So you continue to make progress with “Levels for Guitar” or your guitar instructor and have made some really good gains. Every week you achieve your goals and as a result your teacher gives you more material to work on. At first this is fun and exciting but eventually you run into a common problem.
I know what you’re thinking at this point. I’ve been there. At one time I was practicing six hours a day while studying music at UNT. Four of those hours were maintenance.
All of my professors kept telling me to practice my scales. So I did. Forwards, backwards, slow, fast, every key, every position, Major, Minor, modes, pentatonic, melodic minor, harmonic minor, diminished, whole tone, sequences, with staccato, legato, using a pick, finger style in all its forms, and on, and on, and on.
It never ended.
As a beginner it was no big deal. 10-15 minutes a day and I made great progress. The problem was every time I achieved a goal, my professor would say “great job” now do this. I held on to every technique and practiced them every day, until I went nuts!
Something had to be done.
I have bit of OCD perhaps. Obsessive behavior does make for good musicians, but it can lead to unnecessary repetition and inefficient practice.
My professors told me to practice my scales every day. I took this to mean practice every scale every day. That was the problem. Scales are very important and to progress as an accomplished musician, it’s fundamental. I don’t want to leave the reader with the impression that scales are unnecessary, but you can overdo it.
Much in the same way that too much vitamin A can make you sick, or even kill you. Playing the same technique for 2+ hours a day can take its toll on the body and keep you from spending time on other important areas. Something so basic for musical development could possibly be the cause of its deterioration.
I stated earlier as a beginner I made great progress on 10-15 minutes a day of scale practice. Great news. The same goes to intermediate and advanced players. Do we practice scales daily?
The difference is time management. How can I condense 2 hours of scale practice into 15 minutes? Here is how I do it….
There are 7 days in the week, so I divide my workload into 7 areas of concentration.
Each day has 3 parts:
2) Technical maintenance
Here is a brief summary of the categories listed above without getting to technical:
Warm-up – This is easy stuff that I can play in my sleep (and often do).
Maintenance – Memorized scales and technical drills using scales that keep me in shape. Like jogging a mile every day. For those out of shape, this is agony. For those in shape, this is easy and kind of fun. If we don’t do it, it becomes agony.
Development – This is the category for learning new skills. With scales, it could be learning a new pattern, sequence, or increase in speed. This is not memorized material and requires careful planning. I practice the development drill daily until my goal is reached, then I move it into the maintenance file.
Depending on your work load, you can divide the warm-up and maintenance categories into a 2, 3, 4, or as in my case, a 7-day cycle. For example, instead of playing every warm-up scale every single day, try practicing a third of your warm-up scales on Monday, then practice a third on Tuesday followed by the remaining third on Wednesday.
Due to the fact that I have been playing guitar for a long time and have acquired the memory of many scale patterns and drills, I divide my easy warm-up and maintenance scale practices into a 7-day cycle so that I can concentrate on less material each day. These scales are easy now. They no longer require the same attention I gave them as a beginner.
Guess what? It works!
My scale practice is only 20 minutes (down from 2 hours) and I often miss days too due to a busy schedule. Indeed, it’s possible to enjoy a professional, social, and healthy lifestyle while learning guitar!
This same tactic works for learning and maintaining your arpeggios, chords, and songs. Using this practice method, my workload has gone from 6 hours of insanity to 1-2 hours a day depending on the number of songs I decide to maintain.
Play smart, not hard. Manage your time!