something else.


Those who like to work several pieces in parallel will point out the advantages of this approach.

- Less boredom. Not everyone has the patience to practice the same thing for a whole practice session, and day after day until it’s done.

- Interest boost. Each time you switch to a new piece your natural curiosity will lead to a boost in your level of interest and attention.

- Won’t get stuck. If you get stuck on a piece you always have something else to do until you find a solution for your problem. Often, that solution will come to you as you work on something else too.

- Perspective. If you're working on one piece and stuck somewhere it's easy to become very frustrated. You might keep trying that passage over and over but without success.

When you have several pieces progressing then it's not the end of the world if one piece is going badly. There'll be others that go better and you can see that there's just one technique or skill that's holding you up in one of the pieces.

- Cross training. Athletes develop their performance by training in disciplines other than their main sport. This works for the guitar too. You’ll develop your overall performance level when you work on several different skills.

Best Of Both Worlds?

Maybe there’s a way to get the best of both worlds? Simply work on one song at a time, but approach it from several different angles at once?

Say you have a song to learn. It might have several passages, the intro, verse, chorus, etc., there might also be a solo, and there's certainly a melody. The melody might not be played by the guitar but it's a good idea to learn it anyway, it can provide a basis for solos and it’s good ear practice.

Break down your practice session into several pieces that each make up a part of the song. That way you can have a little more variety and have something else to move on when you are stuck.

What about you? Do you prefer to work on only one piece at a time or have a variety of things on the go? Do you have any useful tips to avoids the pitfalls of your chosen approach? Share your thoughts in a comment using the link below.


Anonymous said...

I would think the middle ground is to be working on one song at a time, but to go through older songs as part of your practice so you don't forget them. That gives you the ability to focus and perfect one new song, but also allows you to keep things interesting and all your songs current.

SandyWedge said...

It becomes interesting if you think about learning skills rather than songs. For example if you are learning a song and having trouble with a particular chord progression or lead part then perhaps playing a different song with a similar progression or in the same key for your solo might provide some unconscious coaching and when you come back to your original song you might have less difficulty. Your fingers learn the patterns rather than the songs. It makes learning things feel a little magical too...

BlacknickSculpture said...

If I was more accomplished I think I'd enjoy learning a variety of songs.
But at this time I'm slogging through learning one easy song at a time.

Subscribe in a reader

Not Playing Guitar

All content copyright (c) 2007-2018, Gary Fletcher. All rights reserved.