How do I get out of this practice rut?

I received a question this week which is very close to my own heart. I’ve been through the situation our emailer describes and know that this affects most musicians at one time or another.

I wonder if you can help. I’ve been playing guitar for 4 years but feel a bit stuck at the moment. I try to do lots of practice but just don’t seem to be getting any better at the moment. Should I do more practice (I try to do a couple of hours a day) or take a break from practice. I’ve tried some of the ideas on your site but that doesn’t seem to help.

Our reply:

The first thing I would say is that you are not alone. Many, many musicians find that they get stuck in a rut sometimes. Also be aware that getting better at your chosen instrument is not a straight line thing. By that I mean that improvement is not continuous – you will go through peaks and troughs. Sometimes you will seem to improve very quickly and other times, like now, it’s as though you’re standing still.

There are a few small points that I think will help a lot in your situation.

1. Why are you practising?
Do you really know the answer to this question? In my experience most musicians have not really thought this through. If you know the reason why you want to practice it will help you through the times like these when things don’t seem to be going how you’d like.

Once you know why you are practising you can begin to build a proper set of practice goals that support this. Write your goals down. Have daily, short, medium and long term goals and share them with others. This is your plan – stick to it and you have a much better chance of becoming the musician you want to be.

2. Focus
Make your practice sessions as effective as they can be by ensuring you really concentrate. Don’t be someone that just ‘plays’ – this is the surest way to get yourself into a rut and improve slowly. Make sure you always ‘play with a purpose’ – that’s when real improvement occurs. Having a clear plan will help, make sure when you sit down to practice you are doing something that you had planned to do – something that will make YOU a better player.

3. Time
You mention time a couple of times in your email. I think this is a problem. Please don’t fall into the trap of watching the clock – another sure way to stop getting better. Always practise to meet goals not time. It sounds like you are putting in plenty of minutes but I would suggest you split your practice into several 30 minute sessions. In this way you give yourself the best chance of full concentration.

4. Patience
Playing an instrument can sometimes be very frustrating. If however you are practising the right things and working towards clear goals then you will improve. Sometimes it just takes a little patience with the exercises or pieces that you are currently working. You need to give things more than a few days to settle in. If something is not working give it a few weeks and see how it is then.

5. Enjoyment
Lastly make sure that practising is something you enjoy. If you are not enjoying what you play this will impact your improvement. Try changing the pieces or routine to something you do enjoy. Practice with friends or try one of the other techniques on this site.

The motivation section of the site has several suggestions to help keep your interest up: Take a HolidayPractice SignalsMoments Notice,Roll up, roll upThe End is in SightDevils in the Detail10 ThingsGet Connected600 SecondsTwo’s Company

I hope the few tips above are useful and they help you overcome you current difficulties. Be sure to let me know how you get on.

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