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Finding Time to Practice Guitar in Your Busy Life

Many of us are leading busier lives than ever, with work and family commitments being our most time consuming priorities. Finding time to practice guitar is becoming increasingly difficult as hobbies and recreational pursuits get pushed down the "to do" list.

But like anything in life worth our time (and guitar certainly is worth a good chunk of it), it all boils down to effective time management.

So this article is not about promoting a drastic change of lifestyle (although if you are looking to truly simplify and de-clutter your life and have more time for the things you love, I would direct you towards two guys who know what it means to live a minimalistic life).

Rather, I'm going to assume the only thing you're discontent with is the amount of time you have with the guitar. You want to become a better player and you feel the only way you'd have more time to practice is if the days were a couple of hours longer, right?

man with no time to practice guitar

 Wrong. It's time for a simple change in perspective on both what constitutes "enough practice" and "free time".

1. Practice Smarter and Cut Waste

This is the first point for a reason.

You could spend hours per day practicing and make dismal progress, or you could spend just half an hour per day (e.g. before bed) and make phenomenal progress. How?

By practicing smarter, stupid!

Smart practice is about planning your time based around specific playing goals and prioritising what you practice to give you the shortest possible route to fulfilling those goals.

Without this, it doesn't matter how much time you find to practice, it will never be enough. Laser focus your practice time based on key personal goals, however, and you'll need far less time to attain that satisfying sense of accomplishment.

The truth is that you could be wasting as much as 50% of your practice time.

I strongly recommend you start planning what little practice time you have more smartly right here, right now.

2. Myth: More Practice Hours = Faster Progress

Many guitarists are under the illusion that the more hours/minutes they clock up in each practice session, the better. Well, this may only be true if those sessions are regular. But most of us don't have several hours per day. In reality, the number of hours you practice in one sitting is not so important.

It's far more effective to practice 30 minutes every day than 4 hours at the weekend and nothing inbetween. Now, I know what you may be thinking: "I don't even have time for 30 minutes per day!" - I'll come to that!

The point here is that regular practice will help internalise what you learn quicker than sparse practice, no matter how long those sparse sessions are. Things like muscle memory can only develop properly with persistent and repetitive motion and pressure. Leaving practice for the time-richer weekends is like taking two steps forwards and one back, (maybe even two some weekends!).

Similarly, the brain also benefits from frequent repetition of exercises such as memorising the fretboard, finger positions, scale patterns etc. Think back to when you were preparing for your exams (or if you're still in school/college, heed this advice!) - it was far better to study over the course of two weeks before the exam, than cram everything into the few nights before. Why? So your brain has a chance to process and organise the information it's being fed.

Small chunks of information are easiest for the brain to process and internalise.

So the first thing to understand is that short and regular bursts of solid practice will develop your skills far quicker than long but infrequent sessions.

But what if you don't even have 30 minutes per day to practice guitar?

3. Is Free Time Hiding Right In Front Of You?

There may be more free time available during a typical day than you initially realise, especially once you get home from work or wherever it is you've been.

Everyone's life is different, but if you don't spend much time at home then a travel guitar might prove a good investment. They are lightweight, portable and can be taken on planes, walks and make the perfect hotel room companion.

If you're a 9-5'er, your free time will predominantly be in the evenings...

Perhaps it's not your turn to cook dinner tonight - pick up the guitar.

Perhaps the significant other is putting the kids to bed - pick up the guitar.

The significant other may be watching one of those crappy TV shows you hate or s/he's on the laptop, reading or soaking in the bath - pick up the guitar (in another room of course, whether it's the bedroom or bathroom, it does not matter where).

If you're a single parent and your responsibilities are not shared, the most obvious time for a short practice is after the kids are in bed and before they wake...

Get into the habit of rising a mere 20 minutes earlier in the morning and going to bed a mere 20 minutes later at night - that's an extra 40 minutes practice per day. Do not underestimate how this accumulated practice can speed up your progress.

To put it into perspective, that's over 240 hours of extra practice per year if you can stick to it.

Use an unplugged electric guitar (or with a headphone amp) during those quieter times. There is still so much that can be done before you work on things like volume and tone.

It sounds silly, but are you absolutely certain you can't find a quiet place in your office to practice guitar at lunch? Obviously if you work for a solicitors that's gonna be difficult, but a design-based agency? A little more relaxed I imagine.

A little more controversial - tell the S/O you're working late, drive out to a quiet spot with your guitar in the trunk and spend half an hour making sweet lo... I mean practicing. When your significant other finds out you've been "cheating", relax! It will have only been with your six-string temptress/casanova. Oh the relief! (Ok that was more of a tongue-in-cheek tip - make of it what you will.)

Even if work and physically playing guitar just won't mix, lunch time at the office is precious time for reading up on theory - how notes and intervals work, scales, fretboard memorisation and getting new ideas for your practice sessions...

4. Squeeze the Most Out of Every Practice Through Preperation

Whenever you find yourself in a period of free time whereby whipping out a guitar would be wholly impractical, then could you be reading and writing?

If so, use that time to prepare for your practice time. Give yourself small goals based on specific skills you want to learn. If you have access to the internet, bookmark (or email to yourself) some good resources, whether videos, charts or text based lessons so you can spend your practice time playing, not searching.

Make sure you reflect upon each day of practice honestly and openly. Have you identified any weaknesses? What do you need to work on? Do you need more information on something? Always be thinking about your next session, whether it's for gathering information or physically picking up the guitar.

The easiest and most effective way to plan your practice is to use a good practice generator program. That way, each session will be personalised and specific to your goals and current progress. It'll also save you a lot of time = more time for fingers on the fretboard.

5. How Much Does Guitar Really Mean to You?

Look, there is no right or wrong amount of practice. The time you spend with guitar is relative to how serious you are about becoming a decent, great, exceptional player. How serious you are is in turn relative to how passionate you are about guitar.

If picking up the guitar to practice feels more like a chore, a "to do" preceded by a sigh, then obviously something is missing - a spark. Your fingers should be positively itching to touch strings. If you don't have that initial spark, then you need to find out if it's because you're simply not making progress on guitar, thus disheartened, or you genuinely don't think it's worth the effort or your valuable time.

Maybe you'll be happy being able to strum a few chords. Nothing wrong with that at all. But if you want more from guitar, you need to be prepared to push it up your list of priorities by judging how each of your existing priorities manifest themselves in your daily life.

For example, although guitar should never come before family, be honest - perhaps practicing guitar might be a better option than going out and getting trashed with your mates (plus, it's cheaper!). It might be a better option than vegging in front of the TV or playing video games. It might be a better option than surfing the internet (er... except when you find gems like this site of course).

Only you can prioritise guitar in daily life. I'm just asking you to think a little deeper about weighing up guitar vs less productive and enriching pursuits. You won't lose (real) friends over choosing to stay in tonight, but you will lose your desire to pick up guitar if you keep pushing it down the list.

We all need time to relax, to be still, to do sweet f-all, but guitar can be a complementary part of this introspection and unwinding. On that note...

6. Learn to Relax With the Guitar

I'm guessing when a lot of people say "I don't have time to practice", they are reserving part of their time for reading, surfing the net, watching TV etc.

While it would be presumptuous of me to suggest you ditch all these in favour of guitar practice, the idea of compromising a little in favour of more time with the guitar needs to be put out there.

If you like to watch a couple of hours of TV in the evening, try and cut it to one hour and give your guitar the other. Record shows to help you switch off that TV. If you like to surf the net, make more of your surfing around guitar to inspire you to pick it up there and then.

Make guitar a part of your relaxation ritual and your half hour per day will soon turn into an hour, two hours... perhaps it will keep you up late. You can worry about the effects of that when it happens!

Have your guitar nearby and in sight so you're reminded of the wonders that are waiting to be discovered by plucking the strings and investigating the fretboard. If the weather's nice, I like to take the guitar outside and practice there. Different settings can spark new ideas.

You'll find, especially when you're engaged in practice, guitar takes your mind off things just as well, if not better than the more passive forms of relaxation. This is because your thoughts are completely occupied with negotiating the strings and fretboard. There's no space for your mind to wander back to the stresses and worries of everyday life.

That's why I find guitar one of the most truly relaxing yet productive pursuits - you can sit down, rest your bones, and forget about this mad world, but at the same time, the creative and problem-solving parts of your brain are firing on all cylinders. 

Bottom Line

If you're truly passionate about guitar, you shouldn't have much trouble making time for it. That's a statement almost too obvious to make. Your passion for guitar will inevitably grow with your ability and you'll miraculously find more and more time to practice, just as you would with any other pursuit that impassions you.

So don't ever frustrate yourself by thinking you're "not practicing enough" right now. What is "enough" anyway? Creeping progress is still progress, and progress is what truly matters.

If you can find just half an hour per day (and don't worry if you miss a day or two now and then) to practice meaningfully and efficiently, based on your goals as a player, in a years time you will be surprised at just how far you've come.

Just keep it regular and keep it focused, and don't be afraid to take your guitar with you to some unusual places.

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