How to Pull Your Daily Guitar Practice Back on Track

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Handcuffed to the Fretboard Part III

Welcome back to the “Handcuffed to the Fretboard” series. This series is all about getting back to basics and mastering the fundamentals of the instrument.

So far in this series we’ve covered setting goals, committing to a modest amount of daily practice, and starting a simple practice log.

Here is the first article in this series: Handcuffed To The Fretboard: Why You Still Haven’t Mastered The Basics

How’ve You Been Doing?

Now’s a great time to review the past week’s set of practice log entries and see how well you’ve been hitting your daily target.

Confession time. A quick glance through my own practice log reveals that I had an… erratic week. For one thing, I didn’t do a great job of actually keeping notes on when and what I studied. I also didn’t do all that well at leaving myself simple, clear instructions on what to work on the next day.

So–unfortunately–I can’t really tell how well I kept up with my practice goals this week. Out of the past seven days, let’s say that I’ve actually buckled down to do my self-assigned music theory homework on three different nights. Less than half of what I wanted to accomplish. Oops.

So I’m taking a minute here to mentally review and strengthen my commitment. I’m writing myself a dead simple reminder to paste on the lid of my laptop:

  1. Open practice log
  2. Do what it says
  3. Leave directions for tomorrow

Even when you start slow, forming a new habit isn’t easy. I’ve definitely slipped here–distracted by the Olympics and Twitter and my other love, writing–but today’s a new day. I can start again.

I could of course waste time smacking myself in the head with my own guitar as punishment, but instead of associating the instrument with guilt, pain, shame, and giant splinters, I’m just going to calmly adjust course and try again.

No guilt. No panicked attempt to make up the lost time. Just slow, steady, sustainable improvement. I’m in this for the long haul.

Mastery of the instrument is going to require attention, focus, and deliberate slow stretching of my attention span over weeks, months, and years. I’ll have to be patient with myself, patient with my studies, and patient with the process.

Would beating myself up bring me any closer to my goal? No.

So I won’t. Instead I’ll ask myself:

What Went Wrong This Week?

Well, for starters, my practice journal has been tucked away out of sight. It’s just one more plain .TXT file on a crowded, cluttered computer desktop.

So right now–as I’m writing this–I’m switching to a Moleskine I’ve had lying around unopened. I’m writing today’s date and leaving myself a quick note on what to work on tonight:

“Open to page 21 of music theory book. Write out all natural minor keys on the music staff.”

Which leads me to another problem: unfortunately, the music theory book that I’m using is dry, dry, dry and the exercises are poorly designed. If you know of a music theory text that you can wholeheartedly recommend, please leave a link in the comments.

As it is, I’m scribbling all over the margins of my current theory book just to make it seaworthy. I’m even rewriting the exercises myself before I do them. Not an ideal situation.

Another problem with the book I’m using (which shall go unnamed): it doesn’t give me any explanations of the material. It just says, for example: “Here’s the melodic minor scale. Memorize it.” No context. Not a single word on what the scale will be useful for. Just “Memorize this. Because I say so.”

Not exactly inspiring. There’s a big difference between being told what to do and being told why. Being told why is much more motivating.

So I’ll have to be my own coach on this one, and just push myself through via brute force while searching for a better theory book.

I Have Enough Time

Here’s one excuse that rose immediately to my mind when I reviewed my log this week: “I don’t have enough time to practice!”

Whoa, whoa. Hold on a second here. Do I feel stressed and rushed, like there’s no time to practice? Yes. But that doesn’t make it true.

Last week I found time to watch the Olympics. I found time to tweet. I found time to noodle. I found time to sit in front of a dozen forms of idle entertainment as my minutes and hours merrily circled the drain.

If I can find time to do all that, I can easily find time to practice a little bit every day.

Your Turn

Well, that’s enough about me.

If you’ve been keeping a practice log, go ahead and review your past week of entries. How’s it going? Are you having trouble committing to practice? If so, why?

If you slip, study what happened. Stay calm, refocus, and renew your commitment. If you show up for even a few practice sessions in a row, you’ll start to pick up momentum–showing up today makes it easier to show up tomorrow.

Once you’ve finally got that small habit of daily practice in place and you start to really grow as a musician–even just a little bit–the habit will start to feed itself. Instead of struggling to do the work, you’ll wake up each morning hungry for more.

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Nicholas Tozier

Nicholas Tozier is a book hoarder and songbird from the woods of Maine. In 2012 he made a small cameo in Songwriting Without Boundaries by Berklee professor Pat Pattison, and was named one of CDBaby’s top 10 Songwriting Resources to follow on Twitter.

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ronald brisson
ronald brisson
10 years ago

looking for blues?metal players to swap and share technics and safe out in the storms and cryin cause i cant ride my bike ahhh

10 years ago

Wow this is just the answer to my problems, It’s been hard to me to keep a practice routine, I’m feeling like I’m loosing the passion, this article will help me a lot, thank you sou much, I really needed to hear that, it is frustrating to play the same and feel that you are loosing your talent.. I hope to see a part 4.. Thank you again!!

Nicholas Tozier
Nicholas Tozier
Reply to  Johnny
10 years ago

Hey, thank you Johnny. Part 4 is on the way; I’ve already started writing it. 🙂

Passion is definitely what it’s all about, and that’s what the next post is all about. Stay tuned.

10 years ago

Hey what’s up. So I’m a Bassist from NY and this article attacked my problem with super accuracy! I have the BIGGEST problem when it comes to the basics. All my friends think I’m amazing and my band mates as well. Problem is while yes, I have a great ear and can play anything I hear when it comes to theory and really KNOWING the fretboard I’m nowhere near where I should be for having played for 3 years! This article was EXACTLY what I needed and now with a clear map of how to go about this I’m really excited to take my bass playing to a while new level! Thanks man!

Nicholas Tozier
Nicholas Tozier
Reply to  Tai_Bass
10 years ago

I’m glad that even though everybody’s already patting you on the back, you’re willing to dig deeper and put more of yourself into the bass, Tai. Very cool.

stan sinclair
stan sinclair
10 years ago

i’m teaching myself through the mel bay guitar method and came upon your piece,it gave me a jolt of motivation to finish the last three books ! a very knowledgable written article thank u

Nicholas Tozier
Nicholas Tozier
Reply to  stan sinclair
10 years ago

Thanks so much for letting me know, Stan. Glad you’re muscling through those books! I’ve got music theory, piano practice, and some guitar practice to work on this afternoon as soon as I finish writing another article.

Take care, Stan.

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