Purposeful Guitar Practice: Manage Your Time and Your Energy

In this Purposeful Guitar Practice series we’ve offered ideas for scheduling your guitar practice time and using a digital timer to get the most out of your guitar-practice sessions. It’s important to manage your limited guitar-practice time, but it’s equally important to manage your guitar-practice energy.

In Be Excellent at Anything, author Tony Schwartz feels that energy management is as critical to your guitar playing success as is time management. It’s not so much about how many hours we spend at guitar practice, but how much energy we bring to it.

Maintaining Physical Guitar Playing Energy

Even though guitar practice is not so much about physical energy as is, say, karate practice; still, managing energy starts with a physically healthy lifestyle. This includes some physical activity, a healthy diet, adequate sleep and avoiding the harmful substances. Plus, it is important to realize that the mental concentration required for your focused practice will tap into your physical energy.

Maintaining Mental Energy

Playing guitar is a great source of joy. However, sitting down to focused guitar practice isn’t so fun, but it should always be rewarding. When you sit down with your guitar, realize that your mental energy is not an unlimited resource. Here are some ideas for getting the most from your guitar-practice energy reserves.

  • Get in your practice before evening sets in.
  • Practice alone.
  • Design your practice sessions to work on your specific needs.
  • Break up your practice time into sessions

Practice Your Guitar Before Evening Sets In

Ideally, schedule your guitar practice sessions between the morning hours to early afternoon. Scientific studies prove what seems quite obvious. We run out of energy as the day wears on. Years ago, I felt I could schedule my guitar practice in the evening, after dinner. I’m an amateur guitarist, playing purely for fun. I figured I could sit down to “relax” with my guitar for an after-work, after-dinner guitar practice session. That was a total fiasco because I failed to recognize that focused guitar practice is mentally demanding and not so much fun.

In the book Talent is Overrated, author Geoff Colvin writes of Leopold Auer a famous violinist and teacher. Auer suggested that one and a half hour of practice per day is enough. Because if your practicing with your mind focused, you couldn’t possibly go much longer.

Now, instead of trying to “relax” with evening guitar practice, I crank up Band In A Box, and just jam with the band. That’s where guitar playing is fun and relaxing.

Design Your Practice To Focus on Specific Needs

The best thing about working with a good guitar teacher is that she’ll be able to pinpoint what you should be working to improve. It’s nearly impossible for a musician or an athlete to monitor himself. That’s why a major league baseball batting champ will still spend hours in the batting cage under the watchful eye of the hitting coach.

If you’re not working with a teacher, or a fellow musician to get feedback on your playing, you should record yourself. Listen for areas that could use more practice. Also, if you’re not sure what your specific needs are, look at the areas that you don’t want to or don’t like to practice. It’s human nature to want to do more of what we’re good at. But it’s not what we’re good at that we need to practice. We’re looking to find what we’re not so good with, and practice that.

Repeat Your Guitar Practice Tasks Often

The most difficult passage in your current repertoire may only be four or five bars. No matter, you need to practice the passage and repeat it often. Former basketball great Michael Jordan would spend hours throughout the week practicing his foul shot. It didn’t matter that in the course of a game he’d likely not spend more than five minutes at the foul line.

Practice Guitar Alone

If you’re in a band or if you back up a singer, you’ll want to rehearse your set. But this isn’t the time to work on your guitar-playing chops. To improve guitar-playing technique you’ll have to get down to focused practice. That means time practicing alone.

Break Up Your Practice Time Into Sessions

An earlier post in this series addresses practicing guitar with a digital timer. When you take the Purposeful Guitar Practice approach, it’s even more important. Focused practice requires a lot of mental energy. Once you’ve mentally broken focus, take a break. Shake out your hands, walk around, stretch. Get away for a few minutes. Come back when you’re ready to focus.

Related Purposeful Guitar Practice Links

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