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Old 09-13-2012, 11:02 PM   #1
WesM.Vaughan
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Thoughts and Questions about technique development

I am beginning to question the benefits of daily practice.
Many forum users of various guitar sites have concluded that in order to become better you must practice at least 3 hours a day.
I understand that it also matters what and how you practice.
I am wondering if your brain needs a certain amount of time, depending on the individual, to rest before practicing ANYTHING similar to what you have been practicing.
For example, I would consider finger picking to be different from flat picking and hybrid picking to be different from finger picking and flat picking. Meaning that once you reach a "threshold" of development, then you should stop for a certain period of time. Days, maybe even weeks.
I think most can identify this by the feeling of "freshness" when we set our instruments down for a while.
I have actually noticed more improvement after taking breaks than forcing myself to practice.
The problem is that everyone seems to contest this idea. Anyone else feel this way?
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Old 09-14-2012, 04:42 AM   #2
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There definitely can be benefits to stopping for a few days, there's no doubt in my mind about that. As much as anything else you don't want to burn yourself out on practice.

I don't think it has to do with a certain amount of development though, I think it's more to do with time and effort. Like if you work really hard on almost anything for a while you'd need to take a break, right? Same with guitar.
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Old 09-14-2012, 05:33 AM   #3
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I think this is why it helps to have a varied practise routine, mix it up every now and then. I've found that it's good to work on certain things for a couple of weeks at a time, and then reassess what you think needs development and work on that instead. It seems after a certain amount of time grinding at one thing you hit a temporary plateau. I still like to maintain the things I have been working on when I move to something else, but put much less focus on it.

Many people get bogged down in development of one thing (usually on here at least it seems to be speed and alternate picking) and I think that after a certain amount of time, it's not detrimental but you see significantly diminishing returns. If you just look at your technique and determine what part of it actually needs development then work on that, and reassess every couple of weeks, you see rapid development in the new areas. Eventually, once everything is level, you'll come back to what you were initially grinding at and not seeing development in and you'll find it a lot easier to improve at and you'll have the added benefit of having learned loads of other useful skills in the meantime.

I guess the reason it helps is likely that taking a break from something gives the brain time to process it. Personally I wouldn't want to take extended breaks from guitar as a whole (unless I'm going on holiday) but I think it's good to not focus on the same aspect of it all the time.
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Old 09-14-2012, 05:34 AM   #4
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I used to think that taking breaks was beneficial until I realized that I don't need to take breaks from the instrument, I just needed breaks from the technique I'm working on after I hit a wall or get bored with it.

I don't really have a set practice routine after my warmup. I just work on something until I get sick of it, and then I work on something else. It seems like I have a ton of stuff on my plate that I need to practice, so there is always something.
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Old 09-14-2012, 07:04 AM   #5
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The previous posters have summed this up well.

Quote:
Originally Posted by WesM.Vaughan
I am beginning to question the benefits of daily practice.
Many forum users of various guitar sites have concluded that in order to become better you must practice at least 3 hours a day. ?


You don't need to practice at least 3 hours a day - You can improve consistently practicing an hour a day of practice to be honest, just make sure it's a good hour of practice.
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Old 09-14-2012, 07:42 AM   #6
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Awesome posts!!!!

Does anyone care to elaborate on how they go about "switching" their focus to other techniques and skills?

I am considering the approach weight lifters take using each day of the week to focus on a different group of muscles.

So if I were to "focus" on alternate picking and chickin pickin on Monday, maybe I don't get burned out until Wednesday. I say focus because that is not the ONLY technique I will work on.

Then I would start "focus" on finger picking. Since i am relatively new at this, I could get burned out in just a day.

Thursday left hand technique. Friday maybe pick up the steel guitar and fiddle. Sat & Sun fill in the holes.

Just an example schedule in which the order would change depending on progress and muscle fatigue.

Just like someone working biceps one day and triceps another, there are still other in common being worked by focusing on the two separate muscle groups.

So even though your focus on one day may be alternate picking, we are still using those same muscles to some extent in other techniques.

So how varied should one technique be from another?
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Last edited by WesM.Vaughan : 09-14-2012 at 07:44 AM.
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Old 09-14-2012, 08:04 AM   #7
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My approach, right now, to learning technique or improving myself can be explained very simply:

Learn music. If I have real trouble with something I'll make it in to an exercise.

That way you learn and work on exactly the techniques you need to make the music you like to hear in exactly the proportion that you need to. You can't treat what we do exactly like weight lifting because it really doesn't work that way; you can easily say of a weight lifter that once they can lift, say, 200kg that they can also lift anything less than that (I know there are different styles of lift, don't say it) but you can't compare that to anything in guitar terms. There's nothing at all to say that just because you can do one sweep thing at a certain speed then you can sweep anything at any speed below that; there are too many variables. Also, this isn't about training muscles in the same way that lifters do; they're developing brute strength, we need to develop co-ordination and muscle memory. What this means is that if your muscles get fatigued by playing long hours then there is no other group to switch to, not really, especially if it's your fret hand that's getting tired.

Also I find this way encourages people to write more; if you reach a point where the next song you want to learn is too hard but you can't find anything that's realistically within your reach... write something!

So right now I'm working on a song for my band that gives me a lot of trouble playing all the way through, there are some tricky picking bits that I need to practice in isolation to get them sounding really good and there are a good few transitions between techniques and sections that I know are possible but I need to work on. It's awesome because when I'm done I'll have a whole song that I can play with my band but at the same time I'm working on things that I know for a fact are weaknesses of mine.


Kind of a meandering post, went a bit stream-of-consciousness there but it should make sense, if anything's unclear then ask away.
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Old 09-14-2012, 08:11 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WesM.Vaughan
Awesome posts!!!!

Does anyone care to elaborate on how they go about "switching" their focus to other techniques and skills?

I am considering the approach weight lifters take using each day of the week to focus on a different group of muscles.

So if I were to "focus" on alternate picking and chickin pickin on Monday, maybe I don't get burned out until Wednesday. I say focus because that is not the ONLY technique I will work on.

Then I would start "focus" on finger picking. Since i am relatively new at this, I could get burned out in just a day.

Thursday left hand technique. Friday maybe pick up the steel guitar and fiddle. Sat & Sun fill in the holes.

Just an example schedule in which the order would change depending on progress and muscle fatigue.

Just like someone working biceps one day and triceps another, there are still other in common being worked by focusing on the two separate muscle groups.

So even though your focus on one day may be alternate picking, we are still using those same muscles to some extent in other techniques.

So how varied should one technique be from another?


When I say "focus" I mean I'll allocate some time specifically dedicated to it, however I'll still do a variety of things every day it's just that I'll have a slot of time where I focus a lot more on one area. I say 2 weeks because for me that's about how long it takes before I just get fed up of working on it. I also find that 2 weeks is a pretty good sweet spot where you've got a lot out of something with an acceptable amount of effort; I may not have mastered it, but I'll be significantly better (think the 80/20 principle).

I think if you just do one thing every day, you'll get "burned out" pretty quickly and you'll start to lose interest. Focusing on things is only really useful for the length of time you can fully concentrate on exactly what you're doing - if you suddenly start doing the exercises or whatever you're doing but you're just going through the motions rather than paying attention and thinking hard about exactly what you're doing, they will be of little benefit.

As Zaph pointed out above, the training thing isn't a direct analogy (though parts of it can apply just not in the sense you're using them) as you're not really training brute strength, what you're really doing is training your brain to have control over what your fingers are doing, hence why I say it's only valuable as long as you're actually fully paying attention.
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Last edited by llBlackenedll : 09-14-2012 at 08:16 AM.
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Old 09-14-2012, 08:18 AM   #9
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I don't think you ever need to worry too much about taking a break. Real life has a way of forcing you to skip the odd practice session, we've all had the odd busy week or month where we do nothing in terms of practice.

In my experience you need to keep at things a long time to get through them. If you look at the graph below that would describe a fairly normal learning curve.



Anything really difficult requires a couple of hundred hours to even reach a plateau, how long a break are you really going to take that will improve things?

Obviously we've all had a break and come back better... but we've come back better because the brain has been processing the practice accumulated. You don't want to burn out, but trying to turbocharge your learning with optimised breaks seems much riskier than just continuing practice.


And practice is fun anyway.
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Old 09-14-2012, 08:24 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Freepower
I don't think you ever need to worry too much about taking a break. Real life has a way of forcing you to skip the odd practice session, we've all had the odd busy week or month where we do nothing in terms of practice.

In my experience you need to keep at things a long time to get through them. If you look at the graph below that would describe a fairly normal learning curve.



Anything really difficult requires a couple of hundred hours to even reach a plateau, how long a break are you really going to take that will improve things?

Obviously we've all had a break and come back better... but we've come back better because the brain has been processing the practice accumulated. You don't want to burn out, but trying to turbocharge your learning with optimised breaks seems much riskier than just continuing practice.


And practice is fun anyway.


Practise if fun, definitely, but I think the problem is more with practising one thing and only one thing for extended periods - it's fun for a short while but dull after a certain period. My preferred method is to start working on another area of my technique that needs work after a couple of weeks or so which, in the context of your graph, is smack in the middle of a plateu - that way I have a more even skillset and I'm using the "break" (which isn't really a break) to do something useful. Then when I come back to the thing I previously plateau'd at I find it significantly easier to reach the next plateau.

Rinse. Repeat.
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Old 09-14-2012, 08:31 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Freepower
I don't think you ever need to worry too much about taking a break. Real life has a way of forcing you to skip the odd practice session, we've all had the odd busy week or month where we do nothing in terms of practice.

In my experience you need to keep at things a long time to get through them. If you look at the graph below that would describe a fairly normal learning curve.



Anything really difficult requires a couple of hundred hours to even reach a plateau, how long a break are you really going to take that will improve things?

Obviously we've all had a break and come back better... but we've come back better because the brain has been processing the practice accumulated. You don't want to burn out, but trying to turbocharge your learning with optimised breaks seems much riskier than just continuing practice.


And practice is fun anyway.


A plateau would be a horizontal line, no ? because according to your graph, the plateau would make us regress and then up our skills?
I'm almost sure I'm wrong, if I do, explain me please
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Old 09-14-2012, 10:32 AM   #12
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^ you're right Syn, my mistake.

It does often feel like regression though.
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Old 09-14-2012, 12:16 PM   #13
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Ok, thanks !
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Old 09-14-2012, 12:33 PM   #14
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Yea I hesitated using the flawed weight lifting analogy however, it seems to have prompted some great responses!

At this point I think the plateau seems to be more of a mindset issue than a physical issue.

It seems my goal should be to keep things fresh and exciting to where I am not going through the motions just to ease my guilty conscience of not practicing x amount of hours everyday.

I am going to let the rest of ya'lls words of wisdom percolate in my head before responding any further. However if I am off point with my above "goal" statement please feel free to enlighten me further.
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Old 09-14-2012, 01:02 PM   #15
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^ one thing I've found that really helps me is that there's always some kind of practice I'll enjoy. If I'm not enjoying working on area A or B, maybe I can work on C and really enjoy it. Better then to spend the time focused and having fun on C.

Also, almost everything on guitar helps with everything else, transcribing will improve your improvisation, improvisation will improve your composition, composition will improve your notation, notation will improve your transcription... etc!
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Old 09-14-2012, 01:05 PM   #16
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I think a regression in the graph shown isn't entirely inaccurate, though it may be a bit exaggerated - at the first plateau, the skill level drops to about half of it's peak so far? :P

But yeah, for me I don't think having contrived breaks can be of much benefit, I've only ever taken breaks when I feel it's necessary. Like, if I get frustrated (happens on occasion!) with what I'm practicing or I feel I've hit a general plateau I'll take a break, but generally it'd be like 3 days tops. Depends on the individual, I suppose.
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Old 09-14-2012, 01:32 PM   #17
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Plateau ... Sad time where the player says to himself "Damn, I'm a big dumb, I practice and practice and I can't ! I'm not improving! I regress! wtf?"
Then ... 2 kind of players :
First : "I'm fed up with the guitar, The guitar is not for me, I give up!"
Second : "Yeah ... Maybe I need more practice, others people can ... so I can as well, LET'S ROCK'n'PRACTICE dude!"

Don't know why I wrote this. :O
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Old 09-14-2012, 04:34 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Syndromed
Plateau ... Sad time where the player says to himself "Damn, I'm a big dumb, I practice and practice and I can't ! I'm not improving! I regress! wtf?"
Then ... 2 kind of players :
First : "I'm fed up with the guitar, The guitar is not for me, I give up!"
Second : "Yeah ... Maybe I need more practice, others people can ... so I can as well, LET'S ROCK'n'PRACTICE dude!"

Don't know why I wrote this. :O


Yeah, it's important to not give up even when it feels like you're not going anywhere.
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Old 09-14-2012, 04:40 PM   #19
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An organized systematic approach to practice wouldn't be very lucrative if you ask me.
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Old 09-14-2012, 06:54 PM   #20
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An organized systematic approach to practice wouldn't be very lucrative if you ask me.


It would be boring and nothing kills the will to learn more than being bored.
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