Practice, Rest and the Evolution of a Guitarist
In this article, I wanted to talk about my views of the importance of balancing your practice time with periods of rest as well as what I see as the two major stages a guitarist will go through in their process of learning the instrument.
You often find guitar teachers who believe the more practice a student performs the better. I believe it is more beneficial to find the right balace between practicing your guitar and rest, or putting the instrument down.
Jast as it is natural for people to wake for a period of time followed by sleep, I tend to think that with the right balance, periods of time you spend away from the guitar can actually be beneficial in your improvement at the instrument.
The point I am making here mainly applies to students who have already been playing their guitar for at least a few years, and I will discuss this in more detail below.
This concept of rest applies at several different scales. When considering your amount of daily practice, as outlined in the SOBR guitar method, I believe it is important to attempt to maintain a receptive state of mind that places a light attention on some aspect of the sound or your practice. Everybody will have different capacities here.
Once you have played too much in a day, you will be unable to maintain a curious attention to what you are doing and you will either be distracted while you play or simply become very lethargic and dull in your attention. In many cases, at this point the best thing to do is put your instrument down. You would be better off having a rest from the instrument so the next time you pick it up, either latter in the day or the next day, you are able to maintain an interested attention on what you are doing again.
By forcing yourself to continue practice beyond what your natural level of interest and concentration can maintain, I believe you will ultimately lower your interest in the instrument and hamper your creative progress.
As well as applying to a daily practice routine like this, the same concept applies at say a weekly time frame. It will often be the case that if you are becoming stale with the instrument, taking a day or two off practice will allow you to come back with rejuvenated interest. It is also the case that by giving yourself a break like this, your mind is often able to best understand how you should approach the instrument to improve when you return to the instrument as the mind will still be adjusting its concept of your playing when you have put the instrument down.
I believe that as a progressing guitarist, you will regularly need to change your view and approach to what you are doing with the instrument. If you do not give yourself sufficient rest from the instrument, this process can be hindered, as it is often when you have a break that you will naturally adjust your view on how you should be proceeding.
As well as applying to a daily and weekly practice routine, the same concept apples through the course of your life as a guitarist. I’m sure many people will disagree with this, but if you have been playing quite intensively for many years in a row, are are becoming stale and sick of your instrument, for many people it will be the case that the best thing they can do for their music in the long term is to take say a year off from the instrument. When you return to the instrument, you may come back with quite a more advanced concept of how to use a lot of the subtleties of the instrument such as the use of nuances like vibrato, bends, slides and a lot of the more musical elements of playing. Additionally, this progress may not have been made by forcing yourself to continue a regimented practice routine without break beyond the point that your natural curiosity and interest can be maintained.
I don’t want what I am saying here to be misunderstood by players who are new to the instrument. The progress that will be made during your periods of rest from the instrument is still a result of the practice you put in before the period of rest.
For this reason, I really see two main stages that a guitarist moves through in their progress.
The first stage may last several years, such as practicing diligently for a period of maybe 4 or 5 years at the instrument.
This stage is marked by learning the basic co-ordination needed to play the instrument and the basic components of musicality. Players at this stage will often be driven by an ambition for the instrument. They may want to become an incredibly fast shredder, others will want to develop the versatility that is required to be an in demand session musician. Others still may be driven by the concept of playing and recording in a successful original band or working regularly as a covers musician.
During this stage, I definitely recommend to let your ambition drive you to put in as much practice time as you can. The hours you put in here will form a seed that latter in your life as a guitarist will allow you to continue improving even through breaks from the instrument.
Once your initial drive and practice has reached saturation (hopefully lasting several years) at this point, your approach to the instrument will change.
This is where you move into the second stage of progress at the instrument. One of the defining changes here is that your previous ambition or drive is replaced by a simple interest in increasing the musicality of your playing. It is during this second stage that I believe the importance of periods of rest is most relevant and will lead to greater growth in musicality than simply pushing the hours you put at the instrument as much as possible.
Also note that the balance of practice to rest time will be different for everyone. There are indeed players who can continuously practice a large number of hours a day for virtually their whole life and remain creative and progressing well at the instrument.
If you turn out to be one of these players, you will probably end up very good at the instrument.
If however, your natural balance implies that excessive hours causes a staleness in your interest, I believe it is more beneficial to consider the rest periods I have talked about here than it is to force yourself to try to be one of those rare musicians whose practice sees virtually no limit.
I hope this helps.