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.
Good thoughts here. I’m going to try and implement this. With family and job, practicing efficiently is absolutely vital for me.
Thanks for the advice on practicing with focussed intention. Another area of practice I think players will find benefit form focussing on is using visualization techniques (practicing without guitar in a hand, using only the imagination). there is the famous story of Vladimir Horowitz travelling on a train in Russia heard the news that he had memorized the wrong concerto. As a result he had to memorize a concerto never played before on the train to the concert. The legend has it that he arrived at the concert and played the concerto flawlessly, having never “played” it before. Of course, he played the entire thing in his imagination before he walked onto that stage……….this of course would also without doubt be connected to a profound sense of pitch, dynamics, articulation and technique that is mind boggling and perhaps beyond the reach of most. Nevertheless, it conveys to the student the power of the genius mind in moving a well trained musical body.
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[…] Refined Laziness–Christopher Davis has a terrific method for practice sessions and how you can improve your own practice as well as the practice sessions of your students. (The Classical Guitar Blog) […]
Well written. I need to help my students understand this.
That’s a very good concept. Incorporating time limits into your practice will also help prevent hand injuries. I get phases where I play for extended periods of time and completely over do it. I end up straining something and have to stop playing for a few days to allow my hands to heal. Nowadays, I’m trying to play less, more often.
I tell my students that laziness is a sign of intelligence, and that there was only one invention that was ever created to make more work for people: Exercise machines! I also tell them that the more they work with their heads, and the less they work with their hands, the more money people will generally throw at them! Laziness should never be an enabling factor for not reaching our goals however. Work smarter not harder, but at the end of the day, we still do the work. Split it up into managable bites, find the easiest, most comfortable way to get it done, but we still need to get it done because the alternative is that we will have to do something much more physically demanding to get a lot less in return to exist on.