Practice Makes Perfect? Yeah, I Thought So, Too
When I was twelve years old I picked up the guitar (seriously) for the first time. Granted, I had an old acoustic that my dad’s roommate gave to me when I was four. However, I don’t think randomly flailing about on an instrument constitutes as progression.
Nevertheless, when I picked up this instrument I knew for a fact that I wanted to know all of its secrets. Recently, I had gotten into Coheed and Cambria, a band that influenced my will to practice. I studied all of their tablature and over the course of my first year and a half, I became a fairly competent guitarist. I could bounce around the fretboard with relative ease and could play entire songs from memory.
Unfortunately, during that time I had developed some bad habits that got in the way when I wanted to take my guitar game to the next level.
Around my second year of playing guitar, I began listening to another band – Between the Buried and Me. They were a stark contrast to Coheed. Whereas Coheed and Cambria’s guitar work was filled with relatively simple chord progressions and mild (but very pleasing solos) the work of BTBAM was filled with face-melting shredding and rifts that put my fingers in knots.
In short, there were technical shortcuts that I could no longer get away with if I wanted to progress as a musician.
My Friend George – Mr. Practice Makes Permanent
I came across a thread on the internet in my desperate search to improve my guitar playing. One member mentioned the book “The George Van Eps Guitar Method” – for all you guitarists out there, here’s the link!
Once I got my copy, I read through the introduction and found a little nugget of information that changed my perspective as to how I practiced.
Practice Makes Permanent
This book decried cramming multi-hour guitar practice sessions that left guitarists mentally numb. Instead, it advocated for intensely-focused, short practice sessions – at the max of one hour per session.
It seemed counter-intuitive. Here was a book from a master guitarist telling me to practice less? What gives?
Practice Makes Permanent
Van Eps’ philosophy actually made a lot of sense!
In short, whatever we do when we practice is what we are going to do when we play. Why spend hours of not focusing entirely on what we are doing? We would not be aware of the bad habits we are instilling in ourselves!
On the flip side, if we do focus intensely, we have to be realistic with ourselves. The human attention span is actually quite short. Multiple sources give different numbers, but I’ve come across numbers as long as twenty minutes to as short as eight seconds! (Ouch!)
Assuming we are on the higher end of that spectrum, what happens when we no longer have complete focus on what we are doing? Simple. We make mistakes. And without the attention to catch those mistakes they become a part of our playing!
A Few Minutes A Day Keeps The Bad Habits Away
Think about how this applies to our social skills practice!
When I started practicing I would send myself out for hours on end until I met a “quota” of people I had to talk to. That was great for approaching strangers, but towards the end of my quota I would simply smile, say hello and my name, and after a few pleasantries cross one off my list.
I’m sure you can imagine that it didn’t do much for helping me actually connect with somebody. Eventually, I decided to nix the quota and just try to have a nice conversation with the first person I saw.
If it lasted five minutes, great! If it turned into a twenty minute coffee stroll, awesome! But that little amount of time each day was far better than the hours I spent patrolling the sidewalks and talking about the weather.
With that said, take tally of what your goals are. Practice them with intense focus and once your fatigue is getting the better part of your concentration, call it a session! Don’t feel bad for practicing for less time if it’s higher quality practice!
As my dad always said, “Work smarter – not harder!”