6 Keys To Avoiding Overwhelm During Your Guitar Practice
A big challenge in learning guitar is to manage the feeling of overwhelm in your practice. Here are six tips that will help you to keep overwhelm at bay and be more productive in your practice sessions.
Plan your practice
It´s essential that you know exactly what you want to practice each day, so you can simply pick up your guitar and start working, instead of first having to think about what you want to work on today and then being bogged down by a million options. This often simply ends in playing stuff you already know and fooling yourself by thinking that you have actually practiced.
Start by creating categories of the things you are working on (Everything you are working on should be directly related to the goals you want to achieve on guitar).
Those could be: Theory, Scales, Chords, Repertoire, Technique, Ear Training etc. Group a few of these items for one day and distribute the other elements to other days.
Monday: Music Theory, Arpeggios, Scales
Tuesday: Chords, Repertoire, Legato Technique
If you have a heap of papers, various books and tab on your desk, it will clutter your mind and bog you down, before you even start. Make sure you get organized and find a way that makes you feel in control of your practice materials and the areas you are working on.
I have folders with Day One, Day Two, Day Three on it and keep the practice materials I need in each of these folders. This helps me to stay organized and not get overwhelmed.
Focus on the important
It´s kind of obvious, but I see this all the time: students get lost in practicing tons of stuff they don´t need for what they want to do.
For the majority of your practice time, it´s essential that you define what it is EXACTLY that you want to be able to play and then focus on the elements that will bring you closer to that goal and not get sidetracked by shiny objects on Youtube.
It´s okay to give yourself some time to experiment with certain things that might not by related to your goals, but this has to be done in a part of your practice, when you simply give yourself time to play, experiment and enjoy the instrument.
Take a day off
Type A personalities often see taking a day off as being lazy or a lost day. It´s not, when the proportion is right. When you follow a focused daily practice schedule, it is essential that you give your brain some time off now and again, to give it time to digest all the information you have fed into it. Bodybuilding is a good example here: You would not blast your body all the time, never giving it rest and time to adapt to the stress it was exposed to. You train hard and then you give your body time to adapt, that´s when it grows. We can work more on guitar, because much of the adaptations are nervous system related, but give your brain and body one day per week to relax and recover from all the work you put it.
Measure your progress
Another very important aspect is to measure your progress. If you don´t, you can´t evaluate and will have no idea if you are coming closer to your goals or not.
Compare it with sailing a ship – you begin by setting a goal. This can be to play a certain riff or arpeggio at a certain speed, for example. You measure where you are and start working on it. After some time, you measure again and evaluate how far you´ve come. If you have not made progress, you have to figure out why you didn´t move towards your goal and change your strategy and practice approach. Without measuring you are guessing and have no idea what you are doing, so it´s key to get the numbers down. You can use a simple practice journal on paper or keep a file on your computer, but be careful not to overcomplicate things. It should be fast and become second nature to you over time.
End each session with something joyful
Guitar practice can be extremely demanding when you are really pushing yourself. It´s therefore very important that you end each session by playing something that brings you joy, something that clearly demonstrates to your brain that the work and massive amounts of energy you put into this is well worth it.
About the author:
Derk Stiepelmann helps his students reach their guitar playing goals and teaches guitar lessons in Dortmund at Songwriter´s Shed, Germany.