Why exercise improves your guitar playing

Screen shot 2010-03-23 at 11.12.01 AMImproving your practice through physical exercise.

In the USA 65% of the population are now obese and the rest of the developed world have similar statistics. What is even more frightening is these numbers are rising even in children. Now if you spend your day sitting at work or school coming home to sit and practice guitar is not your best move. Any health professional would be recommending you get physical in your spare time rather than sitting. This can sound like depressing news for anyone who has a sit down job and wants to play guitar. Being a guitar teacher sitting is part of the job. Another part of the job involves sitting behind a computer doing admin and preparing for lessons and finally the remaining spare hours are sitting down doing my own practice. So what’s the answer?

In John J. Ratey MD’s book ‘Spark’ he raves about a school district in Naperville IL. USA. Naperville has some of the healthiest students in the USA. One class has only 3% of children overweight compared to the national average of 30%. But what was even more interesting was the fact that Naperville produced some of the country’s highest academic achievers. In an international standards test called TIMS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science – A comparison test of students from around the world) Asian countries like China, Japan & Singapore typically top these tests with the USA lagging somewhat behind. Naperville students in contrast were the exception finishing first in the world in science and 6th in maths.

Ratey makes a very clear point backed up with extensive scientific research. ‘Exercise improves brain performance’. He presents many case studies but one study in particular showed that students who exercise before an exam do better than those who do not. Although during exercise the brain’s ability to learn is reduced immediately after the exercise the brain’s ability to learn is at its best. The reasons are connected to our evolutionary ancestors. I know personally my best times in terms of improvement on guitar have been when I have been on a regular exercise program.

As a teacher I am always looking for the best and most efficient methods of learning and improvement. The scientific data therefore would suggest that best time to be practicing guitar is after exercise. So here is what I recommend;

Each day when you arrive home walk or jog 5km or more. If time is an issue for you then I suggest doing less guitar practice and more intense exercise. E.g. If you normally do 45 minutes of guitar practice a day begin doing 20 minutes of jogging followed by a quick shower and then 20 minutes of guitar practice. Quality more so than quantity. The reality is most of us only think we are time poor. What we actually are is energy poor. The irony of exercise is the time it takes out of your day comes back to you with interest in terms of energy and productivity not to mention the increase life expectancy.

Conclusion: Exercise before practice for better results.

David Hart – Program Director

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