Practice What You Love

Guitar PracticeYou know what you ought to practice. Maybe you have a short list or a long list. My list would last me several lifetimes if I had them. But do you love practicing what you “ought” to practice? Or does it make you think twice about sitting down with the guitar?

If you’re not excited about what you think you should be practicing, then I think you should blow it off. At least for now, just forget about it. Go grab your guitar and play. Play something you love, an old song that’s always been your favorite, or a tune you just heard on the radio, whatever gets you playing.

There’s nothing wrong with relaxing and playing what you love instead of forcing yourself to practice something new. In fact, it’s far more important to play than to practice.

I recall when I learned the riff on Steve Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy” when I was a kid, I couldn’t stop playing it. Even after I had it up to speed with most of the mistakes worked out, I spent less time practicing new songs and just played this riff over and over for months. My family recalls this too.

I actually think I became a better player because of that. Not only did it reinforce my love for the instrument, it embedded that riff so firmly in my fingers’ muscle memory that I’ll never be unable to play it. That groove got into my soul in a way that would not have happened had I instead moved to the next song on my list and practiced a bunch of scales or something.

So while there are times when practicing will help you improve faster, don’t forget the whole point behind it; to enjoy playing the guitar. If the thought of practicing doesn’t get the guitar in your lap, just play. And if that doesn’t excite you, learn something easy. Every new song you learn will help you, even if you find it as easy as walking. Try Heartwood Guitar’s chord charts.

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  • Greg Vinson

    Very nice article; I agree, although I think it’s fine to push yourself if you have really big goals; we all have to find our own balance between goal seeking and simply enjoying playing.

    Often the ratio of playing to practicing is largely determined by other things in life, like how many demands there are on your time, how much tension you have from work, etc. If you have little time to pick up the guitar, and it helps you unwind, it would be sad to beat yourself up because you’re drawn to playing familiar favorite tunes rather than forcing yourself to sight read during the one night a week you have to blow off steam.

    Its a very individual thing, but one of my values is life and music should have as much joy in them as possible. Some get joy from really working hard and seeing improvement, and when it doesn’t happen, they get frustrated. For others, the frustration comes when guitar seems more like work than play, and we all have to pay attention to what makes us happy.

    • Totally agreed, thanks Greg. I’m thinking it’s a matter of seeing the payoff to your work. The bigger your goals, the longer you’ll have to wait between the work and the payoff, and if you’re really serious about making it work, then the wait doesn’t matter.

      • Greg Vinson

        Yeah; its true that bigger goals take longer, but I do believe most people, even very serious ones, need to notice and enjoy smaller milestones for encouragement; delayed gratification on big things is easier if you get bits of smaller gratification along the way.

        I’ve found that if I break things down into bite sized chunks, I can usually notice a real improvement within a few days of concentrated practice on something I find challenging, even with only 10 minutes a day spent working on it.

        For example, when I sucked at arpeggios for major scale harmony, it took quite a while to make real progress on all of the 7th chords in all inversions, but when I concentrated on just a couple of them at a time, I could see progress in a few days. That’s exciting, even though I have a long ways to go, and will probably die before I think I’m “good enough”.

        For me, one of the biggest challenges is to not take on too much at once, which leads to overwhelm, confusion and frustration. I tend to want everything all at once, and learning doesn’t really work that way.