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How Much Should I Practice?

April 17, 2017

 

 

 

A question that is frequently asked of me is this: how much time I should be practicing?

 

For a long time, my answer to this question was a cheeky "as long as it takes!" But in the course of my duties at SoFlo Music School teaching guitar to people ranging from 6 to 69, I have a gained a lot more insight into this process. What I have learned is that while time accumulated is vital, what you practice is also an essential part of the equation.

 

So let's talk about time. Based on my observations, 60 to 90 minutes a week is the minimum it takes to see some progress on your instrument. I do stress this is the minimum we like to see at SoFlo. There's one student of mine who regularly puts in 2 hours a day. As you might imagine, he's progressing very quickly. 

 

Of course you might say "60 minutes a week.... 8 1/2 minutes a day -- no problem!" Here's the catch: when you sit down (or stand!) for a practice session there's a certain amount of "warming up" inherit in the process. Getting the fingers limber, turning on your "music" brain, sometimes even a quick review of what you had previously gone over. That is why I like a minimum of 30 minutes per practice session. A half hour is a adequate amount that allows you to get the brain and fingers firing on all cylinders so you can absorb new material and concepts and "break through" to the next micro-development of your playing.

 

As far as a maximum amount of practice time, that's up to you! There is no question that most of the musical greats had an intense "woodshedding" period earlier in their careers where they would do multi-hour practice sessions on a daily basis.

 

An irony is that many professional musicians are so busy with performing that they have little time for practice. When I was on the road full-time as a sideman for national acts, my practice time was close to zero. Yet at the same time, I was playing on stage for 3-4 hours a night, five nights a week, and gained invaluable experience as a result. 

 

Now let's get to the other component of practice: what to practice! There are people who know their chords and scales backward and forward but when asked to just "play a song" are unable to play a single piece of music all the way through. Then we have others who can rip through one tune after another but when asked to find a "C" note on the guitar find themselves completely stumped.

 

Our goal at SoFLo is of course for you to understand the music theory of "why" things work while also assisting you in developing an active repertoire of material that can be performed for the enjoyment of yourself and others.

 

In regards to my own practice sessions, I break it up into three areas: 

 

1) Learning Songs. It might be a bluegrass song or an old jazz standard or even a Metallica song that a SoFlo student requested. During this practice stage, I am always trying to understand how is it arranged (verse/chorus/bridge), what the melody is and what the chords are.

 

2) Learning New Concepts. There is a staggering amount of instructional material available today for all instruments whether it be books, DVDs, websites, YouTube videos, Instagram accounts -- you name it. I'm always on the hunt for new licks, new chords or even just a fresh approach to something I already know.

 

3) Just Playing. I love to just pick up an instrument and play freely using all the knowledge I have accumulated. While results are never guaranteed, this type of open-ended playing has lead to just about every song I've ever written. There is a sense of liberation and joy in expressing yourself through music that we at SoFlo Music School hope you get to experience. :-)

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