no excuses!

As a guitar teacher for almost twenty years, I’ve heard a lot of excuses for lack of practice. Several have been valid. Here are a few examples of what I consider to be valid reasons to allow more than a few days to go by without some form of practice:

1. Death, that of you or a very close member of your family

2. Natural disaster. The kinds of things you’d find listed in the exemptions in a standard insurance policy, earthquake, flood, fire, nuclear hellfire, terrorist attack... stuff like that.

3. There is no # 3.

Don’t bother me with “I was sick”. I’ve had some of the best practice sessions of my life when I was sick. No distractions, nowhere to go, what more could you ask for? Blow your nose and hit your scales. This is simply a terrible excuse.

Not as pathetic, but still totally unsatisfactory is “I didn’t have time.” I’d say this excuse is valid between 2 and 5 percent of the time. Nobody who has a life has time for anything, but you make the time anyway in accordance with your priorities. A few years ago I didn’t have the time to practice the piano for 2 hours a day. Then it became a priority, so I made the time. Once in a great while everyone will have a spell where there truly is no time to practice, but be honest with yourself. If you had one of those rare weeks where it was literally impossible to get any practice, tell your teacher and make up for it before your next lesson. Otherwise be straight with yourself and your teacher and admit that you simply made the choice not to practice, and repent accordingly.

“I was out of town.” Lame. I can practice anywhere I want. I can practice on a plane, in a cab, on a sailboat, in an elevator, or in a hot tub. I can do this because I know how to practice mentally. This idea basically says that one can practice to 70 percent efficiency simply through visualization. You have to be able to imagine the weight of your guitar on your thigh; the way your pick feels between your thumb and index finger, the texture of the strings beneath your fretting-hand fingers. Once you’re there try going through your
Finger Exercise, without your guitar and without moving a muscle. Imagine the first finger of your fretting-hand pressing down with perfect pressure on the first fret of the sixth string, and your pick passing quickly and effortlessly through the string. Can you feel the vibrations passing through the neck? I can. Can you hear the F note? Close your eyes and keep trying. The main theater of battle in practicing anything isn’t a muscle group, but your mind. If you train your mind properly your hands will do what they’re told. You will, of course have to put all of this mental practice to work with a guitar in your hands when you return, lest your hands turn to jelly, but if you do mental exercises like this you’ll notice huge benefits. Sometimes I practice in my sleep, and wake up more capable of performing whatever it was I was dreaming about.

In the age we live in, there is no excuse for anyone with the desire to not be able to play the guitar well. With sites like mine, and the wealth of free resources (
like this one) we literally have a world of knowledge at our disposal. One unfortunate side-effect of having all of this information at our fingertips is that it becomes very difficult to focus on anything. If, like me you’re seated in front of your computer with the best of intentions to be productive, and within 15 minutes someone is trying to chat with you, or you get an impulse to check your Facebook, your checking balance, look something up on Wikipedia, or check the spreads in the games coming up on Sunday. The list is truly without end. This level of constant distraction is new to humans. The media cycle is constant, and having this kind of unfettered access to information is exciting, and can be addicting. The amount of information that I can now access on my phone would have been unimaginable as little as ten years ago. We need to learn to keep this in check, and make sure that we actually make time to be alive in a way separate from simply being consumers of media. One way to do this is to practice our tails off and become proficient at a musical instrument. Turn off the white noise of life as often as you can, and dedicate yourself to doing things that will enrich you as a person.