Three Things to Stop Doing During Your Practice Time

Productive people often use to do lists. Sometimes using a to-do list is a great way to create a practice schedule. But super-efficient guitar practicers don’t just have to do lists. They have stop doing lists.

Good practicers know that some things eat away practice time, and they avoid them. Here are three things nearly everyone wastes time on.

1. Stop Looking for Pencils, Your Metronome, and Everything Else

Taking notes is important. You can write fingerings and expression markings on your score or you can take some notes in your practice log. That’s why keeping a pencil in your practice area is essential.

Metronomes, pencils, tuners, water, and footstools are all tools of the trade. Keep them in your practice area, and stop wasting practice time looking for them.

2. Stop Playing Through Entire Pieces

Almost every guitar student in the world begins her practice session with this three step process:

  1. Sit down, get the guitar out
  2. Put the guitar way, looking for all the needed supplies (see point one)
  3. Play through an entire piece to “see where it’s at”

The last step is incredibly unfortunate. Partly because the student is probably not warmed up.

The real reason to not play through an entire piece, however, is because you don’t need to. Whether or not you keep a practice log, chances are you probably have a good idea of what sections you really need to practice. A big part of being an efficient practicer is working to improve the weaknesses, not the strengths.

So stop wasting practice time playing through entire pieces and start zeroing in on the real issues.

3. Stop Making Mistakes

Practice is about playing something perfectly as many times as possible. Sometimes that means using certain practice techniques or even just slowing down a bit.

Don’t get caught up in the flow of the piece and keep going. Don’t try to work on multiple issues at once. Just focus on one or two things and do them perfectly as much as possible. It works like this: every time you play something your muscles and mind are building memory. You want to feed that memory the best possible material, which means finding ways to play correct repetitions as much as possible.

Sometimes mistakes do happen, but many times they aren’t mistakes at all: they are poor practice habits. Practice carefully and stop wasting practice time making mistakes.

What are some of the things that eat away at your practice time?

Posted on in Classical Guitar Practice Tips


  • Ben Rybolt
    Ben Rybolt

    In addition to link you posted about having a goal oriented practice session…when I’m working on my solo repertoire, I sit down with the piece and work strictly on that piece for whatever amount of time I give myself (whether it’s an hour, 45 minutes, etc.) I think during your practice time, especially if you’re trying to get a lot done and don’t have a lot of time, it’s easy to jump from scales to arpeggios to pieces to slur exercises or whatever, and never really gained something from doing any of it because you’re jumping around so much.

  • Todd

    Hey Chris,

    I can’t agree with you more on points 1 and 3. There is a reason why you carry around a back pack, pencil bag, and lunch box when you’re a kid. Keeps you organized. You have to be organized. Keeps your brain from wasting energy and saves you time.

    Practice without mistakes. It’s pretty much common sense. The real factor here is learning how to be focused. Take care of what you are learning and learn it well. Experiment to develop ideas. Use the knowledge you have to expand ideas and express them. Deal with technical issues when you need to and relate them to the music.

    However, you have to play through entire pieces. You have to know what it’s like to perform them. Playing through a piece in its entirety also brings to light the areas you need to focus on in order to integrate them into the entire performance. Rather than being able to play a certain 4 bars alone and not in the context of the performance.

    Also, playing your pieces with minimal warm-up (hand stretches and a couple basic fundamental techniques will do) is very good for you. It teaches you to “pull the trigger” when you need to. It’s all to common for musicians to need to warm-up for an hour plus before they play. This makes what we do seem too difficult. It puts performance on a pedestal that is above you and then you get really nervous. Of course this isn’t always true, but a very common result from that mindset.

    I see where you are coming from. Many guitarists and musicians view practice as just performing before they actually understand how to practice. But you can’t go to the other end of the spectrum and say don’t play through an entire piece. There are too many things to learn from doing it. After all, what good are you if you only play excerpts and not an entire piece.

    One other quick note. For practice organization, I find the best way is to establish an A day, B day, C day, etc system. These pieces and techniques get nailed down on day A, these on day B, etc. Practice all your pieces everyday, but only do maintenance when a piece isn’t scheduled for that day. When a piece is scheduled for that day…analyze, establish musical ideas, work out difficult techniques, etc. Also, most great players I’ve talked to run their entire program around half speed each day. This is a priceless practice technique.

    Thanks, I’m done ranting now.


    • Christopher Davis

      But you can’t go to the other end of the spectrum and say don’t play through an entire piece.

      That’s a totally different type of practice — practicing performance. And yes, you do need to do it. But not every day. Maybe for a week or two before a gig.

      It puts performance on a pedestal that is above you and then you get really nervous.

      Disagreed. It depends on how you approach the performance day. If you treat it like any other, it’s fine. I warm up every day. I practice every day.

      Does that mean I should just get on stage and adjust my daily routine to not include warm ups? I don’t think so. You shouldn’t “practice” on the day of, but you can certainly incorporate what you normally do warm up wise. It just depends on the situation.

      There’s also the physiological aspect: we should warm up. Even if it’s a minimal warm up.

      • Todd

        I understand where you are coming from, as stated. The problem being is speaking in ultimate terms. What you are suggesting (only playing the entire piece 2 to 3 weeks before a recital) really goes against the grain of almost all great concert artists past and present. This doesn’t mean you’re doomed to fail if you take care of things in a different way. However, when certain approaches have been proven to be successful it’s a good chance that it will work for you as well. Let’s just sum it all up with a cliche. Those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it. Learn the history and expand with your own knowledge.

  • Pete Mitchell
    Pete Mitchell

    Great post Chris. Number 2 probably eats away the majority of my practice time. Regardless of when you should start practicing “performing” something, the main point is deciding on the very thing you are practicing (performing the entire piece or just the difficult sections). At least that is what I took away from it. I really appreciate the practice time efficiency posts as I am usually fairly pressed for time before I go to work or on the weekends.

  • Christophe Keller

    I must say point 2 is a big issue with me. I like the pleasure I get from playing a piece through too much when I should really stop immediately when I do a mistake. My former teacher often scolded me for this :-).

    And I disagree with Todd. Top athletes, singers, etc. always warm up before a performance. So why think guitarists are different and don’t need it? While it is not always possible to warm up before a performance, if given the choice I will always do so.

  • marcus

    its my first time visitng this webby after looking for articles on playing classical music with the electric guitar. I kinda like it here.

  • Mongza

    Chris, practicing difficult sections of a piece separately by itself is a great idea but it doesn’t mean that one should not play the entire piece through. It is a bad idea to sacrifice expression in order to achieve technical perfection. I say, work on both. Two to three weeks before the performance is too little time to practice playing the piece in its entirety. When are you to enjoy the music? The music you play is not just for the audience alone, it is for you. And only after you come to appreciate the particular piece can you interpret it successfully for your audience to enjoy. And you wouldn’t be able to grasp the essence of a piece by playing it in full only a couple times. Classical music isn’t as simple as contemporary popular music. Much goes inside it. It takes time to dig out those beautiful gems. Understand the piece is essential for a productive performance.

    One lase but very important point: TODD KNOWS WHAT HE IS TALKING ABOUT!
    (don’t just take my word for it. Experimentation is good idea)

    • Omar

      Chris has pointed out great stuff but Todd and Cadial’s replies made sense to me. We need to play the pieces from the beginning to the end. We can’t only focus on playing few ideas, small sections etc. It is VERY IMPORTANT to work on improving our pieces technically and musically but the final goal is to perform them.

  • Cadial

    I agree with some commentators on this: It’s not enough to play the entire piece only one or two weeks before a performance.
    Of course you should work on the bars that are the most demanding, but not on the expense of the whole piece; the piece needs to be remembered too, just like the small technical parts.
    AND a shocking opinion: You’ll even need to be prepared to continue the flow once you do that misstake; ’cause you will! So most people will need to know their piece as a whole long before D-Day, I would say at least half a year if it’s a demanding piece like Asturias or Capricho Arabe.