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Maximizing Practice Time

Why do we practice? What a question. We practice in order to develop and shape the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual facilities that help us interpret the music we wish to play. To sit in one position for hours upon hours takes the one most important aspect of being a musician...


Author Napoleon Hill defines self-discipline as:

"Taking control of your mind, your habits, and your emotions. Self-discipline is the ability to do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you want to or not."

I think that sums it up, but as a musician, there are things you can do to make the most of your practice time.

I've heard a lot of musicians say that they practice while watching TV, listening to music, etc. They claim they need some sort of distraction in order to better concentrate or they become bored. In my opinion, this is a deep pitfall. Sometimes, something is better than nothing, and sometimes it's not. Remember, what works for one person doesn't always work for everyone. It's up to you to find what is right for you. But here is some advice to develop a musical environment that will maximize your practicing.

First off, let's find a quiet room: a room away from everything that can be distracting, a room without a television or a radio. Let's make this room very bright, but without blinding yourself. This will minimize unnecessary straining of your eyes, thus causing a headache. Your area should have all equipment necessary for your practice session: guitar, music stand, necessary books and music, a good chair with a sturdy back for support, a foot stool, tape recorder, and believe it or not, a notepad and a writing utensil. It's also cool to have posters of your influences on the wall. Now, your ready. But wait...

An important aspect of practicing is the all-important goal setting. Do you have a goal when you begin your sessions? I do, and its very important for all to develop one. An example of a goal is: "I have two hours today, I'm going to first work on my I-VI-II-V chord progressions in every key using the 5-4-3-2 string group." This is a short term goal. A long term goal is: "Man, give me two years, and I'm going to be as good as Jimmy Bruno." This goal is a bit more unrealistic, but with practicing, who knows... I'm really just throwing out some ideas, but the point is to create a goal, both short and long-term. Write them down and tape them to a wall in your newly created musical room. Recite them to yourself, and let it soak into your subconscience. Another thing you can do is to write down on your notepad all the things you may wish to practice: Scales, Arpeggios, Technical Mechanics, Tunes, Sight Reading, Improvising, etc. In those two hours ,maybe you can touch on all these topics spending 15-20 minutes on each aspect. If you happen to be strong on scales and weak on sight reading, then concentrate more on the sight reading and less on your scales. You be the judge.

Having a routine agenda makes the self-disciplinary process easier to achieve and maintain. Remember this point: repetition leads to habit which leads to routine which leads to self-discipline. But, never forget the importance of rest. It's good to develop a routine, but let's be realistic: don't harm yourself with continual non-stop repetition, as this can be harmful, especially after coming back from a long period of non-playing. Hopefully, these tips will prove to be helpful in developing your fullest potential as a musician. Good Luck!

Frederick Burton is a Philadelphia-based jazz guitarist and teacher