What Choice Research Can Tell You About Practicing

I’ve been reading a lot about choice lately. Specifically, I’m interested in how and why people make choices. And a lot of it has applications to practicing and playing a guitar (or any instrument).

Satisfice for a While

In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz spends a lot of time talking about maximizing and satisficing. Maximizing is finding the best choice or option. Satisficing is finding one thing that works and doing it.

We need to spend more time satisficing and less time looking for the ideal solution or the ideal technical routine or the perfect way to practice scales. Chose first option that meets your minimum requirements (ex. “I need a 30 minute technical routine), then practice. There are no bad choices in practicing. If something doesn’t work for you, you’ve gained valuable knowledge for later on (see below). If something does, then keep using it until it stops working.


When things are analogous they relate in some respects, but may be different in others. This is different from a metaphor, which relates dissimilar things. Both analogues and metaphors can be used as problem solving strategies. In our case, analogues are more useful.

Everything we do is similar something else. Every practice event probably relates to something we’ve done before. There are only so many things we can do on the guitar, and once you have some experience with most of them you’ll have a huge knowledge base on which to draw.

Think critically about how you solved similar problems before tackling a new one. Look at your practice log if you have to. If you don’t have anything in your memory that relates, ask your teacher about it. Ask him/her to tell a story about how they would solve the problem.

Here’s an example:
I know that when I learn a complex arpeggio pattern–or something unfamiliar to my right hand–that I tend to accent the first beat after a left hand shift. My right hand gets a little too excited and the tension from the left hand carries to the right in the form of an accent. Not good. Because I know this, I (1) look out for it in situations where it might happen in hope of avoiding it and (2) notice it when it does happen so I can fix it. Because my previous experience has taught me this technical quirk, I can work to correct it before it becomes a habit in a piece.

Posted on in Classical Guitar Practice Tips