As guitarists, we are constantly subjected to a restless energy that pervades our personal, practicing lives: The need to always get “better” at guitar. As a result, countless people are burning themselves out from this wonderful instrument!
I have seen plenty of students make practicing guitar into a super heavy commitment. Anyone who is familiar with my teaching method knows that I only assign practice exercises that can be completed in under five minutes of practice each day. The result is this: We tend to get more momentum with smaller, more targeted amounts of practice.
Sometimes however, we have to be mindful of how we are practicing because in no other activity on guitar do we spend so much time relating to the instrument. Sure there’s performance, but how many beginners are interested in that? My point is, sometimes we take practicing guitar a little too seriously and we need to chill out!
The following are four situations where I think it would be a smart idea to practice less, or even not to practice at all. Let’s jump in!
Don’t practice guitar when life is overwhelming you
Do you need any reminder about this? Life is challenging enough without adding extra weight in which might complicate things.
When my father died, I didn’t bother to even think about practicing. Rather, I let it go and allowed myself to grieve naturally. When I was ready, I found myself back in the saddle and practicing with gusto.
Don’t practice guitar when you’re extremely tired
Again, we can say this is common sense. Practicing guitar is a mentally heavy activity. Why go at it when we are tired?
Lately, I’ve been getting into my studio early in the morning. I’ve found that I can get more done when I’m fresher and have experienced less in a day. There are times however when I just need sleep and I forced myself to get to the studio only to realize that I just wanted to take a nap! It’s better just to take the nap and come back later.
Don’t practice guitar when your hand, or any part of your body is hurting
Many times, we practice more and more and more for no good reason, which is misguided. That saying “No Pain No Gain” doesn’t apply to guitar. It’s the type of instrument that will punish you if you try to practice it and ignore pain.
As a graduate student at the Eastman School of Music, studying classical guitar, I often put in 6-8 hours of practice every single day. I would ignore pain, and as a result my body felt fatigued with practice. That experience came close to ruining my relationship with guitar, which I believe is far more important than “being good at guitar.”
Don’t practice guitar if you’re feeling a lot of tension in your body
One reason I love music is because it offers me a chance to just relax and enjoy the music I’m playing. Why on earth would I want to make that very enjoyable experience into a tension-filled one?
One student I worked with years ago often practiced with so much tension that she stopped feeling like it was fun anymore. She played with so much tension that she was unable to play without it. Technique on the guitar can be built on tension, but the problem is you’ll need that tension to be able to play what you practiced.
It’s not often that you’ll want to put the guitar down, especially after you get some momentum on the instrument! But sometimes, staying still and not approaching it is the best way to get better and to enjoy playing it.