Why focus is essential to reap results and how to avoid distractions during practice
By: Bruno Gonçalves
In today’s world, our smartphones are like shadows that never stop blinking LEDs, notifications, lighting up the screen and making sounds all the time. What’s even more worrying is that we are triggered to instantly attend to whatever is happening on our phones. That distraction affects lots of guitar players while they are trying to practice and get better at the instrument. Also, you may have kids or live in a loud household/neighborhood too. All that can affect heavily the benefits you get from a practice session.
Probably this has happened to you at some point: You are very focused on practicing the exercise at hand. Suddenly, something totally disrupts your concentration: someone screams, calling you, or you remember something you had to do and forgot or your phone rings. Even after the matter is settled, no matter how simple it was, you may find it hard to go back to that focused state again.
It is similar to what happens when we are sleeping at night and hear a loud noise or wake up worried about something as simple as you left the windows open and it is raining (well, it won’t be that simple if it’s the guitar room, of course) and you sometimes take a hour to go back to your previous sleepy state.
Since concentration and focus are so valuable and rare, we need to protect it the best we can in order to ensure that our practice will be fruitful. In this article we’re going to talk about the 2 main distraction that can cause us to completely lose our focus and ruin some benefits of our practice sessions.
First of all you should commit to do a focused practice session. This means you need to be fully present during the time you scheduled to study guitar, and that you will try your best not to stray and let the brain seek distractions. Remember that you should not have unrealistic expectations: If you use your phone A LOT while practicing, cutting that time in half is already a pretty good starting point.
Over the last few months I was having some problems with my smartphone and social media stealing my focus multiple times during guitar practice sessions. When I started to commit that I would not look at those things and instead I would be fully present, I found out that I was able to enjoy my practice way more while really using the full hour to improve my skills on the guitar. After I was done it was an incredible fulfilling experience.
Below I listed some tips to solve this part of the problem. Sometimes even if we’re alone, in complete silence, we will find ways to distract ourselves with the phone or the computer. So I suggest you to:
Turn off your smartphone or at least put it in silent mode
If you need to check your phone for important reasons (family or work), schedule that time in between practice topics. At least you won’t have to return to the same thing after the interruption, and can instead direct your focus to a new practice item
If you have problems with people interrupting you, just tell them how long you are going to practice and ask them nicely to only talk to you if the matter is REALLY urgent.
#2: Plan it
Another very common problem is losing the focus because we are not sure what to practice, or we’re practicing the current topic in way that is too easy/too hard that it doesn’t keep our interest enough to concentrate.
If you don’t study with a teacher, you should definitely seek a good one to help you with your musical related problems and also provide you with interesting practice routines and materials. Even if you learn guitar on your own or not, you need to plan your session before grabbing the guitar. You can do this throughout the day as you think about what you’re currently working on or what is needing improvement.
I usually list 3 to 5 practice items, how I’m going to practice it (specific exercises and routines) and also set a minimum time to work on each. If I have spare time, I usually end up practicing more than I originally scheduled, and that sense of overachieving feels really great.
When your practice beings to feel boring even though you planned it, you should really ask yourself if what you’re doing on the guitar is too easy or too hard. We should always regulate the difficulty of something so it stays interesting and challenging.
Below you can see a list with some ideas to make your practice items EASIER, and to make it harder you just need to flip the ideas around (practice slower -> practice faster).
Making things easier:
Change the note values (instead of practicing with 16th note triplets, do 8th note triplets as they are easier to count with the metronome or drum track)
If you can’t get a phrase of a solo right, try isolating and practice just the phrase alone a few times in a row then go back to the solo
Sweep an arpeggio instead of alternate picking through it
Reduce the number of strings in the arpeggio (from 5 or 6 to 3, for example)
If you’re picking all the notes, try doing some legato to make things easier on your picking hand
If a scale shape is making things difficult, step back and get that shape right before proceeding
The song you want to learn may be too hard for your current skill level, so you can use some parts of it as exercises to improve your technique and your ear while you leave the whole song for a future session.
In this article we talked about the two main problems with maintaining focus during guitar practice sessions: distractions (be it technology or other people) and practicing things in ways that are not interesting, be it because it’s too easy or too hard for your current skill level.
I hope that you choose to be present, plan ahead and also focus on cutting distractions on your next practice instead of just going through the motions. Presence is a gift that we can expand to other areas, and the ultimate outcome is more fulfillment and a better use of our time.
About the author: Bruno Gonçalves is an electric guitar teacher, professional musician and digital effects enthusiast from Ribeirão Preto, Brazil. To find out more about his work or read more articles, you can visit his website.