Practicing Guitar: Self Discipline or Fun?
By Tom Hess
Do you find it difficult to fully enjoy the process of highly disciplined guitar practice? Most guitarists either have lots of fun practicing, but are not highly disciplined, or try to be very disciplined, but find it boring or unfulfilling when they do so. So most people make a (conscious or unconscious) choice to sacrifice ‘fun’ for discipline, or discipline for fun. Making sacrifices with your guitar practice is not only unnecessary, but can be counterproductive to becoming a great guitar player.
Let me show you why…
There was a time many years ago when I was not enjoying practicing. My learning sessions were not fun and I began to think of them as an unpleasant chore. I tried to make practicing more enjoyable, but my efforts slowed down my progress more than they helped. I responded to this by becoming more self disciplined and practicing very hard every day hoping that bigger progress would come. Unfortunately that didn’t make me much better at playing, and only made the learning process feel even less fun. I talked about this to the teacher who I was studying with at that time, and he made me realize that practicing shouldn't be seen only from one perspective, such as all fun or all discipline. The key to success is the right balance of both elements in practicing. Once I understood this, he and I could start working on creating the appropriate guitar practice schedule and improving my mental approach to practicing to finally get me on the right track to becoming the musician that I am today. In other words, I learned that there is a way to do serious practicing that produces real results while enjoying that process at the same time. This success comes partly from the practice routine itself and partly from your mindset and attitude during the process.
Serious/Purpose Driven Practicing (Self Discipline)
Many people assume that sheer self discipline and persistence will make them as good as they want to be. Unfortunately, most guitarists do not understand how to discover and sustain "the right kind" of discipline.
Some people stereotype this kind of practice as boring or “requiring too much work”. However, it is not the practice approach that is “boring”, it is often your mental state during practice that makes the process seem tedious. Of course, sometimes the opposite problem can occur and your practice approach may cause you to mindlessly go through the motions of practice. It is very difficult to get yourself to enjoy such activity. In this case, your learning strategy would need to become more effective. For more information about this, read this article.
One of the biggest mistakes regarding focused practicing that I see regularly is excluding variety and fun from the learning process. This happens frequently, especially when you are not under the guidance of a teacher who fundamentally understands this issue. You may think you are doing all the things necessary for fast progress, but your practice approach could still be susceptible to improvement. One such change may be including more variety into your practice. This will help avoid mental burn out and guitar playing frustration.
Incorporating variety into your practice does not mean a lack of focus, or doing things that are inconsistent with your goals. It simply means that you have multiple approaches for learning, applying and integrating musical skills. I call this "intelligent" variety. This is much different from "random" variety that involves mindless jumping from one item to another in your practice, with no sense of direction.
Another issue that makes it difficult to see discipline as "fulfilling" is that results usually do not occur immediately and the small gains made along the way might seem insignificant. This delayed gratification will make it hard for you to practice well on a consistent basis unless you learn to enjoy the process. (more about this later).
Improper application of the idea of variety can also lead you to working on weaknesses that don’t really matter. For example, let's assume that your goal is to become a highly advanced metal player. Since this style doesn’t require you to fuse elements of other musical genres, it wouldn't be worth your time to work on finger picking or Segovia fingerings for scales (for example). This is because these skills are not necessary for you to reach your goal. So don't waste time on them! It will take you so much longer to reach your goal if you keep getting distracted by working on unnecessary playing elements.
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Enjoying The Process (Having Fun While Practicing)
Many guitarists think (on some level) that one cannot have fun practicing guitar and get results at the same time. This thinking arises from an idea that "having fun" means random, disorganized practicing with no clear direction and no goals. While it is true that such an approach will not produce significant results, it is still very possible to have fun while working on your playing. Having fun means being able to enjoy the process of practicing. There are many things that go into this, and here is a short list:
If I told you that you would get to experience all of the above (and much more) by creating an intelligent, relevant and flexible practicing program, wouldn't you suddenly feel motivated to practice longer and harder in order to see these results? If you answered yes, then you must understand everything I wrote above about how discipline naturally develops from fulfillment!
Summary: 7 Steps to Effective Balancing of Discipline and Fun
Above all else, remember to keep at it! Use the advice from this article to make your practicing both fun and focused in order to decrease the time needed to reach your goals! If you haven’t yet taken the survey mentioned at the beginning of the article, you can do so here: http://www.tomhess.net/PracticingDisciplineOrFun.aspx
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