Why You Need A New Practice Routine
Almost every adult guitar student I’ve ever taught has practiced at night. And I get why this happens- mornings are busy. Days are long. You need time with your family after work, maybe a little TV to unwind before bed.
And at the very bottom of the list comes guitar playing. So by the time you finally have your guitar in hands, your playing is unfocused and unproductive.
Your Current Practice Routine Stinks
9pm– Exhausted, you pull the guitar off the wall hanger (at least you don’t keep it in the case anymore- the extra effort of opening the case at this hour was frequently the difference between playing guitar that day or just going to bed).
9:05pm– you meant to start playing right away but when you loaded up your tuning app on your phone you saw a notification and wanted to respond real quick. Only took 30 sec to respond, but then the scrolling started…
9:10pm– some noodling around on the fretboard to warm up, mindlessly playing things you already know. You don’t quite have the energy to focus on something new right now. Your guitar teacher gave you a specific assignment to get you out of this guitar playing rut, but you’ll get to that.
9:20pm– suddenly, you remember hearing one of your favorite songs earlier that day from when you were a teenager, so you do a quick search on YouTube for a tutorial. You learn the intro (mostly) and relive the glory days of adolescence when you had no real responsibilities (despite how teenage you felt at the time).
9:30pm– “it’s getting late,” you say to yourself. “Better call it a night. I didn’t get to my actual guitar assignment, but hey, at least I accomplished something.”
But did you actually accomplish anything? 10 min of mindless noodling followed by 10 min of halfway kind of learning a song you grew up with?
There’s A Better Way
Let’s set aside the structure of your guitar playing time for now. Instead, let’s fix the bigger thing that will lead to better focus and a more productive practice session- you need to start practicing at the start of your day, not the end of it.
Why You Should Practice In The Morning
I’ll be honest, I tried Googling “best time for productivity” with mixed results. The power of the Internet is there is no shortage of information, but the downside means there is also no shortage of conflicting information.
So rather than me sharing an article that proves my point only to have you counter with a contrasting article revealing opposing evidence, I’ll just speak from personal experience.
At night, I’m tired from making countless small decisions and a few bigger decisions throughout the day. So by the time I get to 9pm and the kids are down and the TV is calling, I’m too exhausted to make any more choices.
And when it comes to guitar practice, you have to make a lot of choices and do lots of thinking (if you’re practicing efficiently). For me, I spend the majority of my practice time improvising and songwriting, which requires a lot of mental focus.
I had a professor in music college that said he would practice 3 hours first thing every morning, 5-8am. Then, no matter what happened the rest of the day, he knew he at least completed his music practicing for the day and enjoyed his day more because of it.
Several years ago I switched to morning practice because I simply was not consistent or productive at night. I immediately found my practice sessions more focused and I could play longer without becoming mentally drained.
Added Perk of Morning Practice
The added bonus? Remember my college professor I just mentioned? Yep, same thing happened to me. No matter what happened the rest of the day, I typically felt great no matter what knowing that I did my guitar practicing first thing.
“But Eric,” you protest, “I’m too tired in the morning.”
“There’s too much distraction in my household.”
“There’s no time in the morning.”
“I’m not a morning person.”
No one is a night owl or a morning person. We adapt to the habits we create. It’s time to reframe your day!
How To Pull It Off
Ok, let’s get real. Here’s how to successfully switch your waste of time guitar playing at night to fully productive, more enjoyable morning sessions:
- Go to bed an hour earlier.
- Drink less coffee.
- Don’t set your alarm.
Now let’s address your objections.
Go To Bed Early
Get in bed 30 min before you want to fall asleep and turn off any screens. No late night news. No Netflix. Avoid scrolling on the phone. Grab a book. Something you look forward to reading.
And no reading on your phone or iPad. Only ancient papyrus manuscript or a paperback book. You’ll be shocked at just how quickly your eyelids grow heavy.
If you have kids, go to bed when they do. My kids are in their rooms sans screens at 8pm. The can read or sleep. Those are their two choices, and they’ve become mine as well.
I love getting in bed with a book at 8 or 8:30pm now. Asleep by 9 or 9:30pm most nights. This puts me awake at 4:30-5:30am, which gives me at least an hour before the kids need to wake up for school.
This may take time to get used to. So give yourself a month to transition into it.
Drink Less Coffee
Here’s where I’m really going to irk some folks- limit yourself to 1 cup of coffee per day, first thing in the morning.
You’ll have more energy when you wake up.
Yep, I said it. Less coffee = more energy.
You know what offends Americans more than religion or politics? Saying you don’t drink caffeine.
Try it sometime, even if you’re lying. Tell someone you don’t drink coffee and watch their judgmental disgust descend upon you. People get more defensive about coffee than border walls and immigration.
You may think you need coffee to keep you going throughout the day, but that’s just because you’ve become dependent on this liquid drug of black gold found on every street corner and in every office break room.
Think about it.
As a kid, you woke up wide awake and ready to go every single day (especially Saturdays, though).
No caffeine required.
But then something changed.
You pulled an all-nighter in college to get that last minute paper done (I did it, too).
And so, running on 2 hours of sleep, you grabbed that first pick-me-up, your introduction to world of coffee. Suddenly you felt alive! You could now get through the day on almost zero sleep thanks to this miracle drug!
Caffeine is a drug
The cycle begins. Next day, you feel tired. You remember what made you feel not tired the day before- a hot cup of joe (with plenty of cream and sugar, of course. you weren’t quite ready to drink it black just yet).
But after a few weeks, one cup of coffee no longer does the trick. Your body has adapted and become dependent on the drug. Now you need two cups of coffee each day just to get out of bed. And don’t forget that third cup mid afternoon to deal with the inevitable crash from those first two cups…
On and on it goes. Classic drug. What a silly goose.
Point is, try weaning yourself off the caffeine. Get down to one cup a day. Before you come back at me with all your objections, try it first.
Maybe you’ll experience what I did- better, more consistent sleep and waking up full of energy.
Don’t Set An Alarm
There is nothing I hate more than waking up to an alarm. It’s the absolute worst. If my body needs to sleep, by golly, I want my body to rest without the need of an artificial electronic waking aid AKA “The Cranky Machine.”
I am one cranky guy if I wake up to an alarm.
Here’s the deal.
If you completed steps 1 and 2– going to bed early and weaning yourself off coffee- then this step should occur pretty naturally. You’ll wake up after about 7-8 hours of sleep, give or take, fully rested without the assistance of a cranky machine to jolt you awake.
Now That You Hate Me…
So now that I’ve completely ruffled your feathers with all my nonsense and you’re convinced I simply don’t understand you and the complexities of your life, let me ask you one question:
How’s your guitar practice been? If you read this far, chances are you’ve been frustrated with your lack of progress and you’re ready to try something different.
Give it a full month. Go to bed an hour earlier. One cup of coffee per day. Ditch the alarm. Grab that guitar first thing in the morning and get a solid hour of practice in. See what happens.
Let me know what you discover.
Eric Bourassa is the owner of Fort Worth Music Academy and worships at the altar of sleep. Send hate mail to Eric@FortWorthMusicAcademy.com
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