This article is about the benefits of daily practice for the guitar. If you’d like to learn about the importance of mastery of guitar theory, check out our article here. You can also access our beginner courses for the guitar here.
All guitarists know that practicing is important in order to become a better player. If that is true, why is it sometimes difficult to find the motivation to practice? It is because many times we don’t fully understand why we should practice everyday. Understanding the reasons why it is important and how to accomplish the goal of daily practice is the focus of this article. Let jump right in and look at seven reasons why guitarists should practice daily and how to do it.
Why should you practice the guitar every day? Daily guitar practice is critical to developing mastery of the guitar and will result in more observable improvement. Understanding why and how to practice daily is essential in making a daily practice routine effective and habitual.
Let’s take a look now at why daily guitar practice is so important and some strategies to make it happen.
#1 Slow and Steady Wins The Race
I tell my students frequently: You are guaranteed to become a good guitar player as long as you don’t quit. It is that simple. Don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to other guitar players; however, let their personal accomplishments inspire you to be the best guitarist you can be. You will become better and more proficient as long as you persevere. Will you play as well as Eddie Van Halen, Joe Pass, or Eric Clapton? Maybe, maybe not, but it really doesn’t matter. With consistent practice over time YOU will become a better guitarist.
#2 Less Is More
One of the biggest mistakes that we make, when setting out to accomplish something, is to set the “bar” to high. You know- the all or nothing approach. This is a sure recipe for failure. Yes- you may be able to maintain your extreme practice program for a week, two weeks, or even a month, but at the expense of your other duties, e.g. family, work, recreation, etc. When the inevitable finally happens- quitting your practice, it is hard to recover and begin again. Setting up a reasonable practice schedule and amount of time that will fit into your already existing schedule is the best approach. You should find the time to practice by sacrificing other unnecessary activities, e.g. watching t.v., social media, etc. This is the best way to build a realistic and failure-proof practice system that will develop into a life-long habit.
#3 Muscle Memory = Consistent Reinforcement
Playing guitar is five percent knowledge and ninety-five percent muscle memory. It is one thing to know how to do something and another to be able to do it consistently. The number one mistake I see guitar students making in their practicing is underestimating the amount of repetition necessary to become proficient at whatever song, solo, riff, skill, etc. they are trying to master. The process of mastering guitar is very similar to the process of mastering skills in sports. In that respect, we can learn alot from professional athletes. Take for instance professional basketball players, many of them, who are at the top of their game, take anywhere from 500 to 1000 practice shots per day. Why is this? Don’t they already know how to do it? If they have done it once, should they not be able then to do it every time? Obviously, the answer is no. Muscle memory does not work that way. It requires constant practice or the skill declines very quickly. The same is true for playing guitar. That is why we practice. Yes, we are learning new things, but the majority of our practice is focused on maintaining and refining the skills we have already developed. This is why daily practice is essential. Otherwise, you are constantly re-acquiring skills that you once had and this becomes extremely frustrating.
#4 Mastery Requires Consistent Long Term Effort
For my master’s thesis, I researched different practice methods for guitar. For background, I wanted to find out what the objective requirements and the length of time it took to achieve mastery in other professions. Interestingly, I learned that for a chess master to reach the level of mastery, i.e. playing at a certain level in competitions, that it took on average ten years of consistent practice for a chess student to reach this level. Now, music is a little different, in that many top professionals reach this status by other methods, i.e. popularity, sensationalism, lifestyle, etc., in other words, by subjective means. However, if we define a professional musician in terms of objective skills, the similarities to chess mastery are useful. Therefore, the conclusion is: consistent long term effort yields mastery.
#5 Good Habits = Good Results
It seems to be a common assertion that a new endeavor takes about thirty days to get to a point that it becomes a habit, i.e. there is an initial requirement, driven by the will, necessary to get to the point that the new endeavor becomes a habit. Once the habit is developed, there is not as much effort involved, only to the point of maintaining the habit. Once the habit of practicing exists- good results follow, i.e. similar to money that is invested that accrues interest on its own without any more capital. Initially, that is why it is important to develop a reasonable and sustainable practice routine. It will eventually become a habit and the habit will become the engine, so to speak, to drive the effort needed to become a better guitar player. Any new skill that you desire to acquire can be “plugged” into this engine of habit, and thereby, the intended good result will be accomplished.
#6 Discipline Is Transferable
This can work in two ways. Many of my beginning students bring the habit of discipline into their guitar studies from other areas, e.g. sports, martial arts, military training, etc. If you have similar prior experience, it may be just a matter of thinking about practicing guitar in the same way. On the other hand, if that type of experience is not in your background, the habits of mind and discipline that are gained from daily practice can be transferred into other endeavors.
#7 Observable Progress
Practicing everyday will make you a better guitar player, there is no doubt about that. However, there is another benefit to daily practice – observable and quantifiable progress. We tend to not be a good judge of our own progress, because we don’t always have the objective perspective to see it. Many students complain that they don’t feel like they are getting better. As a teacher, it is much easier for me to see progress, but coming from me, and lacking an intrinsic reality for the student, it is not always convincing. The problem with this approach to measuring progress is that it is based on the feeling that the immediate song, exercise, or skill (being a work in progress) is not fully mastered and therefore no progress is being made. The solution to this situation is to mark progress by objectively verifiable means. For example, keeping a record of daily practice so that you can look back and see that you are practicing and no matter how you feel about it, you have made progress. Also, recording your beginning point with a song, skill, or exercise and then recording the same at the end of a specified period of time will provide you with objective evidence of progress.
How To Practice Everyday: A Practical Guide
#1 Set Up A Regular Practice Time And Length Of Practice
Find a time in your daily schedule where you can practice without taking away from an activity or duty that is necessary, e.g. in the morning before everyone is awake, in the evening after everyone is asleep, in your car during lunch hour, etc. The length of practice should have a reasonable minimum time based realistically on your available time; however, the practice time may exceed the minimum time. There will be days that it will be hard to practice; therefore, make your minimum time something easily attainable, e.g. ten or fifteen minutes. Remember, you can always go past your allotted time, but you want to build the habit of practicing, and the amount of time is not as important as the regularity of practice that you are working toward achieving.
#2 Divide Practicing Into Two Parts
It is important to have two distinct types of practice within your overall practice time: playing for enjoyment and working on the next skill or song. Whatever you enjoy most about playing guitar, do that for at least half of your allocated practice time and use the other half or third of the time for working on “hard” stuff. There is a danger of quitting your practice routine, especially in the early stages, if you make practicing ”all work and no play”.
#3 Set Up A Permanent Practice Space
This is probably the easiest and most important thing you can do to create the habit of daily practice. If your guitar is out in a stand, your chair is ready, and your music is on a music stand (or device if you are using something online), you will be amazed at how easy it is to practice on a daily basis. Getting started is the hardest part of practicing. If all you need to do is sit your rear end down and start playing, it becomes much easier. If you are concerned about your guitar being damaged or knocked over, buy an inexpensive one. An awesome guitar seldom played won’t make you an awesome guitar player!
#4 Practice Even When You Don’t Feel Like It
If you desire to reach the next level in your playing, you will need to work against how you feel about practicing. That is why it is important to set a realistic minimum time. For example, start out with ten minutes, if you are having a day that you are really distracted, tired, or whatever, just put your ten minutes in by strumming some chords or daydreaming while you play (by the way,this is very therapeutic). It will not be a loss, the most important thing you are doing is maintaining your habit of daily practice. Most likely, tomorrow, you will be in a different frame of mind and have a productive practice session. Stay in the game!
#5 Plan Days Off
Becoming a better guitar player through daily practice is mostly a psychological game. To that end, it is important to think long term. Here is the strategy: You will practice for at least your minimum time on a daily basis or whatever frequency you have pre-determined, e.g. five days a week, Monday through Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, you will not even touch the guitar, even if you want to. Why is this? Two reasons: if you don’t have a regular break, you will burn out and give up your daily habit of practice altogether; secondly, you will sometimes want to play and feel like playing on your days off, this is good; but by not playing, you will be looking forward to returning to the beginning of your practice week. That is very high-octane practice motivation. Try it and you will see how effective this strategy is in fueling and maintaining your weekly practice routine.
It is likely that, even if you develop a daily practice routine and maintain it for a certain length of time, there will be life events that prevent the continuation of your routine, that is part of life. At those times, don’t enforce your daily practice routine, just play when you can. When things return to normal you can easily reboot your routine!