The Zen of guitar practice.

Screen shot 2010-07-06 at 1.43.25 PMI recently read an article based on the book ‘The Zen of Running’ and I can see how many of these principles would apply to guitar. Here are just a few:

Concentration. You may have heard the term ‘Deliberate practice’ which refers to a style of practice that ensures you are not just going through the motions but are pushing yourself the whole time toward a specific goal. With guitar practice this requires your full concentration. Learning to just sit still for any length of time without interruption in itself takes practice. Try timing yourself to see how long you can practice a specific exercise without interruption or straying off to play some riff or song you already know.

Daily practice. We are creatures of habit. Our strongest habits are those we do daily. In fact your daily habits need no reminders. Think about the last time you had to remind yourself to take a shower, eat dinner, get dressed, go to school/work and so on. Daily practice does not necessarily make you any better at something but it helps you to maintain a regular time slot where you have the opportunity to develop your guitar playing but remember that your practice must be deliberate to really progress.

Contemplation. Allow time before and after each practice session firstly to decide what you plan to achieve and then at the end think about whether or not you followed through and did both the quality and quantity of practice you initially planned. Contemplation is about thoughtful practice. By ensuring you spend time planning and assessing you will improve the quality of your practice.

Stress. There are two kinds of stress in my opinion. Good stress is that which makes you work hard and grow. If you go for a jog and run further than you had before the extra kilometer or two may be stressful but the result is growth. The bad stress on the other hand is mostly about worry. This will usually just cloud your mind and your practice will suffer. Try relaxing before you practice. Do whatever works for you. In my case I find a 30 minute jog or swim puts me in a great state of mind and in fact research shows that our ability to learn new material peaks straight after exercise. If you are not the physical type try meditation or yoga.

Be in the moment. This is probably one of the most difficult challenges for most people. Our minds are continuously drifting into the past and future. While it is nice to dream it tends to dilute the quality of your practice. For example when learning a song you don’t want to be thinking about your shopping list or you’re going to have for dinner. Your full attention needs to be right here right now.

Journal. I think it’s always good to keep notes on your practice and progress to keep things in perspective. When you have a bad day go back and read through your journal. If you’ve ever read biographies of successful people you’ll see their road to success was often very bumpy. Remember if one day you become successful your journal may also inspire others.

David Hart – Program Director


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