Why is it that one person can practice for 30 minutes a day and see more progress than his friend who practices for hours and hours every day? This is a question that I've been asked hundreds of times. The answer or answers to that question are dependent on the case. Most of the time, an individual's relative lack of progress has nothing to do with his or her hands. Instead, the problem comes from the mind. This is why I've decided to begin this series by exploring mental concepts. We'll start with the concept of self-mastery.
What is self-mastery? It is essentially the power to control one's actions, impulses, or emotions. In order to get the most out of our practicing, we need to be focused and in control of what we're doing for the duration of our practice sessions. This means making a conscious decision about what we're going to practice and for how long. During that time, there is no messing around or deviation from the scale, run, exercise, or whatever we've chosen to practice. This may seem obvious to some people, but plenty of people (including myself) have struggled with this at one time or another.
To start learning this skill, we'll begin with a five minute session. Since these sessions will be all about mental control, we'll use a very simple exercise: Downstrokes. Choose any note, whether an open string or a fretted note, and play it with only downstrokes at a slow and even speed. Do nothing but this for five minutes each day for a week. During that time focus intently on your technique. Work on removing any excessive motion from your picking. Work on making it more even and lessening extra noise. Work on improving your downstrokes in any way that you can think of. You could also work on upstrokes this way if you would like to, but for now, make your session all about one or the other.
After a week, test yourself. You'll likely notice that you're able to play successive downstrokes faster than you were able to before doing this. This is what progress feels like. Notice that you made this progress in five minutes a day. That's only thirty-five minutes a week! With that in mind, think of what you could achieve with 10, 15, 20 or 30 minutes of focused practice in a day!!!
When you apply this simple idea to your practice sessions (regardless of what you're working on), it will make your practice time much more efficient and beneficial. When you witness the progress that you've made, it will make you want to engage in focused practice even more, which will allow you to progress even more quickly! When you focus on improving something and make a dedicated effort to do so, you will see the reward quickly rather than waiting months or years to see significant progress when practicing a million things at once.
That's all for now, folks. In the next lesson, we'll discuss various ways to make improvements to our playing outside of our general practice sessions!