Ten favorite practice excuses busted

I’ve played the guitar for about 40 years and taught for 8. I’ve become an expert on excuses for not practicing. Read on for ways to get beyond them.

1. I don’t have time.

Definitely the most heard excuse. And sure, we’re all busy. I’ve even had ten year olds tell me they’re too busy to practice. But really, you only need 15 minutes a day. That’s it. More is better, of course, but if you’ve only got 15 minutes, use it.

2. I’m not inspired.

The clouds will not part and reveal a heavenly voice encouraging you to play. Just play. Put the stuff you’re less excited about at the beginning of your practice, and then dangle a carrot in front of you for the end of your practice. Carrot, hell, dangle some chocolate cake – whatever flips your switch. For instance, if I need to practice some scales, I do that first. I promise myself once I’m done, I can work on that new song I’m excited about.

3. My fingers hurt.

Of course they do. You’re asking your hands to do something you don’t usually do in day-to-day life. More practice will strengthen your hands and increase flexibility. Only your finger tips and maybe another part of your hand (if you’re doing a lot of barre chords, for instance) should hurt. If you’re having arm or shoulder pain it could mean that your technique needs to be corrected. See a teacher for help. (If you’re in Ottawa, please contact me.) Or it could mean that you’ve simply overdone it.  Be sure to rest.

4. I don’t know what to play.

It’s a big music world out there and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.  Don’t go crazy downloading a bunch of music. Learn just two or three pieces at a time. It’s better to be able to play a few pieces well then a pile of songs you kinda know.  Also, don’t get caught up in drills and scales. They’re good to learn but give yourself some fun stuff too. I always do better when I learn some favorite songs that might have the technique I want to learn.

5. I don’t have the space to play.

Create it. One of my students lives in a small apartment with others so he goes into the dining room, faces his chair toward the wall and cheerfully ignores everyone else who lives there. Have a chat with your roommates/family and tell them not to disturb you while you’re practicing. If you play with an amp, invest in headphones so no one else can hear you. Consider the garage or the basement or waiting until the kids are at grandma’s. There’s always an opportunity for you if you really want to play.

6. I’m tired.

There are times when your schedule has kicked you in the arse. It’s okay to forgo practice for that day. Rest is a good thing. However, you don’t want to do that for too many days in a row or what you’ve gained with all that hard practice will start to leak out of your brain. And that can get kinda messy. Remember, you only need 15 minutes of practice.

7. I don’t seem to be making progress so why bother?

You will not become Bonnie Raitt in one week. Sometimes progress is slow. Just stay with it. NONE of my students have failed to reach their goals if they practice regularly and have a good attitude. You may not turn into Segovia, but you’ll probably be able to play that piece you love so much.

8. No one in my family has musical talent so I guess it’s in the genes.

It isn’t. I have students who are the only musical ones in their family and they’re doing just fine. Sure, having music in the home when you were growing up is an advantage and some people do have something in their DNA that helps – otherwise, I’d be on tour with Lady Gaga. (Maybe I can compensate by wearing a meat dress while I’m teaching?) But everyone can play if they practice. (Have I said that enough?)

9. I can’t afford lessons.

With all the free stuff on the net you’re telling me this? Check out my earlier blog about some free sites I recommend. And even if you can’t swing private lessons, check out group classes at recreation centers and schools because they’re usually more affordable. Maybe you’ve got a friend who’ll show you a few chords? If you know a few basics, go to a jam. You don’t have to be the hot picker who solos on every song. Sit on the outside of the circle and play quietly, doing your best. Watch the others.

10. I’ll never be as good as ______ so why try?

Yeah, I’ll never be Julia Child so why bother cooking? Maybe ‘cause I’ve gotta eat? You want to play, so play! We don’t approach other things in our life like that … well, if I can’t be the greatest leaf raker in the world, I’m not going to do it … we just do it because the yard looks so much nicer when it’s raked.

Now go rake some leaves!

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About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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3 Responses to Ten favorite practice excuses busted

  1. 15 minutes at a time. That’s pretty easy to do. I really really REALLY want to play the harmonica, mostly because I can annoy my cat and it fits in my pocket at Camp Out, so I think I’ll take that advice. I’ve even got a book and everything, it’s just finding the time. But 15 minutes? I can do that. Thanks Jamie.

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