Playing Guitar - Are You Mixing It Up?

How Should You Spend Your Playing and Practice Time?

If you want to minimize burnout and maximize your enjoyment of the instrument as well as make massive leaps forward you have to fill your overall playing time with these three types of music...

  1. Music you can't yet play.
  2. Music you've only recently learned to play.
  3. Music you can play well.

I bet you thought I was talking about styles of music! No matter what the style of music, organizing your practice in this way will allow you to...

  1. Continue to grow as a player.
  2. burn the stuff you only recently learned into your muscle-memory and get it to a polished state.
  3. Avoid burnout and maximize the fun you have playing but still grow.

In other words, Mix it Up!

Why the stuff you can't yet play?

Part of this answer is obvious but bears fleshing out. Be honest with yourself. If you can't play something yet - something that you'd really love to be able to play - you won't ever learn to play it if you never try. But, it's the thought of what it's going to take to get there from here that causes most of us to give up and fall back on the stuff we KNOW we can play. The thing is, playing the same things over and over can get boring after awhile which can be almost as discouraging. 

So, keeping the end in mind, fill your mind with knowing you WILL eventually be able to play whatever it is you'd love to be able to play. Never say never! Picture yourself able to play it flawlessly. Get that vision in your head and don't let go of it.

Once that vision is firmly in mind, methodically work toward that end until you realize that vision. Sometimes it happens quicker than you think and sometimes it takes longer than you had hoped. A lot of it depends on how ambitious you are.

Whatever the case, focus on the end - not the process. The process will wear you out and make you quit if that's all you see. Take advantage of the wealth of resources out there. Many times a subtle nuance of movement in a video will trigger something in your understanding in a way nothing else can. That's one of the main reasons to watch instructional videos - to pick up on the subtle things.

Always be working on something you can't yet play.

Why Those Things You Have Just Learned?

The tunes or exercises, or whatever you've just learned falls into the category I lovingly refer to as the, "Not Quite There" stuff. Many guitar players reach that point on a tune and stop really working on it. They tell themselves, "Ok, I can play that one now. Time to move on." The result is that, even though you can get it under your fingers, it's a little sloppy - it's just not smooth. Take your effort on these things a little further until it IS smooth - until left and right hand synchronization is perfect and you can play it with a little feeling. Then you can add it to the list of things you can play effortlessly! Speaking of which...

Why Those Things You Can Play Flawlessly?

If all you ever do is work on things you either can't yet play, or those things that are still a little sloppy, you'll burn out. Remind yourself that you do have what it takes to become a really good player by also spending some time enjoying those things that you play well. Also, if you stop working on those things that you play well, you could begin to lose them and that would be a shame. I know because this has happened to me more times than I'd like to admit.

While I was working on my Music Theory & Composition degree, I played guitar and cello as double major instruments. I was always having to prepare for some kind of performance. I learned several J. S. Bach pieces that had been transcribed for classic guitar and committed them to memory. I worked hours, weeks, months on them to get them to the "flawlessly and effortlessly" stage. I spent an equal amount of time learning many of the six Bach Cello Suites both on the cello and the guitar. But...

Recently I picked up my classic guitar to play a few of those pieces and they're just not under my fingers any more. I was like, "Man! This is terrible!" A word of encouragement...

Don't be like me! I plan to try to get those tunes back under my fingers soon because they were a joy to play. 

Mastering the mental stuff that goes on surrounding practice is a huge factor. I wish you all the best in your efforts going forward. Mix it up!