Musical Burnout Part 1: The Effects of Long Practice Sessions Overtime

Practicing several hours a day can really help you grow as a musician, but it also has some negative consequences. If you practice several hours a day, you need to read this article. It will help you manage and recover from musical burnout, if it occurs.

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Musical burnout is not caused by one specific problem, but by an accumulation of many problems, that differ for each individual. Each burnout has it's own symptoms and ways to handle that particular situation.

If you've been through musical burnout then you know how crushing it can be. The cause of musical burnout may differ from person to person, but the symptoms are similar. If you're suffering from musical burnout, your symptoms are probably some, if not all, of the following:
  • Lack of a desire to practice, or pick up the instrument.
  • Your practice is unfocused and not very beneficial.
  • You question whether you want to continue playing music.
  • Listening to the music becomes dull.
Part one of my musical burnout series focuses on musical burnout caused by long practice sessions.

It's very common for people to have issues focusing on their practice after about an hour. Musical burnout affects your practice much faster. When you suffer from musical burnout, you can't focus, ever. The only way you manage to focus a little bit is by watching television while you practice. Is this a good way to practice? NO.

Now many people suggest getting timers to keep track of your time and keep you focused. For regular practice, when you're not musically burned out, I would definitely advise this. In fact, your growth as a player will shoot through the roof if you use this technique.

When it comes to practicing when you have musical burnout, alarms and structure are a death sentence.

If you are struggling to focus on practice or have difficulties picking up the instrument, don't panic. These two signs alone don't mean you're musically burnout. These tend to be the earliest signs that you're starting to get burnt out. These symptoms will continue and worsen if your burnout goes unchecked.

If you start to notice these symptoms, you need to act quickly to fix these problems before you get to the point of no return. First, you need to figure out what your specific problem is or what the cause of your musical burnout is.  If you're having problems focusing on your practice, chances are there is something else on you're mind.

Many guitar players have heard the statement about players who have practiced 8 hours a day, everyday. There's nothing innately wrong with practicing many hours in a day. I've spent years myself with a practice schedule of 6 to 8 hours a day. I grew very fast as a guitar player.

This type of practice requires a lot of sacrifice, especially for teenagers.

Teenagers are still trying to figure out who they are as people and they tend to be very insecure. If you intend to practice a lot and you're a teenager, then there is a major risk that you will not deal with these insecurities for a long time.

Over time, these insecurities might become the cause of specific musical burnout.

This situation can happen to more then just teenagers, but this is usually the most common type of burnout for people around the ages of 17 to 23.

Music and guitar can be a great outlet for anyone struggling to find their place. It can be the one element of their life that makes them happy to wake up in the morning.

Ignoring your insecurities and focusing on something that makes you happy is a good method for dealing with hardship, but it's only a temporary solution. It's the same as building one musical skill or technique, but neglecting other skills. You're going to be unbalanced and struggle to play the instrument. Even though you have mastered one skill that makes you happy, your others are severely lacking and disappoint you.

If you allow this out of balance condition to continue too long, you will change your relationship with music. The thing that made you happy will become the thing that hurts or frustrates you. This type of musical burnout makes you question your desire and dream to play music and causes listening to music to become boring.

Those are the final symptoms of musical burnout and at this point you need to do some major work to recover. I'm going to be honest, if you get to this point; it's going take a number of years to completely recover. Even then, it might leave scars on your mindset and determination. Persistence is key here.

Now, I want to address a couple more things about this topic. I am not suggesting it's a bad idea to practice 6 to 8 hours a day. By all means, practice as much as your dedication drives you to.

I do not regret the time I put into my own practice. It has made me the player and the person I am today. The purpose of this article is to not discourage long practice sessions, but to give a warning to people striving to practice that much.

You have a great desire to learn and excel, that's admirable. Just be cautious not to drench that fire with a cold dose of ignorance. Make sure you know the risk and monitor yourself closely as you continue to push the envelope.

On the flip side, you don't need to necessarily practice that much to be a professional musician either. If you learn the instrument using the geometric methods, rather than the linear methods, you will make greater progress in a shorter amount of time.

During the years I practiced guitar for 6 to 8 hours a day, I practiced in a linear fashion. So, I made far less progress then I would have if I had practiced in a geometric way.

The realization that I sacrificed all of that time and didn't get the maximum amount of results was devastating to me. I went through a good year and half of intense musical burnout and it took me a while to recover from it.

It is now two years later and there's still a little bit of burnout left in me. It's gotten much better and I should be completely recovered within the year. That being said, musical burnout can leave some heavy scars if you aren't careful and it might affect you for the rest of your life if you don't deal with it properly.

If you suffer from musical burnout, I urge you to take the time to read my second article about musical burnout: Musical Burnout Part 2: How to Recover From Musical Burnout.

By Chris Glyde

9 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Great article man, not everyone wants to play that much ALL the time. I hope this helps people how you intend it too. Kudos
    I wish I had read this article a few years ago, I quit playing electric guitar after 3 years of frustration and burnout, and have no intentions of ever playing it again. This is a great article for those who want to fix their burnout before it's too late.
    this is a great topic but it reads a bit like a self-help manual, im sure it could've been chopped into a couple paragraphs to start part 2. something that interests me re. lead playing is quality of practise, sometimes i feel i am reinforcing bad habits when i play as il always do my habitual blues licks. i find there's not much point practising if i dont want to as ive hit that comfy plateau where im not going to forget chords or how to improvise passable blues solos anytime soon, there's not much incentive to push myself, its not necessarily a problem but its interesting- if i fast-forward ten, twenty years am i still going to be playing identical licks to now?! its quite possible tbh!
    IMO that's the stage where you start writing music that pushes you. When your technique is solid and not in danger of degrading, when practicing becomes boring and you hit that plateau, stop playing and start writing. Grab a tab editor (GP, Tuxguitar) and write material that makes you improve, giving you something to practice for.
    I recently started a "burnout" phas around this time last year. I'm sticking too it, though. I began to get a bit more focused with practise (namely ear training), and I'm improving a lot more than I felt I was. I'm considering taking lessons again so I can have someone to help push me to develop.
    Great article! One of the many subjects that is often overlooked, causing up and coming musicians to give up and waste their talent.
    Hey! Love the work you have done with this. I've done a bit of my own work on a guitar practice tracking application over at that I think you would enjoy checking out! The application is totally free and allows user's to setup and manage practice routines, run through practice sessions and track their progress over time to help them achieve their guitar playing goals.