Is Binge Guitar Practicing Like Amputation?

OK…fess up. I know you've done it. You've really wanted to master something that you have been learning, and you've just spent a whole days worth of practice on that one thing. Maybe you even spent a whole weeks worth of practice on that one thing!

And I've got to admit here that I used to do this a lot when I was younger. I would get obsessed with something and spend an obscene amount of time on it. (I once spent three hours practicing a single bar of music!).

This is what I call binge guitar practicing. It's when you spend your entire practice time on one specific thing. And I think at times, if we're being honest, we've probably all done it on occasion.

So what's the problem?

Because it produces horrible long-term results. Truly horrible.

Learning Guitar Is Not A Step-By-Step Process

Some adults that I have taught over the years have the belief that the best way to learn guitar is to do the following learning strategy..

  1. Choose one thing to practice.
  2. Practice it until you have mastered it.
  3. Repeat the first two steps until you are a good player.

Looking at the above, you might think that this belief is perfectly logical and valid. If you focus on one thing at a time, eventually you'll be able to play guitar at a high level. The strategy makes sense right?

The trouble is that it doesn't work.

If you try and master only one thing at a time it will take an enormity of time to get really good at guitar. Chances are you will die before you get good using the 3-step strategy shown above. Even if you start playing at a young enough age to get to a high-level using the strategy, you will still only be a fraction of the skill level you could be if you used a more sensible approach.

So what's a better approach?

Well, I've got to say here that the above strategy isn't all bad. It's definitely got some good points. For example…

  • Is it a good idea to be well-organized and methodical in your leaning and practicing? Absolutely.
  • Is it a good idea to practice things until you get really good at them? Absolutely.
  • Is it good to be persistent and single-mindedly work towards becoming a good guitarist? Absolutely.

The main problem with the strategy is that you aren't working at developing a wide-range of skills simultaneously.

Develop Multiple Skills At The Same Time

Gerald Klickstein QuoteThink about your formative education that you did when you were very young. Did you have to master maths before you started working on English? Did you spend a whole week on only one subject, and then the next week focus exclusively on another subject? Of course not. You worked on numerous subjects every day, using a wide-variety of learning activities, over an extended period of time. It's learning 101.

And this is why the vast majority of reputable guitar teachers don't recommend binge practicing. Instead, they recommend having a practice schedule which ensures that you practice a wide range of things each week.

Of course, the specifics of that practice schedule will vary a lot depending on the goals and level of the student, but it will usually touch on broad areas such as…

  • Technique.
  • Musicianship.
  • Repertoire/Vocabulary.
  • Fretboard Knowledge.
  • Review.

But you might be thinking here…

"Hey…but when I worked on that one thing for a whole week I got really good at it!".

True. You probably did get good at that one thing. Possibly you made massive progress at that one practice item. But if you neglected everything else to get good at that one thing, then that's a problem…

Avoid Short Term Thinking

Probably the biggest problem with binge practicing on a regular basis is that it advances your short-term goals at the expense of your long-term progress. In other words, you improve in one very specific area, but everything else suffers.

Let's take a short detour for a minute or so, with an imaginary scenario…

I'd like you to imagine that you want to lose a bit of weight. You've managed to put on a bit of weight over the years, and you'd like to lose it ASAP.

Well, here's a quick solution…amputate one of your legs. I'm not entirely sure how much a single leg weighs, but it could be enough to get you to the weight that you want to be. And if you find that you still haven't lost enough weight, then maybe you could amputate the other leg. Still not enough weight loss? Try chopping your arms off.

I can tell you that this weight loss strategy would be incredibly effective. It would help you achieve your weight loss goals exceptionally quickly. So why not do it? Why do so many people mess around with such lame strategies such as improving their diet and exercising more if amputation achieves weight loss much faster?

Yeah…I know it's a really silly example. But I want the image of amputation to stick in your mind. This is what consistent binge practicing is like. It leads to abysmal long-term results. Sure, with binge practicing you get to tick a short-term goal off your list…but at what price?

Still Want To Binge? Then Work Harder

I've got to say here that there is nothing wrong with putting a great emphasis on any one practice item during the week. It's often necessary if you want to achieve a particularly short-term goal. Just make sure that you don't totally neglect the other stuff that you need to be practicing.

To do this you may have to increase how much you practice each day until the short term goal has been achieved. For Example: Let's say that you normally practice for two hours a day. If you insist on spending two hours a day working on one specific thing, then you will need to practice more than two hours a day to include other practice items.

I know this is hardly a startling revelation. But you'd be surprised at how many guitarists would spend the whole two hours on that one thing and neglect everything else.

So if you've been unhappy at your progress, then take a quick look at how you've been practicing. Do you cover a wide range of skills each week, or have you been binging?


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