Mindful Practice

Mindful Practice

Mar 11, 2024

Your quality of practice is going to be the single most important factor to your development as a guitarist. We can have fantastic lessons together and you can have all the written or video explanations of what we do at your disposal, but if your practice is distracted, frustrated or blindly unproductive, you’ll struggle to see the results you seek. When students feel they’ve “hit a wall” or “plateaued,” it’s often due to a combination of insufficient grasp of technique and ineffective practice routines, not some spell that has been cursed upon you. 

But fear not, these are skills we develop over time! We are not born with the understanding of how to do this. It takes time, guidance, and an open mind to adapt to an ever-changing process. I am here not just to tell you what to practice, but also to explain to you the how and why of your practice. 

The key to quality practice is mindfulness: staying fully engaged both mentally and physically throughout your practice session. A process in which you cultivate a curious, non-judgmental internal dialogue about every action you take with the instrument. While it may seem straightforward in theory, it can be surprising for those who have never experienced it firsthand. In mindful practice, we check in on our body, breath, movement, intent, and emotional state. You check in with what’s going on in your practice.

Where are you feeling tension in the body as you play?
Was that phrase or chord change fully understood or a guess?
Are you repeating the same thing over and over but mentally checking out?
Are you moving with just your hands or the entire arm structure?
Are you learning from mistakes or are you just getting frustrated?

And don’t get me wrong, I completely empathize with those who feel frustrated. Believe me, I've been there too. You spend most of your days excelling at various tasks – managing your time, your job, your relationships, taking care of your home, looking after your kids. But then, when you sit down to practice guitar, things don't always go smoothly. It can be disheartening! However, it's essential to remember that your practice should focus on learning goals rather than performance goals.

Christopher Berg, accomplished guitarist, professor, and author, explores this concept in his book “Practicing Music by Design: Historic Virtuosi on Peak Performance:”

“The two are entirely different, as the work of psychologist Carol Dweck has shown: When you’re focused on performance goals, you’re invested in validating your ability; when you’re focused on learning goals, your concern is acquiring and developing new knowledge and skills.”

When we prioritize learning goals, we allow ourselves room for the internal dialogue I shared above. We allow ourselves to think holistically about our practice and open the door to enter an incredible flow state. Conversely, prioritizing performance goals by adopting the roles of an anxious performer and a harsh judge impedes progress towards this state. Some days will be harder than others, and on those days where it’s proving to be more difficult, it’s beneficial to put the guitar down and live to play another day. Given that the average student typically has only 15-45 minutes for daily practice, it’s crucial to maximize the effectiveness of that time.

I should note that nothing I say in this post is intended to convey judgment or superiority. I, myself, have spent countless hours practicing in an unproductive manner. I'd even venture to say that most musicians, even the awe-inspiring ones, have spent plenty of time doing the same. But regardless of whether you're a competition guitarist or a day-one beginner, mindful practice remains mindful practice. My approach to practice has evolved through various eras over the years, but it was when I started studying Body Mapping and reading books grounded in neurological, physiological, and psychological research for skill development that things really took a turn for the best. I’m extremely passionate about this stuff and view my learning and understanding of everything as something that will always continue to evolve. 

There's still a wealth of information I'm eager to delve into on this topic, but for now, let's conclude here. Stay tuned for future video and written content featuring practice techniques designed to enhance your mental engagement. This will include listening exercises, verbal practice, strategies for deconstructing scales or passages in over 50 different ways, and much more.

© Embodied Guitarist 2024

© Embodied Guitarist 2024