The best way to get good at playing guitar is to practice. Makes sense, doesn't it? Most people get that. Many budding guitar players also realize that’s it’s important to make some effort to figure out the best ways to practice. It makes sense to try to get the most progress out of the practice time you spent. However I find less people spend time figuring out the best ways to get themselves to practice. It’s generally assumed that it’s a matter or “will power” or “making time”.
I Can Hear You Say “I can practice anywhere”.
Of course you can… and you should. While that's true there is a strong emotional element underneath our day-to-day consciousness that has a strong influence on what we do and don't do. Don’t underestimate the value of having a dedicated space that you can go to where everything is working for you physically, mentally and emotionally. Sticking to a practice schedule can be difficult at times. I personally need every edge I can get, and so do you.
First I’ll talk about what is ideal and what has worked for me. You’ll want to choose and experiment to find out what works best for you.
Privacy Is Cool
I like a space that is private. Not so much because I don’t want to be disturbed, but more so I don’t worry I’m bothering other people. If I’m thinking that I’m annoying my spouse with the ten thousand rendition of the chromatic scale it’s just enough to stop before I’m really done. I don’t need complete sound isolation. Just some place where the sound won’t be in someone’s face.
Comfort Is Awesome
I also make sure I’ve got a good, comfortable seat with back support. I learned this the hard way after practicing with bad posture for years. I got by with it for a long time but it eventually caught up with me. I know now to set it up to minimize back fatigue. I’ll practice longer and feel happier about it. Happy is good. Pain is not. Got it?
Guitar Learning Tools
Now that I talked about the basic environment it’s time for some refinements. Think “what will I need so I don’t have to set it up from scratch every time?” For me it’s a metronome, a guitar tuner, a footstool (good for the back), a guitar stand and a music stand. The basics. These are all pretty obvious tools for practicing and I keep them ready to go where I need them.
Now here’s a few things that I use and recommend that might not be so obvious.
Write It Down
I want a notebook open and ready, along with a pen. Why do I need a notebook for practicing? You might think that I’m writing notes on what to practice and keeping track of my progress.
You would be right!
There’s also another reason. Over the years I’ve found that I often get “ideas” while I’m practicing scales and exercises. I’m talking about ideas like “I have to pick up my laundry today”, “what are the notes in that new scale?”, “did I answer my sisters email?”, “I should write a blog post on how to set up a guitar practice space”, etc. Many of these ideas seem like they need immediate action. Sometimes I’m just worried I’ll forget.
In the past I would either stop practicing to go take care of something or go to my computer to write it on my calendar to do later. Even if I didn’t stop I found that my attention was being diluted by trying to remember something that seemed important at the time. Now with my notebook handy when something comes into my mind that I want to remember I stop, spend 5 to 10 seconds to write it down, then continue practicing. Once I write it down, I can let it go since I know I can deal with it later. Problem solved.
Chunk It Down
The other accessory I keep handy is a timer, like an egg timer. Another name for this is a countdown timer. I set this to a specific length of time for a practice “sprint”. My entire practice session consists of a series of “sprints”. In other words I set the timer for 20 or 30 minutes depending on what I’m working on, then practice without stopping (except to write a quick idea). When the timer goes off I stop, stretch or walk for 5 minutes, then set the timer for another sprint and go at it again.
I can’t claim credit for this. I got idea after reading about a time management technique called the Pomodoro Technique. In short it is a time management method developed by an Italian named Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals separated by short breaks. I’ve found this technique useful in other areas of my life like writing and studying. After years I decided to adapt it to my guitar practice. I’ve found it tremendously helpful in both staying focused and well as retaining more of what I’m working on.
Lately I’ve been using my iPhone for the timer. It works beautifully and I always have it with me.
Make It Beautiful
The final aspect is I want my practice space to be “beautiful”. I’ve spend just a little time arranging the space and adding some artwork that I like. I found this helps brighten my attitude when I’m practicing. Just as important it helps me get motivated to practice because it’s a space I like to be in.
If anyone wants to be successful in any endeavor it pays to plan ahead. This way we remove roadblocks and do what we can to improve the odds in our favor. By setting up a practice space that works for me instead of against me I’m more likely to practice, I get more out of my practice time and I have more fun with less stress.
Did I Miss Something?
Can you think of something that you like to have in your practice space that I didn't mention? Write a comment below.
Also, send us a photo of your practice space if you have one. If you don't have one yet use this as an opportunity to set it up and take a photo. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. My assistant will collect them and share them in a future post.
Tell Us What You Think - Please Comment Below!
We would love to hear your comments and questions. What specific things are you struggling with while learning guitar?
Tomas, thanks for sharing. I, too, have a practice space. It is beautiful and I love spending time in my “music room”. If I knew how to send you a picture of it I would. Maybe I can figure it out. But anyway…it is bright and airy. I have artwork hanging on the walls and green plants sitting on pedestals. I have a bookcase to hold my music “stuff”. I can close my room off from the rest of the house but because it has French doors leading into the kitchen I’m not totally isolated from my family. My husband can come by now and then and wave at me. The only thing I don’t have that you do is a notebook, a timer and a doll ;0). I like the idea of a timer and will incorporate that into my practice time as well. Again, thanks for sharing. I love your site and the updates from you that I get in my e-mail. Keep up the wonderful work.
P.S. Would you have any advice on how to deal with performance anxiety? I do fair to middling when I’m practicing by myself but let me get in front of someone to play and all of a sudden I have 10 thumbs instead of 2. It makes me feel so foolish
It’s great to know that you also has a practice space. How we’d love to see the image of it but that is if you don’t mind. Tomas mentioned in his blog post that if you have one, you can send us a photo of your practice space to email@example.com. His assistant will collect them and share them in a future post. How’s that? Who knows, it could be your practice space which will be featured 🙂
With regard to the advice you’re seeking, please wait a little while for Tomas reply on this.
Thanks for loving Tomas Michaud’s site.
Hi Donna. Welcome to the club. I’m naturally on the introvert side and playing in front of others used to be really difficult. There’s really only one thing that works. Phycologists call it systematic desensitization. That’s a fancy word for do it over and over. Start small, with one or two people and play something easy. Then push your comfort zone little by little. Keep looking for opportunities to play for others.
That’s a simple explanation. A more thorough approach involves relaxation techniques and using your imagination as well. There are many articles on the web that can give you more information. Here’s one I found that I think is particularly good: http://www.csulb.edu/~tstevens/Desensit.htm#INTRODUCTION
Two more things I like to mention.
First, the most important part of the process is repeated exposure. Don’t get stuck in the imagination stage.
Secondly, this and many other articles mention learning meditation. From my own experience I would highly recommend this. The benefits are considerably far reaching beyond but including reducing anxiety.
Hi Tomas, I enjoyed your practice space video. I noted that you used a couch to sit on. All the other guides and instruction books I have heard and read, say you should use a comfortable straight chair without arms. Most say not to sit on a couch as it is too low.
What are your thoughts on that aspect??
Thanks you for expressing your thoughts.
Tomas is busy for now and will get back to you to answer you
question that moment his free.
Hi Kent – the small couch I’m sitting on is actually a little higher than most chairs. Couches and chairs are all different heights as are people. Try to find something that works for your body.
Thanks to you and your staff for your passion in music and patience in helping us less skilled learn productively. I have improved greatly in 10 months. I can read several types of musical notation. I’ve found the motivation to practice my tedious exercise music because my songs are better. What a joy it is to keep discovering how much more there is to learn and master. Will Hughes acts more like my mentor or partner than my instructor. Thanks Will and all.
Just wanted to say thank you for all your hard work. You make learning intresting and enjoyable. The fact that I can go back and take a second look at a lesson is a big plus too. I have been a little slow but I am enjoying the journey. Tnanks again!
You’re welcome Barry.
I moved my practice space from the living room where my wife is often watching TV to my office where I have a desk, comfortable chair and can be left alone without distractions. what a difference this has made with my practice.
Yes, that makes sense Bill. Good move! My wife tells me she doesn’t mind me practicing in the living room, but I know over time I’ll be worried that I’m disturbing her and use that as an excuse not to practice. – Tomas