I will be the first to say that taking holidays are great and are arguably an important part of life. Holidays are essentially about taking a break from your everyday life to recharge. Holidays give our bodies and brains a chance to consolidate and can even act like markers that indicate the start and end points. Stepping out of the picture also allows us to see things from a different perspective. Our bodies require around 7 to 9 hours a day of sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to poor concentration, a lowered immune system and in extreme cases death. Holidays and breaks should be viewed in a similar light. To work constantly and never take breaks may actually be counterproductive and even damaging to your health.
So what about guitar?
If you practice guitar 6 hours a day 7 days a week a break is advisable but my guess is most students reading this blog do a lot less. Taking a break from guitar if you are not a serious professional with a heavy schedule is really unnecessary. School children I find at the start of summer holidays declare ‘Schools out’ and suddenly everything and anything that seems like study gets shelved for 2 months including the guitar. Over the years I have received many calls from parents at the end of the school year announcing they will give me a call in a few months to re-enroll their child for guitar lessons. This is a big mistake. As I said above I believe holidays to be important but 2 months is akin to giving up especially for the beginner student.
Long breaks dramatically increase your chances of giving up
The hardest time for guitar students is the first 6 to 12 months. Most students who stop lessons for more than a few weeks will never return to lessons. Even when a student returns after 2 months the feeling that their fingers can no longer perform the same tasks as the previous year is often enough for the student to throw in the towel. No one likes to go backwards. Imagine for a minute that you were building your own home and it was about half finished when you decided to take a few months off. On your return two months later you found nothing but the foundations. We humans don’t like going over old ground. Seeing all our hard work diminished often leads us to seriously contemplate giving up.
Talk to your teacher
If you will be away for any period of time I strongly advise talking to your teacher about how to work around your holiday. If you are going to be traveling and taking a guitar is impossible than its time to use your imagination. In fact in one study they compared two group of beginner students learning piano. The first group did their practice as you would expect on a piano. The second group just imagined a piano and went through the exercises in their head. They found that at the end of the experiment both groups had similar levels of development. What this study set out to prove was that the brain cannot tell the difference between the imagined stimuli and real stimuli. This means that if you spent 30 minutes a day going through your practice in your head it will keep you moving forward and at the very least will reduce the negative effects of a long break.
30% less progress over a year
A better way to look at this is over a year. There are 12 weeks of school holidays a year. When a student breaks there is also an week extra week at the beginning. In other words if a student misses two weeks of lessons it’s actually three weeks between lessons so this in effect means students have a 16 week break from guitar lessons or 30% through out the year. Something else to consider is the first week back from a break. This lesson is mostly about revision so it adds to the problem. Lastly their is the loss of confidence due to the lack of progress compared to students who attend year round. This is all adds up especially over a few years.
Only break if necessary
I strongly urge you to keep up the practice and the lessons through out the year and only take short breaks if necessary. Guitar unlike work or school rarely needs a holiday except if you are a working guitarist or student who practices 4 or more hours a day. For the rest breaks of more than 2 weeks are unnecessary.
David J. Hart