By Janez Janežič

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Have you ever sat behind your musical instrument, and simply started to play without any proper direction or sense? I think every musician has once experienced that. The biggest problem is, however, that this is the worst possible way to practise. With this kind of approach, we, of course, at first simply enjoy the process of playing the guitar and maybe even forget our daily worries. Nevertheless, it might happen that we get tired of playing the same old things over and over again, if we do not make any progress. Progress is what motivates us the most and gives us that sweetest pleasure, when we realize that we are getting better and closer to the ability of expressing through our music without limitations

“But couldn’t you get the same result during a relaxed practice time? Why is planning so important?”

First off, an effective practice does not necessarily mean that we should not be relaxed or have fun while doing it. It means we know what we are doing and why. Of course, if we want to achieve certain musical goals, we have to invest a lot of our time concentrating, which eventually pays of in personal satisfaction.
Second, we live in times where a lot is expected from us in our private lives in many different areas (school, work, family, friends ...). We are surrounded by expectations of the people around us, which is inevitable. Of course, this is not necessarily the greatest burden in our lives, but it takes up a lot of precious time we are always short for, when it comes to achieving and working toward our personal goals. These things usually come last. This is why we have to organise our practice time in order to get the most out of it.
Everything is possible if we are persistent enough, and strict Spartan discipline is not necessarily essential for success, but the problem is, we spend so much more time growing when playing senselessly that the frustration might overtake us, which might be the cause of quitting.

“Why would I ruin that little precious time I have for enjoying my instrument with boring discipline?”
The meaning of the word “practice” is perfecting and improving. Besides, the progress itself has many positive psychological effects. It gives us so much personal satisfaction and motivation that the practice itself becomes addictive. When improving consistently (which is only possible with a motivated and disciplined practice), our activities become fulfilling, which gives us a much greater reason to practise than just the fun itself.
Moreover, disciplined practice saves us quite a lot of nerves and frustrations with the guitar.

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With disciplined practice, we even “learn to learn” other things in life, e.g.: it is easier for us to study for formal education (school, college ...), which saves us even more time and nerves. It has a huge impact on our lives, which, after all, are very long studies by themselves.
Now the obvious: it helps us achieve our musical goals, if we have them. If you do not have any, I still encourage you to improve and perfect your musical skills, because that would only have positive influence on your personal satisfaction and the pleasure of your listeners (volunteers or not). ;)

A good example of motivated fun is doing sports. Imagine a young football (soccer) player, who has been playing with his football outside in the afternoon for his entire life. It gives him some pleasure, but he quickly gets bored and gets back inside to do other stuff. He does not want to play with others because he thinks he is not good enough, which only lowers his self-confidence. He does nothing to improve his skills. In a couple of years, football slowly drives out of his mind and he unconsciously quits (forgets). On the other side we have a young, mind driven footballer, who spends his time on improving his skills, he then proudly shows off to others on the field. If there is someone better, he gets even more motivated; his mistakes are a good enough reason to practise. Football becomes a huge part of his life, his abilities contribute to his team, his abilities motivate others. He is not afraid of showing his skills which he rightfully claimed, nor is he scared to show his mistakes he is working on to correct. Imagine the satisfaction he gets, whenever he wins a football match with his team. It is indescribable.

The best practice is an effective practice.
The best practice is directed in certain musical goals; therefore, it has to be planned, disciplined correctly, therefore, effective, self-fulfilling, motivational and, because of the last two, even fun.

1. The first thing, of course, must be self-motivation and a reason to practise. Our emotions are always most important, when working on improvements of ourselves. To be motivated enough to practise disciplined, we could surround ourselves with inspiring stuff, relive the feelings we had when we first held the guitar in our hands and imagine how would it be, once we achieve our goals, and made ourselves the best musicians possible. The psychological element of practice is the first and most important that is crucial to make us practise continuously every day.

2. Have specific goals. Once we are motivated enough, we usually know exactly what we want. We need to clarify that within ourselves and write everything down on a piece of paper. Do not just write: “I want to play guitar good,” but what you write should be more specific, with an exact deadline of achievement: “In two years of practice from now, I will have improved my guitar speed by 100%.” Writing down our goals has a major impact on our motivation. We could do even more, if we reread and perfected them every day.

I tried to do this and obey the rule above many times myself, and I know it may be hard. Human’s greatest weakness is inconsistency and that is how I stopped rereading my goals too. If I think about my motivation of the last two months after stopping, it went exponentially down: I don’t practise constantly, I don’t have a proper motivation ... Well I am ready to change that - are you? I remember how much momentum and energy for life I had then, when I was reading my goals every day. It influenced my whole life, for I had not written only my musical goals, but also others, more personal in nature.

3. Once we have our goals in front of us, we have to plan our work. We need to know exactly what to do now, what to do next and how to do it, because often times we practise completely useless things, which have absolutely no value for our progress or reality of musicianship. A great teacher can help us overcome those inefficiencies.

4. When we have everything planned out, we can start to practise. However, even that might be completely useless, if we do not know what to focus on, to improve a certain skill. We need to have a disciplined mind and direct our thoughts with laser focus on an element of exercise we are trying to improve (right hand, individual fingers, synchronization ...). Therefore, we also need a good trainer, who teaches us how to use our thoughts while we practise.
If our mind wanders away, the practice has zero value on our progress. A grown man is proven to stay completely focused for 50 minutes, then he needs to take a break – I need less than that to deconcentrate. Next time you practice, pay attention to how quickly you can lose your concentration.

5. Once we accomplish the above, our practice quickly becomes effective and self-fulfilling. If it takes a little longer, do not worry or give up, it is completely normal to have some problems the first (or even the second) time you try. But be careful, practising effectively every day can get boring, too, if we do not upgrade our schedules and try to use what we learnt, and implement it in real life. We have to apply our skills to different musical contexts (improvisation, song writing ...), of which process can be fun by itself. To improve ourselves, we need to improve our learning process as well.

6. When you get your first results, do not forget to measure and write them down. Some of the elements are easier to measure, like speed. Others, more abstract and creative aspects of playing, can be measured by recording ourselves while improvising, and then revising and analysing the recordings. We have to revisit our written/recorded results often, to see improvements. That also helps us stay motivated, once we actually
see the result. It also makes it easier to plan new practice strategies made to improve new weaknesses we spotted over time.

Janez Janežič is a guitar teacher from Novo mesto, Slovenia. If you are looking to learn more about practicing guitar with him in his local area,
 be sure to look up his 
guitar lessons in Novo mesto.