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Musical Fluency: Stop Talking Yourself Out of Practicing

Guitar is a practice. It’s not something you work on until some magical day when you’ve “got it.”

It’s a constant teacher, challenging and furthering us if we stick with it.

Like any practice, you actually have to practice in order to learn anything. This is one of the biggest challenges with any skill you want to learn. As soon as we try to start a new habit, all sorts of resistance pops up and creates obstacles to sticking with it.

Being masters of rationalization, it’s easy for us to come up with reasons to skip practice. “I don’t have time.” “I’m too busy.” “I work too much.” “I’m too tired right now.” “I don’t know what to practice.”

There’s nothing wrong with this. Facing these sorts of obstacles and rationalizations is actually a huge lesson that can be learned through guitar playing.

Let’s take a look at a few ways to sidestep the many rationalizations we may come up with.

Start Small

One trick to get yourself to practice regularly is to start very small. Make it your goal to practice every day for a week for such a small amount of time that you can’t talk yourself out of it.

Five minutes can be a good starting length, but feel free to start out with one minute of practice every day if that helps. Who doesn’t have time to play guitar for literally one minute?

After a week, bump up the time just a little, maybe from five minutes to seven or 10 minutes. It will be slightly easier to play for this longer amount of time because a habit is starting to form. Keep increasing the time each week until you’re practicing for whatever amount of time you’d like, whether that’s 20 minutes, 30 minutes or even an hour a day.

Get Specific

Being vague about your practice leaves lots of room for rationalization. For example, saying “I should practice guitar more” means absolutely nothing. It’s not going to turn into action.

However, saying “I will practice for five minutes every day this week at 8 p.m.” means something. Then it’s clear whether you’ve actually done it or not. You’ve become accountable to yourself. Even better, tell someone else what you plan to do so that you’re accountable to someone other than yourself too.

Set Goals

Another really useful tool for keeping practice on track is goal setting. Set long-term goals and goals for each practice session.

For long-term goals, take some time to think about what you’d like to be able to do with the guitar that you can’t do now. Would you like to write an album’s worth of original music? Or sit in at an open jam at a jazz club? Or learn all the guitar parts on a particular favorite album? Once you’ve determined your goals, be sure to write them down.

For each practice session, come up with a few concrete things you’d like to work on during that time. Make sure these practice areas relate to your long-term goals.

If your long-term goal is to play at a jazz club, maybe you could focus on transcribing a standard by ear during your practice session. If your long-term goal is to learn an album, maybe you could focus on just working on the intro to the first song on the album. Make sure you’re being realistic about what you could actually accomplish during one practice session.

Willpower tends to wear off after a week or two, so be sure to share your goals with your friends. Use willpower while you’ve got it to set up a support system to help keep you going when the times get tough.

Image courtesy of lucas

Ben Rainey works as a guitar teacher and freelance guitarist in the Pittsburgh area. He's also in charge of music content at

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