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As many people, who have lots of every day responsibilities, like going to work, family and etc. I find myself struggling for the time to practice. Some days I just feel to tired to pick up a guitar and it just doesn't seem worth it, to play just for a few minutes. Is it?

Will practice time do me any good if it's only 10-15 minutes or I'd better save it and give a 2-3 hour marathon at the weekend?

What's better: pick up a guitar every day for a few minutes or play more rarely, but having a longer session?

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I feel compelled to comment on this since @Ian C.'s answer doesn't really address it: For any amount of time per week you have to practice, spreading it out across each day will ALWAYS yield more efficient improvement than cramming it into one day or taking days off. This is because every time you go to sleep at night, you give your brain a chance to process everything you just worked on. Whether it's 15 minutes a day or 3 hours per day, that will always be more efficient than two hours every Sunday or 21 hours each weekend. –  NReilingh Jun 5 '11 at 4:03
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7 Answers 7

up vote 32 down vote accepted

What's better: pick up a guitar every day for a few minutes or play more rarely, but having a longer session?

Neither. It's not length of time, but what you do with it when you have it. If you spend your time playing the same three songs over and over again, you'll not likely improve save to be able to play three songs endlessly. That's a simplification, but it serves to illustrate a point.

If you're not spending your time working on things that you have trouble with, or working with tools and methods that help you improve, whether you do it for 10 minutes or 10 hours doesn't really matter.

Lets say you have an hour to dedicate to practicing (as opposed to just playing) your instrument, here is how I would suggest you break it down:

  • 5m - warm up, stretching exercises
  • 10m - modes, scale runs (try to work in things like string skipping)
  • 15m - chords, inversions, arpeggios
  • 15m - sight reading (I'll pick a new chart from the Real Book)
  • 10m - general wanking
  • 5m - musical meditation (listen to something new, play blindfolded...something to connect the soul to the music)

Always with a metronome all of it.

The combination of continually stretching your knowledge and your technique and the use of devices like a metronome to ensure you're performing consistently and measuring your success so you can push your limits on the next practice session are what yield results fast.

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this describes the problem very well, thank you :) –  Silver Light Jan 14 '11 at 14:58
    
Good breakdown. –  Anonymous Mar 2 '11 at 6:13
    
+1 for "general wanking" :) –  Michael Slade May 3 '12 at 16:07
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This depends completely on your skill level:

  • Beginners - If you are a beginner, consistent playing is far more important than the length of time. 10 minutes a day is much better than one practice of 70 minutes.
  • Moderate to Advanced - Sometimes 10 minutes just isn't enough time to get warmed up and wrap your head around more complex riffs, chords, progressions, timing, etc. Once you have reached a certain level, longer periods of focused attention are better than frequent short bursts.

Of course, the real answer is lots of practice, every day. ;o)

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And very important : when practicing, you should be focusing on that. Don't be disturbed ! Don't do anything beside that (as watching tv ^^) –  Julien N Jan 13 '11 at 22:33
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I would say little and often rather than a marathon session. Playing 2 or 3 hours when you haven't played for a week would be really tough. You'll get sore hands and fingers and will be less likely to want to play.

The main thing is that it's enjoyable. If you really don't want to play because you're tired, then don't. But 10-15 minutes playing a day, you will still see improvement over time.

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Why not both?

Seriously, though - 10 or 15 minutes can be valuable if used correctly. Have a passage that you're having trouble with? How many times, in 15 minutes, can you play it slowly and perfectly, then at speed, with fewer mistakes each time? You'd be amazed at the difference a few concentrated minutes make.

Also? 15 minutes of doing something you love is more fun than zero minutes.

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Pick up a guitar every day for a few minutes !

.. like in any other activity you want to get good at...

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Generally; its not how much time you spend playing; its what you do with that time that is important. To that end try and play something new as often as possible, also challenge yourself, learning music that you find difficult is the only real way to get good. In addition to this, try and pick up theory as you go; not notation but the mechanics of how music works, major scale/modes and how chords relate to them.

Whatever you learn try and learn each new thing as well as you can; but don't stuck on any specific problem area; move on to something else and come back to it.

The most important thing is to play every day or as close to that as possible; even if its only 20mins.

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I'll just add something to these answers (which are all good): you should spend some part of your practice time in intensive practice on particular problems in the pieces you are working on. First you identify these problems as you play through the pieces. By "intensive practice" I mean thinking hard about the passage, breaking it down into its individual hand motions, changing fingering as necessary, and practicing very slowly with the metronome, gradually increasing speed. This mode of practice is hard brain work, but you don't need to do it every day. When you identify a problem and work out the proper fingering and technique you can set up a daily drill for yourself, for instance each day playing over the difficult passage ten times with the metronome, the first day at tempos from 40 to 60, the next day from 44 to 66 and so on until you have it up to tempo.

Often if you sit down to practice for just 10 or 15 minutes you are at a loss for what to practice, so maybe you just run through a piece or two. The solution is to set goals like "learn this piece" and habits like doing one of the drills you set up for yourself in the intensive practice session.

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