It’s not a terribly sexy concept, but this lever will help you move mountains.
Most people––when they practice at all––work in chunks that are too large.
For example, let’s look at a classic beginner’s problem: barre chords. Getting your hand to contort into that shape is tough at first.
So a guitarist might learn a song with a barre chord in it, and “practice” by playing the whole song.
Things are humming along nicely until she gets to that barre chord, at which point the whole song slows to a crawl while she puts it together. Then she continues on at tempo.
This has to be the least efficient way to practice anything, but it’s amazingly popular.
If you want to be good at guitar before your 100th birthday, you’re going to need to work in smaller chunks.
Instead of forming that barre chord three times in a three minute song, practice forming only that barre chord, over and over.
Let’s say the cycle of “making the barre chord-relaxing the hand” takes three seconds. In the same time it took to play to play the chord three times in the course of the song, we could have formed the chord sixty times.
If you take the time to identify the smallest possible chunk that needs attention, you can perform vastly more repetitions in a given time.
In other words, you can practice 10x to 20x more without investing any additional time.
You can knock out five minutes of work that’s hard, then spend the rest of your guitar time enjoying yourself. Do this with any consistency, and you’re going to improve dramatically.
Easier Said Than Done
Here’s a field guide to putting this into action. Not coincidentally, it’s also an overview of many of the things we’ve been talking about.
Start by understanding the difference between playing and practicing. Not all time spent with a guitar in your lap is created equal––practicing is actively seeking out the edges of your abilities and pushing outward. Mentally, it’s brutal.
In fact, the quickest way to identify when you’re actually doing work that’s hard (and not just performing hard work) is to look for the Lizard Brain.
When that primitive part of your grey matter starts making you uncomfortable, starts trying to convince you to go do something (anything!) else, that’s a good sign that you’re on the right track.
Leaning in to the tough stuff is rarely much fun, so use a timer to keep yourself honest (and the lizard brain at bay).