Guitar: The 8-Hour Practice Myth

I’m going to debunk one of the biggest myths new guitar players fall into.  This may make you feel better about your progress.  Feel free to swap guitar for your instrument of choice, because a lot of these points can apply across the board.

For those of you who don't know, this is a guitar
For those of you who don’t know, this is a guitar

How many times have you heard someone playing guitar and thought to yourself, “Whoa, they must have practiced for like eight hours a day!” or “Damn it, I suck, I must not practice enough.”?  If you’re like me, it happens often enough that it can actually be a detriment to your progress.  Here is the big myth.  That all great guitar players sat practicing for many hours a day, every day in order to reach that level.  In some cases that’s true, freakishly talented musicians like Steve Vai or Billy Sheehan practiced for endless hours every day, but it’s not as common as you’d think.

Steve Vai is like the Michael Jordan of guitar.  You will not be him.
Steve Vai is like the Michael Jordan of guitar. You will not be him.

There are a few reasons that this idea is wrong and potentially harmful to your guitar progress.  One of the main issues with the practice myth is time?  Unless you’re retired, or in high school, odds are that you won’t have five or six hours of spare time to dedicate to your guitar.  Contrary to popular belief, some guitarists are actually employed, and able to maintain a stable relationship.  I imagine that if a father of three tried to spend four hours a day practicing, he’d run into some resistance from the family (unless the family is really cool, or imaginary).  Believe it or not, it is possible to get better by practicing for a half hour a day, or even less, depending on what your goals are.  That takes me to the next point.

Have you ever heard of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?  You thought it was just for office secretaries and people who play World of Warcraft, right?  Wrong.  Wrong, wrong wrong.  One of the things guitarists dread most is a wrist injury, and they are easier to suffer than you think.  If you practice five hours a day for two months straight without a break, you will damage your wrist.  And when you damage your wrist, you may end up missing out on many more months of practice.  One of the biggest mistakes new guitarists make is ignoring their body’s signals.  If you’re practicing, and your wrist starts to get sore, stop, because pain how your body tells you something is wrong.

Would it be fun to try and play guitar in one of these?  Nope.
Would it be fun to try and play guitar in one of these? Nope.

In the end, as with most things in life (apart from bacon), quality is more important than quantity.  The most efficient practice sessions are ones that are structured.  For example, you may decide that you’ll spend fifteen minutes working on scales and finger exercises, fifteen minutes practicing chord progressions and a half hour practicing songs.  Thats a solid practice session, and you can change it up every few days to keep things fresh.  A common problem that I had, especially early on was not having a focus.  I would end up just noodling around playing random licks for an hour and then get bored.  Practicing your improvisation is a good idea, but you need to work on techniques in order to expand your capabilities.

So in conclusion, the next time you’re at a show and the guitar player is killing it, don’t think, “Man I suck.”, think, “I can’t wait to practice and get better.”  I guarantee that you don’t suck.  You just have more to learn.  Get to it!

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