I’m lazy. Really lazy. In fact, I like to do the least amount of work possible to get a desired result. I don’t like to spend anymore time in a practice room than I have to. Setting a time limit in a practice session helps me refine my laziness.
I structure my practice in half hour chunks, and use my practice log to track daily tasks and goals. During that half hour, my focus is solely on one piece or section. My practice log might say things like:
- Drill measure 11-12
- Use stop/go techniques to nail the LH shift in measure 16
- Play, and shape the melody alone several times, then put it with the accompaniment
Very rarely does my practice log contain, “this is what I did today,” thoughts. I like to put tasks things to try out in there. Because I have a time limit, a half hour, I have to be efficient and focused to achieve my goals for a given day.
You can use time limits to become more focused. Many guitarists do not take the time to really think about what they’re doing. They practice by performing over and over again, and the piece begins to get under their fingers eventually. I know this is how it works because I used to do it!
A time limit can be any length. Some might find that twenty minutes work best. I would not suggest looking at a clock to often. I tend to be able to maintain intense focus for about a half hour before I need a break. Most time I don’t look at the clock, that’s just how it works. Using something like a kitchen timer can work well. Set it for your time limit, stop when it’s over.
The first time you move to this method, it’s not going to work well. In fact, the timer will go off and you’ll probably think, “I’ve done nothing.”
Now the fun part: why? Why didn’t you accomplish what you set out to do? What practice technique might have worked better?
By questioning your methods you’ll find ways to refine your practice time and deliver a more detailed and effective performance. If you have a teacher, discuss with them ways to practice things you’re having trouble with. Or discuss ways in which you can refine a musical idea, and practice it.
Good long term goals have definable time limits and are a stretch, but achievable. There’s no reason that short term goals can’t be the same. As you progress and get used to using this method of practice, you’ll be able better refine your goals into workable portions. Remember that you might not be able to fix everything in one day, but progress can be made on those longer term goals if effective practice methods are used.
Most importantly, setting a time limit on short term goals might be the most effective way to force more efficiency into your practice time. Which means less time practicing, and, though we all love the guitar, that’s never a bad thing.