I would guess that around 80% of guitar students have very modest goals. At least in the beginning. I know this from many years of teaching and working with hundreds of guitar teachers. The scenario usually goes like this. Me: “How much are you willing to practice each day to reach your goals?” Student: “I guess I could do about 20 minutes a day 3 to 5 days a week.” Me: “What if I said to become proficient you will need to practice an hour a day, 7 days a week as a minimum?” Student: “Really? Guitar is just a hobby for me. I have no plans to become professional.” In my early years of teaching I rarely challenged students on this idea. It seemed most guitar students were only striving to be average. I just accepted that for them guitar was only a fun hobby. This was okay for a while until I got tired of seeing students quit.
Something wasn’t adding up
My students were roughly broken into two groups. For the sake of simplicity lets say 80/20. 80% were hobbyists and 20% were serious. The 20% were those who practiced an hour a day or more and, the 80% did 3 to 5 days of about 20 mins each time. It seemed that most of the 20%, the serious students, made good progress and were growing in confidence week by week. They were also likely to practice what they were given opposed to, the 80% who were always looking for shortcuts. What became apparent was the hobbyists would quickly lose confidence in their ability to learn guitar. In most cases they had quit within 6 months. There was this point where I had an aha moment.
Why the 80% quit
The pattern was now obvious. Hobby guitarists don’t last and the reason I concluded was lack of momentum. Their low levels of practice mean their progress is just too slow. We need to feel some measurable level of progress every now and then to continue something. Without such progress we soon become disillusioned. Confidence builds on itself. When we see some progress our confidence goes up which in turn, spurs us on to practice. Its a virtuous cycle. The reverse cycle is where our confidence goes down making us less enthusiastic about practice.
My solution to the problem
Understanding the problem stemmed from the hobby guitarist’s mindset helped me to come up with a solution. Instead of just accepting their 3 x 20 mins a week practice plan I would explain the likely outcome for them. I would say “Guitar is one of those instruments that requires a fair amount of commitment to see any real results. The results are well worth it but anything less than 30 mins a day, 7 days a week is likely to result in very slow progress and, ultimately you quitting.” I would go on to explain that its due to lack of momentum and anything less than 7 x 30mins a week will leave you feeling disappointed. Some students would quit realising the commitment was more than they bargained for but, the majority of my students were okay with it.
Stop kidding yourself
To succeed on guitar you need to be very honest with yourself. Believing a few days a week of practice is enough is like going for a walk a few days a week and expecting to be in great physical shape. You might reduce the chances of a heart attack before age 50 but you aren’t going to be winning any Ironman competitions. Even if your guitar ambitions are very conservative there is still a certain amount of practice required to reach the most basic level of competency. Doing 20 mins a day 3 days a week will get you there, eventually but, the chances are you’ll quit before reaching that point anyway. If you dive in and do the 30 mins to an hour a day, 7 days a week you’ll reach that point within a few months.
Why drag it out?
Just commit for shall we say 6 months and then reassess. At that point you’ll have the basics down and can decide whether to push on or cut back the practice to a level where you maintain your basic skill level.