Big Ideas / Brian's Guitar Journal / Practice Tips

Bad Behavior …and how to get back on track

Can I be completely honest with you here?

If you want your guitar playing to improve you have to practice EVERY DAY. Over the years I have worked with hundreds of beginning guitarists and I have really come to believe there is just no way around this simple fact. Doesn’t matter if you are young, old, talented, untalented, smart, not-so-smart… Those who practice every day improve quickly. Those who don’t practice every day progress painfully slowly (if at all) and are very likely to give up their quest to become good guitarists. If you read my blog, I am sure you already know and understand this. But I thought, since this issue is so important and affects all aspiring guitarists, I thought I’d try to offer some sobering advice on this subject and perhaps a few solutions that can help you better manage your time in general so that you are able to practice more consistently.

Finding the time to practice everyday is by far the single most important determinant of whether or not a beginner will actually succeed in learning to play guitar. This is interesting because regularly finding the time is not a musical skill, it is a time-management skill. The problem is that people don’t realize they have poor time management skills, they are just convinced that they are constantly busy.

To be fair, overhauling your time management skills is a difficult task. It involves changing patterns of behavior that, if you are an adult, have probably been in place for many years or even decades. Well, the best I can say is that you have to suck it up and CHANGE your behavior to one that supports a daily practice routine, or get used to playing air guitar the rest of your life.


I usually assign beginning guitarists a 15-minute practice routine and I tell them if they are short on time 10 or even 5 minutes will do. Just so long as you don’t let a day go by that you don’t pick up the guitar and try something. The difference between a player who finds that minimum of 5 minutes and the one who doesn’t isn’t just noticeable, it’s extreme. There really isn’t a lot of middle ground here.

Everyone has at least 5 minutes. If you are convinced that you don’t, then you seriously need to take an inventory of where you are spending your time. Did you watch TV today? Did you read twitter? It doesn’t matter how much time you have to devote to your job situation, raising kids, spouses, and other commitments. Chances are you are letting some time slip by on some other activity that is not as rewarding as guitar playing. You just have to identify where and then commit to changing that way in which you use your time. If you are truly committed you can find five minutes somewhere.

In my experience, overwhelmingly I’ve seen people who have relatively little going on in their life who have a million excuses and are always somehow “too busy” to practice. Whereas others who are carrying way more responsibility and have numerous demands on their time are able to consistently dial in a few minutes of practice time every day.

Excuses for being “too busy” to practice are just a distraction. They are rationalizations that allow you to go from week to week essentially wasting time. Excuses allow people to put off changing their patterns of behavior because they believe next week will be better. I have been playing guitar for over 20 years and I can tell you with certainty that “next week” won’t be any different from this week. Only those who find the time TODAY will also find it tomorrow, next week, and the week after.

A Little Change Over a Long Time

Ok so now hopefully I’ve gotten you to admit that your life it not so impossibly jammed that you can’t practice at least a little every day. Assuming you are committed to making a change, what can you actually do? Well, if it isn’t all to clear by now, I am a big believer in starting small. Especially for us adults whose behavior patterns are firmly set. Small changes are the only realistic way we can change our set behaviors. But just like planting a small seed that eventually grows into a huge tree, small changes can produce huge results over time.

That’s why I say 5 minutes is so powerful. It isn’t a huge commitment, but if you are able to be very consistent with this small amount of time, you can learn everything you need to know to be consistent with larger and larger amounts of practice time. Challenge yourself to do 5 minutes every single day for 30 days straight. At the end of those 30 days I think you will see what I mean.

Trust me, as I am a former excuse maker extraordinaire, I no longer accept any excuses for not practicing EVERY DAY. It doesn’t matter who you are. If you can learn to use your time efficiently, you will not only have time to learn and master the guitar, but you will have time in each and every day to exercise, floss, talk to your spouse, clean up the kitchen, update your blog (whoops!), learn Spanish (D’oh!), walk the dog, and a million other cool things that make life more fun and rewarding.

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