We’ve all had that feeling while practicing something new where we feel like we are operating at max capacity. This is especially true for when you’re doing a completely new technique. What’s tough is that when you’re a fresh beginner, almost everything is a new technique, so frustration levels can also be at max capacity.
Most of the time, our brains feels as though they are at max capacity because they essentially are. When it has a multitude of things to keep track of, and each of those things take a lot of concentration, it’s inevitable that it will be tough to keep track of everything. For some reason, music can have this tradition where you just hammer away at it until it becomes easier. This can work, but I’m a big fan of working smarter, not harder.
There are some techniques that I like to implement with my students that can be very effective for relieving frustrations and making your practice time more effective. Let’s think of why the “hammer away at it” method works, so we can streamline the process.
Say there are four things that your brain is trying to juggle while you’re practicing; we’ll call them A, B, C and D. Just for example’s sake, we’ll say that each of these are evenly taking up 25% of your brain activity, therefore completely maxing you out. If we do the traditional method of just putting in the time, yes, we will be frustrated, but slowly and surely each of those things will become easier little by little, taking your total capacity from 100% to maybe 85%. You rinse and repeat until you have everything down. Basically, we’re taking small bits and pieces and mastering them. We get to the point where we can do them without much, or any thought at all, leaving that extra brain power open to focus on something else. We call this unconscious competence, and you can read more about this in an earlier blog post I wrote here.
Doing everything at once can take some SERIOUS time, however, and in my opinion, brings forth a lot of unnecessary frustration. What if, rather than tackling everything all at once, and chipping away at it slowly, we isolate just one of the problems?
Say we just focus on B, rather than A, B, C, and D at once.. B took up 25% of our brain power when it was stuck with the other ideas, but now, we can give it 100% of our attention. This is going to make mastering B a whole lot easier. Once we have that to a point where we don’t have to focus on it, we can now approach all 4 problems with only 75% focus, leaving an extra 25% to help carve away at other sections. This works even better if we isolate and master all 4 problems before putting them together, because our brain will be operating under a lot less stress.
The real trick with isolating things is to be as specific as you possibly can about what the problem may be. I was helping a student the other day, who, through a bit of a disability, has to focus on his right hand more than some other students might have to. He found if we put his attention towards his right hand, his left hand would mess up, and the reverse would also be true. Since we knew he had to focus on his right hand, we isolated what his left hand had to do, so that it would do be able to operate almost on “auto-pilot.” This frees up more attention that he could put towards his right hand since it needed it.
At first, he just said his left hand was “messing up”. That’s not specific enough; we have to as specific as possible. What EXACTLY do we need to work on to make the auto-pilot function? He was working on same scales so the first thing we checked was fingering. It was perfect, so we knew we didn’t have to think about that and completely took it out of our minds, freeing up more space. After some experimenting, we finally discovered it was the stretch that got him. He knew his shape, he knew his fingering, but without focusing on it, his fingers couldn’t stretch to the right spot on the fretboard.
I had him move the scale shape up to a higher fret, where the stretch wasn’t as severe. He then put all of his attention towards his right hand, and played the scale perfectly. Since he had to put more attention towards his right hand, he didn’t have the extra brain power to worry about that stretch, so we eliminated that box on his checklist completely. Now, all we have to do is continue to perfect things at the higher spot completely, until it takes even less brain power, and use the new freed up space to move the scale back down, little by little.
There are countless examples we can use for this. Try it out on something you’re currently working on! I’d love to hear from people to see how this has helped them out. Also, If you have any questions, you can always email me below!
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date with blog posts here.
You can also follow us on social media:
Guitar Instructor, Co-Owner
Falls Music School