In our modern age there are many things that answer for our time. We work for longer hours and for more days of the year, we take less vacation time (or simply don’t have any), our jobs often require us to travel more and more, and so on. Many of us are busier than we’ve ever been and it can be difficult enough to find the time for leisure, family, loved ones, or even just relaxing and vegging out in front of the TV, Netflix, a good book, or the occasional mind-numbing video game.
How then do we squeeze in the time into our busy schedules for practicing the guitar—especially when we’re first starting out and the experience of practicing can range from frustrating to depressing (making us want to practice less than grab a fattening snack from the fridge). This is actually a very common struggle for many guitarists, not just beginners. So here are some tips to help you not only carve out some time in your busy schedule for practice but also what you might do to maximize that time so you feel like it’s actually working toward something and not wasted.
First off, make a realistic estimation of how much time you can set aside. Suppose you’d like to practice two hours a day, but you can only really afford fifteen minutes. Don’t set yourself up for failure by scheduling in more time than you can handle: schedule only the time you know you can actually practice and make the most of the time you do have. While ambitions are good we can easily set up a self-fulfilling prophecy that makes it so we “just don’t have the time” because we set the bar a bit too high for ourselves.
Schedule Your Guitar Time
When I say “schedule” your time for practice, I mean actually write it into your planner (or your phone or whatever you use) and tell friends and family (and your phone) that you shouldn’t be disturbed during these fifteen minutes. Turn off your phone, close the laptop or put your computer to sleep, and sweep away any other distractions you might have. These are your fifteen minutes (or hour or however long you have) with the guitar. One thing that is very important for a practice routine is making it regular, daily even. So really commit to making this a part of your daily schedule, even if you know it has to be a very small amount of time. Besides, you’d be surprised at what you can accomplish in fifteen minutes a day!
Also, it’s very important that when you do practice you focus your time on specific goals, that you work to solve problems, and that you are working to develop good habits. It won’t be any good to set aside your precious time for practice everyday if you use your time by noodling. Now, I don’t mean that you shouldn’t enjoy your time with the guitar and that you shouldn’t “play,” but the best way forward to improvement and reaching your goals on the instrument will take discipline and hard work. The little time you do have must be quality time.
To that end, keep a journal where you can write in daily, weekly, and longer-term goals you’d like to achieve. Perhaps for today you are going to focus just on making this particular etude or song sound more dynamic, or maybe you want to focus this week on getting your right-hand arpeggios cleaner. Having goals (and reinforcing them by writing them down) will also go a long way to enforcing good habits in your practice time. So set some goals for yourself, then break up your time into smaller chunks so you can solve problems you encounter on the way toward these goals, and then after you’re done write about what you can do better or differently tomorrow.
Time To Practice
So once you have the time for practice set aside, scheduled, structured, and you’re ready to go, it’s important to make the most of it. Simply playing through pieces you want to learn rather than spending your time working on solving problems and working toward specific goals is a difficult habit to unlearn, and, more to the point, it can be difficult to make positive progress if you spend your practice time that way. On the other hand, if you keep a daily practice routine and you really work hard to make progress during that time, even a very limited amount of time per day can go a long way.